This contains spoilers for Episode 6 of Line of Duty Season 5. Not up-to-date? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode here.
Feature-length episodes of TV shows are the kind of thing you associate with Game of Thrones and its ilk. When Line of Duty announced that its fifth season would conclude with a 90-minute chapter, then, it was clear that we should expect big things – and the end result is, perhaps inevitably, something of an anti-climax.
Going into the episode, the cop drama had given us something we had never seen before: the arrest of Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). He was under cuffs under suspicion for ordering the murder of Corbett (Stephen Graham), whose death, even several episodes later, remains sorely felt. Since his unpredictable presence departed, Line of Duty’s fifth run has struggled slightly to find its drive, instead introducing a new character (Anna Maxwell Martin’s Carmichael) and unleashing a whole heap of exposition to keep up the pace. But with that rush to shock us and line up every possible bit of evidence against Hastings, the show hadn’t managed to dismiss our hunch that, no matter what happened, Ted would never turn out to be H. And, over its 90 tense minutes, Line of Duty’s finale confirmed that yes, of course, Hastings is innocent.
Fortunately, thanks to Martin and Dunbar, the interrogation through which this slowly becomes apparent is genuinely nail-biting stuff, as all those old, familiar touches (that rising bleep at the start, the right to be questioned by someone one rank your senior) get a fresh urgency. Mercurio gives a whopping 45 minutes to this single table in a tiny room, ramping up the claustrophobia with Martin’s terse questioning and Dunbar’s stubbled face and stumbling responses. They’re balanced out by MVP Polly Walker, who is deliciously malicious as lawyer Gill Biggeloe – there’s a genuine punch in the air, as she calls out all the errors in the paperwork by Carmichael’s team, sending them retreating from their prey. And there’s even more satisfaction in seeing Kate (Vicky McClure) and Steve (Martin Compston) barge into the room and promptly launch their own counter-questioning – an interview switcheroo that makes the most of the episode’s extra runtime.
And then comes the first reveal: that Gill Biggeloe isn’t who she says, and is actually working with the OCG, having been recruited when she was bought as a defence lawyer. She, we discover from Kate and Steve’s independent investigation, was key in Corbett being selected for Operation Pear Tree, putting him undercover in the OCG. Gill tries to send an extraction message, but it only earns her an attempted homicide in the toilets by DI Tranter (Natalie Gavin) – a nice change in pace and tone from the anticipated shootout that might have ensued. Steve, fortunately, is on hand to pop up and pop a bullet in Tranter (the first time he’s ever done that, bless him). That, however, is the only surprise in the episode, as most of us pegged Gill as a wrong ‘un a while back. Nonetheless, there’s fun in seeing Walker relishing the cruel role, and in pretending to bat for Ted’s side; her and Martin’s exchanges are even more fun than Dunbar and Martin, as the pair spit every line of dialogue across the room at each other.
The other Big Reveal was that there might not be an H at all, as Steve suddenly has an inkling that he should go back to the video of Dot’s death from the haze of seasons past – it turns out that there was no “H” in his morse code, tapped out by his fingers, but the number four, indicating four different caddies within the police, four bent cops, to use Corbett’s words. If Biggeloe, Hilton and Cottan are three, that means one more to come. It’s a somewhat disappointing way to avoid having to solve the H mystery, and one that, after the tighter plotting of previous seasons, is almost a bit of a cop-out.
Fortunately, there’s enough heart elsewhere as the episode acknowledges the unseen victim at the heart of all these twisting plots: Corbett, a man who was recruited to the OCG by Gill, lied to and placed on a path that would lead to his own demise, while distracting everyone from the real villains at play. Kate and Steve are the doors to that moving subplot, as they visit Corbett’s widow and discover how he was manipulated, then pick things up with Basil Exposition’s cousin, DSU Powell. He was son of Anne-Marie, with whom Ted had a strong emotional connection, after the violent death of her husband, which made him an easy target to build a personal grudge for Corbett.
Dunbar, meanwhile, sells the emotional fallout of his past, right down to the sadness of his wife being tortured to his guilt over Anne-Marie’s death, and even his shame at watching porn on his laptop (which is why he got that computer wiped). We see one brief glimpse of him trying to make amends, as he visits Corbett’s widow to give him that £50,000 of suspicious cash that everyone was circling around – a move that’s another bit of a logic hole, but one that at least has a noble intent at its core.
An epilogue tries to wrap up the other loose ends, with Operation Pear Tree officially shut down, Lisa McQueen turning out to be a remorseful gangster, pure and simple, and now volunteering as a youth worker, and Gill Biggeloe getting immunity and a new identity. Ted, meanwhile, is still leading AC-12, following a written warning for his conduct (that unauthorised undercover operation for one). Then, finally, there’s a tease of young Ryan Pilkington, who has lined up an interview to get into police academy (citing his conversation with Simon Bannerjee back in Season 1). Is he the next bent caddie set for Season 6? Or it just the cycle of corruption continuing across a new generation? Either way, it’s a clip that helps move our attention away from the slightly haphazard writing and towards a future that, judging by the uneven but enjoyably Season 5, will still have us gripping the edge of our seats.
Line of Duty: Season 5 is available on BBC iPlayer until July 2019.