Line of Duty Season 3: A surprising, visceral ride
Ridiculous car chases8
Helen Archer | On 26, Mar 2017
Never seen Line of Duty? For a spoiler-free look at the show, and why it’s worth catching up, click here.
The first two seasons of Line of Duty established it as a programme concerned with examining the way in which good cops could get involved in very bad things, for ordinary, ultimately rather banal reasons. In each one, AC12, a police anti-corruption unit, focussed an investigation on a single individual who had fallen foul of their chosen profession and seemingly swapped sides, from hero to villain. Much undercover subterfuge and some intense, nail-biting police interviews led to their misdeeds being uncovered and, by the finales, the cases were, for the most part, resolved.
Regular viewers were expecting Season 3 to repeat the format. This time, Daniel Mays’ character, Sergeant Danny Waldron, was the one spiralling out of control, following the pattern set by Lennie James’ Tony Gates and Keeley Hawes’ magnificent Lindsay Denton, in the previous two seasons. With AC12’s Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) initially going undercover to investigate Waldron’s firearms unit, viewers settled in for what they assumed would be more of the same winning formula.
But writer Jed Mercurio’s one consistency is his ability to sweep the carpet out from under you, and by the end of the first episode, as Waldron was killed, it was clear we were dealing with something quite different.
It soon transpired that this season was the one in which all the chickens would come home to roost. Waldron’s initial revenge narrative – systematically killing the abusers working out of the children’s home he spent his formative years in, a plot which controversially drew on real life abuse cases – acted as the catalyst for a long-term story arc coming to an end. Waldron’s colleagues on the armed response unit, headed up by Will Mellor, were increasingly sidelined as the series went on, and it quickly became apparent that they were mere cogs in a larger wheel of mass corruption within the force.
Season 3 also saw the surprise return of Lindsay Denton, and everyone – well, apart from AC12 – was thrilled to have her back. She was fixated on clearing her name by pointing the finger at Steve Arnott (Martin Compson), and kept the unit fairly busy with her accusations of impropriety, which were backed up by a rather embarrassing stealth recording of the pair engaging in some heavy petting back in Season 2.
Gradually, every member of AC12 became more and more suspicious of each other, and the viewer, like the characters, didn’t know who they could trust. While dodgy ‘Dot’ Cottan wooed Kate with his own brand of romance – detailed conversations about which carbohydrate would be best to serve with his homemade chilli – we weren’t sure whether Kate was as enthralled as we were, or whether she was laying the ground work necessary to take Dot down. Dot, meanwhile, was attempting to frame Steve as the Caddy, by way of not-particularly-detailed powerpoint presentations and the planting of a smoking golf tee on his person.
Lower ranks were urged to keep files secret, until the offices of AC12 became like a cold war consulate, with everyone suspiciously eyeing everyone else over their computer monitors, as they made each other cups of tea and perched, faux mate-ily, on the side of one another’s desks. Even Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), the one person the viewer thought they could trust as the shining example of a decent and honest copper, came under suspicion, thanks to a shifty Masonic handshake with an old colleague and his lack of interest in Polly Walker’s increasingly saucy come-ons.
Dot’s schemes slowly unravelled as he stood over his chilli, sweating and side-eying the many phones lined up on his coffee table, his house of cards coming tumbling down. Denton, satisfyingly, though for all too short a period, teamed up with Arnott in an effort to uncover the Caddy. Sadly, both Dot and Denton were dispatched by the end of the series – although both had, to a greater or lesser degree, managed to redeem themselves. It was left to Denton – of course – to crack the abuse scandal open, emailing a list of names that Waldron had been working through (and which ultimately led to his death), and her reputation as a good police officer was restored, although it earned her a bullet to the head. Dot, meanwhile, died as nobly as was possible for someone so mired in corruption and with so much blood on his hands, saving Kate yet being shot in the process.
The remarkably silly, yet nonetheless exciting – and very British – low-speed car chase that ended the series sums up the show’s appeal. It’s the merging of the banal and the brilliant, the sublime and the ridiculous, which makes Line of Duty so all-consuming. While looking like a grey, office-based procedural, in which claustrophobic, unbearably tense and endlessly surprising face-to-face interviews can be lightened by a pointed grammar correction, it can just as swiftly turn into a a cat-and-mouse game and erupt into visceral violence at any moment. Yet it all unfolds seemingly effortlessly, clearly written with supreme confidence by someone at the top of his game. While no one is really ever invulnerable in the anti corruption unit, with Mercurio, the viewer, at least, is in safe hands.
Line of Duty is available on BBC iPlayer until March 2022.