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Sunday, 2 May 2021

REVIEW: Line of Duty's finale ties up loose ends but forgets to be exciting.

In my review of Line of Duty's series six opener, I spoke about the burden of expectation that the episode had given that it would naturally be compared to its predecessors. Over the course of this series, we've seen online expectation grow every episode to the point where the finale would have to be something special to meet those lofty heights. I, like many other TV critcis, had offered some of my theories based on what had come before and was watching the finale to see how many of my predictions came true. I was then disappointed when Jed Mercurio and company delivered an underwhelming finale that had very few highlights and didn't get me excited for any future series.

The first part of tonight's episode felt like housekeeping as we discovered that underneath the floor at the warehouse was a locked box full of weapons that had been used to off past characters. These include those used by Ryan Pilkington to murder both John Corbett and Maneet; as well as the one used by the OCG to kill Jackie Laverty. Most importantly, the Gail Vella murder weapon was also uncovered and finally revealed that Carl Banks was Vella's murderer. As it has been this series' big central investigation, I found the reveal of Vella's murderer to be a damp squib and that the motivations behind it to never be fully explained. Although the insinuation is that Vella's investigation into the Lawrence Christopher would uncover police corruption, this was never implicitly stated in this episode making Operation Lighthouse feeling like this series' McGuffin. 

Meanwhile, as we saw last week, Davidson (Kelly McDonald) was at risk in prison as the amount of dodgy officers employed in the institution was growing. This week another automated message from the OCG leader, who still can't spell the word definitely correctly, led to the prison officers take Davidson from her cell under the pretence of attending a faux interview at The Hill. Luckily, the intrepid bunch at AC-12 were on the case and intercepted Davidson's inevitable murder moments before it was about to occur. This scene was the sole piece of action in tonight's finale and most of it has already been seen courtesy of the BBC's trailer for the episode. Whilst the trailer used this set piece to convey that this would be an action-packed instalment, I found this to be one of its more forgettable elements. Though I've enjoyed some of this series' action scenes I found that these sequences have been used too much as a crutch and that their aftermath is never as important as it should be. 

After rescuing her from certain death, AC-12 probe Davidson about the man she believed to be her father who manipulated her from the very start of her police career. Davidson reveals this man to be Fairbank (George Costigan), the officer behind the suppression of the historical child abuse at the boys' home. As noted a few episodes ago, Fairbank is suffering from dementia so is unable to give AC-12 any of the answers they need despite him being the man who Gail Vella was going to interview the day after her eventual murder. For delivering this information to the police, Davidson received a place in witness protection which seemed to be going very well for her with both a new partner and a new dog as seen in this episode's epilogue. I've been extremely critical of the Davidson character in these reviews, but I've felt the gradual reveal of her upbringing and place within the OCG network have made her a sympathetic character. Furthermore, Kelly McDonald's scenes in the last two episodes have finally allowed the actress to demonstrate her immense skills and bring authenticity to the role. However, I would still say that Joanne Davidson is the weakest of the series' guest characters to date and that's more of an indictment of how the character was presented rather than the performance from McDonald. 

The episode also cleared up the confusion around whether Ted (Adrian Dunbar) had given money to John Corbett's widow Steph (Amy de Bruhn) as a way of dealing with the guilt he faced over giving her late husband's name to the OCG. Tonight, Ted confessed to Steve (Martin Compston) and Kate (Vicky McClure) that he had told Lee Banks that there was an undercover officer in their midst but not who he was. Ted admitted that this was out of revenge for what Corbett had done to his former wife but then regretted his actions after he learned that John's mother was somebody who he'd previously cared about. Though I wasn't a fan of the show constantly making us suspicious of Ted, I personally enjoyed the scene between the AC-12 trio ahead of their final interrogation scene. I personally feel that the highlights of this series have featured their interplay and the way in which they have tried to resolve their differences since the investigation into Ted in series five. This is primarily as Compston, McClure and Dunbar have fantastic chemistry which means they bounce off each other brilliantly. I also believe that Mercurio has done a fantastic job in making us care about these characters and genuinely worry about them when they're in peril. 

The hope of most people going into this episode is discovering who exactly 'H' or the 'Fourth Man' is and ending the riddle that has loomed over the series for two years or longer. I can't imagine that any one of these people were satisfied when one of the series' biggest laughing stocks Buckells (Nigel Boyle) was revealed to be the missing piece of the puzzle. Initially answering no comment to all the questions AC-12 threw at him, he then took a chance by offering to exchange information for the prospect of witness protection and immunity from prosecution. Buckells essentially revealed that he was the last one standing of the corrupt officers and would do what he was asked of by the OCG in exchange for bundles of cash. It was also Buckells's inability to spell the word definitely which allowed AC-12 to link the messages sent to Jo by the OCG to reports that Buckells had written both during the Lawrence Christopher case as well as for Operation Lighthouse. I don't know if it was brought up in this episode, but I believe that Buckells's poor spelling was previously highlighted in his explicit chats with Debra Devareux as it was revealed he couldn't spell truncheon correctly. 

The kindest thing I could say about the reveal of Buckells as the fourth man is that it made sense. He's been a semi-regular presence since the first series and had close ties to the corrupt Hilton in both series one and four. It's believable that he would be the sort of malleable fool who could be easily manipulated by the OCG's offer of cash and holiday homes. However, the suggestion throughout this series is that the fourth man would be somebody at the top of the food chain instead of the last cog in the previously healthy mechanism of corrupt coppers. From Buckells own testimony, all the previous heads of this network such as Tommy Hunter, Dot Cottan and Hilton are now all dead, leaving him to be the one doing the OCG's bidding. Therefore, this reveal was off the person who was the lowest down in the corrupt network rather than one of its more senior members. I hope this goes some way to describing how disappointing I found what has been built up to be an explosive revelation since episode one. 

One of the elements of this series that I've not enjoyed is that many of the pivotal moments have occurred off-screen. These include several scenes that would've given us more context around Davidson, mostly her illicit conversations with Ryan, as well as Kate's killing of the corrupt officer. This sentiment is also true of the character of Marcus Thurwell, who has existed purely off-screen despite Buckells identifying him as one of the top men in the corrupt network. Although I theorised that we would see James Nesbitt at some point in this finale alive and well, the identification of his body by the Spanish authorities seemed to dispel this inclination. Although there's still a possibility that Thurwell could appear at some point in the inevitable next series, I think the inclusion of Nesbitt's likeness in this series was one of many misdirects that the audience were dealt throughout this run. 

Conspicuous by her absence in this final instalment was Patricia Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin). I was full of praise for Maxwell Martin's turn in last week's interrogation scene but Carmichael took a step back here allowing the AC-12 OGs to run the show. The final exchanges between Ted and Carmichael seemed to indicate that the latter was more dedicated to unravelling corruption than we were previously led to believe. Although still a career politician, it appeared that Carmichael had more in common with Ted than she'd like you to believe, a fact that he also recognised when he came face to face with her. I felt that this scene, more than any other, indicated that a seventh series will more than likely have been announced by the time you read this review. With Carmichael being presented as less of a pantomime villain and Ted announcing the contesting of his forced retirement, we're bound to see AC-12 in some form or fashion in a seventh series of Line of Duty. 

This was also indicated in the stories of Steve and Kate in this episode with both checking in with the police OT department throughout this episode. As previously stated, despite my many misgivings about this series, I think that Kate and Steve are well-rounded characters with their professional relationship also feeling authentic. Kate's discovery of Steve's painkiller addiction and his clandestine affair with Steph saw the pair's friendship continue to be a highlight of the piece. Kate's session with the OT during the closing moments of this episode demonstrated how important this friendship is to her especially as it's stopped her from going totally crazy. The suggestion that Kate will be returning to the world of anti-corruption is good news for Steve but bad news for Chloe, who wasn't hiding any of the secrets that I thought she would be. I'd be a little upset if Chloe was simply a Kate stand-in in this series as Shalom Brune Franklin proved her worth during the character's description of the Lawrence Christopher case. However, Chloe seemed to be mainly used as the person who would spout mouthfuls of expository dialogue before leaving again and little attempt was given to make her feel fully formed, which I feel is yet another detrimental aspect of this series. 

This episode's epilogue ended with pictures of the former guest characters being packed away in a box with the subtitle telling us that AC-12's power to curb wrongdoing in public office has never been weaker. In my opinion, the storytelling in Line of Duty has never been weaker with many of the elements in series six not really hanging together. I don't believe that this series will really be remembered more than having an incredibly underwhelming climax to the reveal of the final piece of the 'H' puzzle. I have no doubt though, given the incredible viewing figures that the series has achieved, that the BBC will have already requested another series of Line of Duty and that this may have been mentioned by the continuity announcer over tonight's end credits. Given my disappointment with this episode,  my expectations will be much lower than they were at the start of series six and I'm just hoping that any future incarnations of the series end with a bang rather than tonight's whimpering finale. 

Contributed by Matt Donnelly 

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