One of the most talked-about crime series in British history, and one of the highest-rated most kinetic viewing experiences known to audiences in the UK, Line Of Duty has been – thanks to COVID – on the back-burner for the best part of a year. Which, of course, means that anticipation for this new, sixth series was at fever-pitch.
Before we get into the first episode, I feel the need to confess something: even though Line Of Duty holds a special place in my heart, ever since series three I’ve had a sense that it’s been going around in circles a bit. So much so, since its move to BBC One and primetime here in the UK, it feels like it has become a bit of a pastiche of itself – Ted Hastings’ catchphrases, the tell-tale Tommy Gun-spatter of police vernacular, the interrogation scenes, and the stretching of the H conceit to levels of almost ridiculousness.
And yet, despite all these misgivings, as soon THAT music starts, I know I’m simply putty in its hands.
And so it proved this time around, too.
What Line Of Duty has always retained is that incredible, frenzied tempo, that enigmatic addictiveness, and, when it comes to Jed Mercurio, that masterful, daring and rule-breaking approach to plotting.
And now, of course, we have a new case, with a brand-new, ambiguous adversary.
Her name is DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald), and she heads up a serious crime squad in another part of Line Of Duty’s unnamed Midlands city. She and her team are investigating the murder of high-profile journalist Gail Vella and the only lead they have is from a CHIS (a new police word for this series… oh how Line Of Duty loves an acronym, and in this case it basically means an informant), who says that a man named Ross Turner has been bragging about murdering the journalist.
Davidson takes this information to her boss. And this is the first major callback to previous series. Her boss is DCI Ian Buckells – a man who AC-12 has had previous with. He pooh-poohs her intel and wants more detail.
However, Davidson is determined and after some surveillance on a property linked to Turner, she gets the go ahead for a raid. And who is part of her team? DCI Kate Fleming. It looks as though after the fall-out from series five, Kate is now no longer a part of AC-12 – as she explains to Davidson later in the episode, she’d rather be nicking the bad guys instead of bent coppers. As everyone knows, Kate is the queen of subterfuge and undercover work, so I never quite believed that she really had left AC-12. However, it seems that she isn’t telling porkies.
Now then, the big set-up: on the way to the raid (in a high-speed convoy, no less) Davidson spots something out of the corner of her eye. She thinks a bookies is about to be stuck up and on a hunch, re-routes the convoy to investigate (shades of a Lindsay Denton/Jane Caffert-style re-route here). Her hunch is correct and a gunfight ensues with the armed robbers. However, the key here is that this diversion loses them valuable time.
Did she re-route deliberately in order to give the suspect time to escape?
One member of her team certainly thinks so.
Young cop Farida Jatri decides to call her in to AC-12, telling Steve Arnott – hi Steve! – that they have no idea of what she is capable of.
It’s another delicious introduction to a highly ambiguous character, enhanced somewhat by the fact that later in the episode Jatri and Davidson are revealed to have come to a bitter denouement in their relationship. Jatri is suddenly an unreliable witness – is she trying to set Davidson up to gain some sort of revenge for the split?
As ever with Line Of Duty, there are other things bubbling away.
The second of the episode’s fantastic callbacks is Ross Turner… or Terry Boyle, as he’s confirmed to be. Boyle – a man living with severe learning disabilities – was manipulated and exploited by Tommy Hunter’s men in series one, who used his freezer to store poor Jackie Laverty’s corpse. Here it looks as though he’s being set-up for Vella’s murder – clippings of the journalist are found pinned to the walls of two properties linked to him, but prints of another man, Carl Banks, are also found.
And, in a neat (although potentially grisly) turn of events, there was evidence of cleaning fluid and the removal of a freezer in Boyle’s apartment.
History repeating itself, perhaps?
And there’s the question of Buckells. He’s still tetchy and incompetent – to the point that he overstepped the surveillance laws of Boyle’s property, which meant they had to cease operations for three hours. Another blindspot – deliberate or not.
A lot happened in this first episode, and yet… the pace seemed to be slower (not necessarily a bad thing) and it took its time to set things up. In previous series of Line Of Duty, episode one has always been a dizzying blockbuster and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair. Who can forget one member of the crime syndicate throwing Georgia Trotman out of the hospital window at the end of the first episode in series two? Or the murder of Danny Waldron in episode one, series three? Or the heart-stopping moment in the opening instalment of series four when Roz Huntley finished Tim Ifield off with a B&Q power tool?
There was nothing of that nature here, but that doesn’t mean to say it was any worse off for it – it felt muted, more considered and, when it came to Ted and Steve back at AC-12, they took a backseat to Davidson and her possible shenanigans on The Hill. There are more ways to skin a cat, and this opener – while lacking the kind of sizzle we’ve seen before – went for the slow burn and it worked a treat.
All that being said, Line Of Duty still oozed danger and menace from every pore, and the story feels as good and as interesting and as moreish as it always has been.
It’s good to have it back.
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