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Sunday, 18 April 2021

REVIEW: Line of Duty's fifth episode acts a 'bridging' episode as it sets wheels in motion for what's to come.

 More so than its predecessors, this series of Line of Duty seems wrapped up in its past and trusting that its audience is familiar with even the minor characters from the past series. In my review of the first episode, I praised creator Jed Mercurio for rewarding audience loyalty and concentration by including references to prior plot points without any explanation. However, these instances are becoming increasingly frequent, and I believe that the continuous references to past characters without reminding the audience of their significance is having a detrimental impact on my overall enjoyment of the series. 

This problem starts with the reveal that the person that Davidson (Kelly McDonald) was a blood relation to was Tommy Hunter. This revelation occurs without the characters explaining the significance of Hunter and is quickly glossed over to move onto the next part of the episode. Although this episode was packed full of exposition, I personally thought there was time to remind the audience that Hunter was leading the OCG in series one and had recruited a young Ryan (Gregory Piper) to be part of his organisation. I feel it would also be worth reminding us that Hunter was killed at the start of series two as part of the conspiracy to stop him from revealing secrets when he agreed to go into witness protection. I think the link between Davidson and Hunter will be confusing for those who either can't recall the events of the earlier series or simply weren't watching back then. 

However, as someone who had predicted the connection between the pair, I was hoping that this revelation would lead us to know more about Davidson and finally allow McDonald some time to shine. I personally would've loved her to dominate this episode and finally reveal that her links to the OCG are linked to some level of family loyalty. As it was, most of Davidson's scenes were either linked to Operation Lighthouse's endeavours to reveal the location of the workshopped guns or to silence Kate (Vicky McClure) once and for all. The one reveal we did get was that this wasn't the first time that Davidson had been manipulated by the OCG as she tells the person on the other side of the online communication system that this would be her last job. Reading between the lines, the conflict between her background and her want to be a good police officer is causing her to have the small breakdowns that we've seen throughout the series. However, the fact I'm having to work that out for myself demonstrates that the series isn't doing its job in explaining the finer details of the plot. The audience was also expected to remember another minute detail from the last series, namely that the person on the other end of the online communication system can't spell the word definitely. 

Compared to the last two weeks of compelling action sequences, this week's big set-piece felt slightly underwhelming as Operation Lighthouse worked alongside AC-12 to both reveal the location where the workshopped guns were being produced and that Ryan was working for the OCG. This was done by Kate telling the Operation Lighthouse officers that they were going to a location that she had identified as the industrial estate being used by the OCG. To avoid any leaks, Kate also had all the officers leave their phones at the station prior to going out on their investigation. In actuality, Kate had uncovered three possible locations, but this fact had only been revealed to Davidson, which was the trap set so AC-12 could finally rumble Ryan. An AC-12 team, led by Chloe (Shalom Brune Franklin) were secretly watching this location and, after nothing was found, captured Ryan on a burner phone to his OCG associates. 

Meanwhile, at the second location, Steve (Martin Compston) noticed two OCG members going into a warehouse with the assumption that they were going to destroy evidence. Both were shot dead by armed officers as they refused to drop their weapons, meaning that they couldn't be questioned about their involvement in the murder of Gail Vella (Andi Osho). One of these men was later identified as Lewis Polcard, who was the person seen leaving the burner phone for Davidson at the end of episode two. This was at least one plot point that the audience was at least reminded of in the Previously On sequence ahead of the episode starting, meaning that it was believed that the audience wouldn't remember this specific moment. The exposure of Ryan's corruption meant that AC-12 had enough to arrest him for his links to the OCG. However, Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) eventually decided to let Ryan continue to operate within the force so those pulling the strings could be exposed. But, unbeknownst to Hastings, his decision here could prove to be a fatal one as he put Kate in the line of fire in the episode's final scene. 

Whilst we're on Hastings, this was the week where Steve finally connected the money he found in the Corbett family loft to the £50,000 used to bribe the gaffer which was never found in the aftermath of last series' investigation. It appears that Steve initially believed that Hastings gave the money to Steph (Amy de Bruhn) as a way of apologising for the way in which John's uncover operation resulted in his death. However, when Steve visits Lee Banks (Alastair Natkiel) in prison, the OCG member reveals that Hastings had revealed John as an undercover officer which resulted in his death. I personally thought that this episode belonged to Steve, with Martin Compston giving a fine performance as the DI. I felt that Compston portrayed Steve's growing exhaustion with his job and the frustration that he felt in both his relationship with Hastings and his inability to expose corruption in Operation Lighthouse. One recurring element throughout this series is how both Kate and Rogerson have pointed out that Steve believes every officer to be corrupt and I believe that it's this paranoia that has led to Steve's frustration. I also have an inkling that Steve won't make it to the end of this series and that the character will be killed in the line of duty in the series six finale. 

This week's other major story strand was that Jimmy Lakewell (Patrick Baladi) revealed to Steve that the case he was discussing with Vella was the death in custody of Lawrence Christopher. In a massive dump of expository dialogue, Chloe explains to Steve that Christopher was attacked outside Edge Park before being arrested when officers felt he was under the influence of substances. Christopher later died in custody when his head wound, which was the result of being struck by a lead pipe, went untreated as he was mocked by officers in his cell. It's also explained that the investigation into his death was full of procedural errors and there's the insinuation that the police's inability to arrest the gang responsible for Christopher's murder was due to at least one of the officers being linked to the OCG. Especially, when its later revealed that one of the members of this gang was Tommy Hunter's son, who is presumably also a relation of Davidson's, giving even more prominence to this historic case. In past reviews, I've been critical that Mercurio has given Chloe little to do but I felt she came into her own here in her investigation of the Christopher case. Shalom Brune Franklin's performance gave some emotional heft to this scene, especially her reaction to the names that the officers called Christopher when he was dying. 

The SIO in the Christopher case was identified as Marcus Thurwell, who Steve later discovered was also in charge of the investigation of the murder of social worker Oliver Stevens-Lloyd, who had attempted to expose the sexual abuse at Sands View Boys Home. It was Thurwell who concluded that Stevens-Lloyd's murder was actually a suicide, suppressing any further investigation into this abuse, which was only ultimately uncovered during series three. It's later revealed that Gail was set to interview Patrick Fairbank (George Costigan), who was one of the key perpetrators of this abuse, the night before her murder. This leads Steve and Chloe to interview Fairbank in prison, however this lead proves unsuccessful as the former Chief Superintendent is now suffering from dementia. I felt Steve's confrontation of Fairbank was one of the series' most powerful scenes to date and the performances from both Costigan and Compston were brilliant. It's also intriguing that the images seen of Thurwell in this episode suggest that James Nesbitt will be joining the cast for the final two episodes of this series. Whilst I feel that Nesbitt will fit in well with the team, I do feel sorry for Kelly McDonald who hasn't been given the opportunity to excel as Davidson and now will be eclipsed by a fresh new guest character. 

Later, Chloe also identifies that other officers on the Christopher case include Buckells (Nigel Boyle) and the current Chief Constable Philip Osborne (Owen Teale). Previously Steve's boss in series one, Osbourne's prominence has been growing in this series and it was revealed that he was responsible for the impending merging of the AC teams. This episode also sees him criticise political meddling in police work which leads to the resignation of Sindwhani (Ace Bhatti). Sindwhani had been presented as possible corrupt character throughout the series, but it now appears as if he was a supporter of Hastings and voices his wishes for him to expose the corruption in the force before his retirement. It's Osbourne who also leads to the reintroduction of Patricia Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin) as he supplants her in AC-12 where she quickly removes the surveillance on both Ryan and Davidson. I really detested the clashes between Carmichael and Hastings as it made both characters feel like stereotypes with the former being portrayed as a passive-aggressive pen pusher and the latter as an old dinosaur who should really learn to use his inside voice. Furthermore, Carmichael's reintroduction seems more like a plot device for the surveillance to be removed therefore adding more peril to the final scene.

This final scene sees Kate being lured to a trap set up by Davidson and Ryan, who are both keen to stop her meddling in OCG affairs. Whilst Kate is aware that this is a set-up, she is confident that the surveillance officers will swoop in if she is in danger. However, when she learns that the surveillance has been pulled it's too late for her to leave the scene before Davidson arrives. This leads to a Mexican stand-off between Ryan and Kate with both pulling guns on each other and shots being heard just as the end credits commence. What I appreciated about this scene was the fact that Hastings' insistence not to arrest Ryan could've possibly resulted in Kate's death, which would be an intriguing wrinkle to the story. However, I don't believe that Kate will die in this series and believe that the shots are more likely to have come from a third party who arrived on the scene off-screen. I personally didn't appreciate the expository dialogue from Ryan as he was threatening Kate in which he revealed that he was responsible for the deaths of both John Corbett and Maneet Bindra. The fact that Ryan used these character's full names sucked the authenticity out of this speech for me and made this moment less realistic. Similarly unbelievable was Carmichael's turn as she weakly attempted to stop the AC-12 gang from rescuing Kate before reluctantly joining them. 

Ultimately, episode five was used to bridge the earlier pieces of the plot to what I'm assuming will be an enthralling final two instalments. Whilst we got connections between plenty of the characters past and present, I don't think the relevance of most of these links was ever explained. Although I like to think that I pay attention during Line of Duty, and have been an avid fan since the start, even some of the references went over my head and I'm consistently having to go back to prior episodes to remind myself of certain moments that are now pivotal in series six. Whilst there were elements of this episode I liked, including Martin Compston's performance and the reappearance of Fairbank, I don't feel it capitalised on the anticipation that the audience had coming off last week's cliffhanger. I'm also wondering what would be a satisfying conclusion at this point, as I feel that even the revelation of Osbourne's corruption would be an anti-climax at this point. However, despite the weakness of this instalment, Line of Duty did enough to whet my appetite for next week's penultimate chapter and especially how James Nesbitt will play off against the programme's more established players. 

Contributed by Matt Donnelly

                   Line of Duty Continues Sunday 9.00pm on BBC One

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