Your average cop procedural has the capacity to trundle along like a decent mid-range Beemer. But such an exclusive marque is Line Of Duty that it can afford to begin with a high-octane burst – and the audacity of this third series opener is the TV drama equivalent of an Aston Martin Vanquish doing doughnuts around the Cenotaph.
After two years, from a standing start the series about the police who police the police swerves from 0-60 mph into the outside lane in seconds as we try to keep up with a tactical firearms unit as its officers streak through the backstreets of South London. They are in pursuit of Ronan Murphy (Shane Gately), a drug kingpin suspected of preparing to carry out a gangland execution.
But no sooner have the Glock 17s been drawn from the police armoury than it is clear that team leader Sergeant Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays) shouldn’t be armed with anything more lethal than a rolled-up newspaper, such is his hair-trigger temperament.
Ronan, quickly cornered by Waldron in a blind alley, surrenders and throws away his gun – only to be shot three times in the head. When the rest of Waldron’s team arrive their expressions reveal a blend of déjà vu and blind terror as he orders three of them to discharge their own weapons in the direction they would have fired if the suspect had shown resistance. Despite showing token resistance of their own, the other officers Rod (Will Mellor), Hari (Archer Ali) and Jackie (Leanne Best) are cowed into submission.
“We are all in it together,” he snarls, sounding not at all like David Cameron, but being a good deal more honest about it.
To our old friends in A12, led by Superindendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) one whiff of the routine remote surveillance of the operation acts like sex pheromones on tigers – bringing them out of their lair and straight on to Waldron within minutes of the execution going down.
“What do you reckon, Steve, one for us?” Hastings asks Detective Sergeant Arnott (Martin Compston). Oh, yes. Especially as the crime scene features inexplicable traces of Waldron’s gunshot residue on the dead man and independent earwitness evidence that doesn’t tally with his account. And their initial interrogation of Waldron reveals him to be dogmatic in his deception, and clearly unfit for his position.
Waldron’s defence of his lies draws a spitting-mad bravura performance from Mays, whose face of a cheeky five-year-old can fast transform into pure menace (lest we forget he played the Devil/ DCI Jim Keats in Ashes To Ashes).
Waldron is restricted to desk duty and DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) goes undercover – seconded to the firearms unit to listen to the scuttlebutt at work and at play – although Waldron doesn’t really understand the concept of downtime. Watching him try to chat up Rachel, a girl in the pub during a night out with the squad is painful – but he has just done his level best to intimidate timid family man Hari to hold the line with less than subtle threats against his family.
But then Waldron is a man in the grip of mental breakdown who goes routinely goes running until every part of him hurts.
Deciding that Hari is their best route to breaking down Waldron’s story, A12 puts him under pressure, but their failure to get him to testify in turn finds them under orders from their civilian boss Gill (Polly Walker) to allow the firearms unit back to duty. Bad news for Fleming, whose weapons training is a little rusty. Waldron, who by now is more than twitchy about seeing her try to cosy up to his colleagues, warns her he’s dismissing her.
What was Waldron’s motive for offing Ronan? That’s a tough one for A12 to answer, because when Arnott gets the file on him it is almost totally redacted. When he questions Waldron about Ronan, he patently drives him to tipping point.
After spying on Ronan’s funeral, Waldron ambushes one of the mourners at home dressed in CSI-style overalls – killing him off-screen and taking a Silkwood shower at home. Grizzling and petting the dead guy’s dog, he puts a bloodstained list of names in an envelope for DS Arnott, before getting a phone call to action at a non-descript semi – where, after ordering Fleming to stay downstairs, he bounds up the stairs. Seconds after, a gunshot rings out and Fleming rushes up to find him lying almost certainly fatally shot on a bedroom floor – surrounded by his colleagues. It’s like Marple on crack cocaine.
The episode insistently drums its way to the most shocking scene on TV since Gina McKee’s throat was cut midway through the first series. What is festering unspoken among Waldron’s colleagues? They are silently struggling with each other like drowning victims.
And of course there is still the question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Let’s not forget perfidious ‘Dot’ Cottan (Craig Parkinson), ‘the Caddy’, still hiding in plain sight from his colleagues in A12 after three series. How secure is A12 if they can’t spot a wrong ’un in their midst?
On the only light note, we find out that Arnott finally has a girlfriend, but although he can remember anniversaries, he’s not that good at organising anything to mark them. That won’t last long, then. Hopefully, unlike one of his other squeezes, Jessica Raine’s DC Georgia Trotman, she won’t get chucked out of a window.
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