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Sunday, 4 April 2021

REVIEW: Line of Duty delivers one its best stunts in an episode of two halves.


One of the delicate balancing acts that dramas like Line of Duty must walk is the decision on how much information should be revealed to the audience that the characters don't know. Similarly, it's tricky to know when the characters discover the information that the audience already knows. After last week, there was great debate on when Steve and Kate (Martin Compston and Vicky McClure) would identify Ryan (Gregory Piper) as the juvenile delinquent who tried to remove the former's fingers in series one. Surprisingly, this didn't take as long as some were expecting, but by the end of tonight's episode, there was another reveal that put the audience ahead of AC-12 once again. 

Ryan was the focus of most of this episode, with his plan to stop Terry Boyle (Tommy Jessop) from revealing their past and potentially linking him to the OCG. Terry is called to be interviewed again after a witness identifies him as being the man who argued with Alistair Oldroyd prior to the informant relaying details of Ross Turner to his handler. Kate is perturbed when Davidson (Kelly McDonald) is keen to stop the interview just as it seems that Terry is going to reveal that he was with another man who was bragging about their involvement in Gail Vella's murder. Although Davidson explains that if Terry appeared to be under duress, then any evidence he gives would be dismissed in court, Kate seems to be suspicious of her boss for the first time in the series. 

Kate's suspicions don't stop at Davidson as she has constantly been given Ryan the evil eye since he appeared at The Hill. Kate follows Ryan and another officer Lisa (Tara Divina) as they transport Terry back to his approved premises. However, Ryan informs Lisa, who is driving the car, that they're taking a different route, which gives him the opportunity to divert the car to a nearby reservoir and cause his fellow officer to crash into the water. Ryan then drowns Lisa and attempts to do the same to Terry, however, he's unable to before Kate arrives on the scene and quickly makes it look like he was trying to rescue him instead. Whilst Ryan is heralded as the hero of the hour and later recommended for a commendation by his DCI Ian Buckells (Nigel Boyle). 

Kate, being unconvinced, finally agrees to work alongside AC-12 as she believes that the OCG orchestrated the incident at the reservoir to silence Terry. This is the moment in which Kate and Steve finally identify Ryan as the young offender from the first series but are unable to link him to the OCG given he has no criminal record since then. I felt that both this scene and Kate's subsequent appearance at AC-12 were great as it felt like she was returning home. Ted (Adrian Dunbar) was especially sceptical but there was a great little moment where he gave her an approving nod after she revealed what she knew to her former colleagues. Seeing Kate and Steve working together again was great and I'm glad that her agreeing to help AC-12 in their enquiries will mean that she'll be back in the fold going forward. 

I loved everything about the first twenty minutes of tonight's episode of Line of Duty, with the set-piece featuring Ryan's attempt to drown Terry having me on the edge of my seat. I haven't talked much about the excellent direction in this series which I feel has been remiss of me as it's been one of the highlights of this run. Gareth Bryn deserves special recognition tonight for his choreography of the episode's key stunt, which I thought was spectacularly executed. All the elements of this set piece were perfectly crafted with the shocking elements being perfectly punctuated for maximum effect.

The problem with having a gripping action sequence early on in your episode is that you face the risk of the rest of the instalment lagging. Unfortunately, I felt that that was what happened here as the episode's pace reduced significantly, especially in the scenes featuring Steve's ongoing visits to Steph Corbett (Amy de Bruhn). Steve's suspicions of Steph grew in this episode after the announcement of random drug testing at AC-12 and the suggestion that she had contacted Ted to relay her worries about Steve's painkiller addiction. Upon his first visit to Steph's house, she confirmed that she was concerned about Steve's painkiller use as she'd seen John go through something similar. However, an angry Steve was then on the warpath and requested Chloe (Shalom Brune-Franklin) unearth the Corbett's bank accounts to verify Steph's story about cashing in on John's life insurance. 

Steve's second visit to Steph saw her tempt him into drinking with her before leading him into the bedroom. The suggestion here appeared to be that Steph knew that Steve would work out where her additional cash had come from so wanted to seduce him. However, just before Steve joined Steph, he caught a picture of her and John together which stopped him in his tracks. We then discovered that Steph and Steve had simply decided to indulge in a bout of mild spooning where the latter revealed that his painkiller addiction was related to his assault in series four, the pain of which had never subsided. Despite feeling that these scenes halted the pace of the episode, I felt that Martin Compston shone here in conveying both Steve's emotional and physical pain. 

Despite Steve confiding in Steph, the policeman in him eventually came out as he used the opportunity of the Corbett house being empty to uncover the stash of illicit cash being stored in the attic. Although this was a necessary discovery to propel this plot thread, I felt that Steve's search of the house was too long, and I personally lost interest before he'd located the money. Following this scene, Steve was asked to participate in the drugs test despite Ted previously telling him that he wasn't on the list. I'm unsure where this storyline is going but it appears that Steph is manipulating both Steve and Ted which may finally fracture the relationship between the pair. I'm personally hoping that there's more to this story than meets the eye and I've got my suspicions that Steph may have her own links to the OCG. 

Another continued thread from last week was AC-12's exploration of the link between Gail Vella's (Andi Osho) undercover reporting and her murder. Gail's producer sends AC-12 several of her reports that weren't broadcast including a heated interview with Police Crime Commissioner Rohan Sindwhani (Ace Bhatti). Sindwhani has been presented as a prominent figure in this series and chastises Ted again this episode when he called to the office of DCC Andrea Wise (Elizabeth Rider) to explain his actions thus far. I feel that Jed Mercurio is making us question both Wise and Sidwani this series with them being responsible for the delay in AC-12's investigation last week. Their discovery that Farida (Anneika Rose) had been arrested, which was quickly followed by her assault in prison and subsequent refusal to be interviewed by AC-12, further added to this suspicion. I'm personally intrigued by this aspect of the series and it seems feasible that the more senior members of the force would attempt to suppress the reporting of a journalist who was eager to expose ongoing police corruption. 

The final scenes in the episode led up to AC-12 arresting Buckells who had been identified as the possible corrupt officer on the Murder Investigation Team. However, the audience are again given information that puts them one step ahead of the characters as there is a strong suggestion that he is being set up by Davidson. After feeling that Kate may be manipulating Davidson to extract information, it appears that the latter may in fact be exploiting the former's ability to expose corrupt officers. It's Davidson who leads Kate to uncover that Buckells was the one who suggested that Ryan join their team and that he was also responsible for the lack of surveillance at the flat where Terry Boyle was found. Coupled with the reveal of a link between Buckells and the witness who identified Terry arguing with Oldroyd at the pub, he is then brought in for further questioning at AC-12. The implication that Davidson was the one who'd set Buckells up as the fall guy was then confirmed when the final scene showed her using the same online messaging service that the OCG had used last series to talk to 'H'. 

Although I had a recollection that the messaging service that Davidson was using was utilised by the OCG last series, I still had to go back to check this. Despite previously praising Jed Mercurio's ability to reward the audience's loyalty and attention by referencing events from past series, I think that presuming that we're going to remember every detail that has gone before is a stretch too far. I personally would've liked the 'Previously on Line of Duty' segment at the episode's beginning to remind us both of the significance of this messaging app as well as of the link between Ryan and Terry. I'm personally feeling that I'm having to do more homework to get every reference to past series and there's almost the assumption that we should've binged on all five series ahead of watching series six. Whilst I don't believe my memory is that bad, we have all been through a pandemic since Line of Duty last aired so a small reminder of what had gone before would've been good. 

Overall, this was an episode of two halves as the first part of the episode was incredibly gripping and included one of the show's most impressive stunts. However, this was followed by a combination of some dull scenes between Steve and Steph as well as scenes in which the characters caught up on the information that the audience was already aware of. Although I admired both the direction and performances in this instalment, I still felt the pacing was off which is something I felt about the entire series. However, there is still enough intrigue here to keep me coming back for more as the final scenes revealed information that put us one step ahead of the characters again. 

Contributed by Matt Donnelly

                   Line of Duty Continues Sunday 9.00pm on BBC One

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