The twists and turns of Line of Duty are enough to make anyone say Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the shock Jed Mercurio elicits from his audience. Last week, audiences were on tenterhooks as PS Jane Cafferty (Sian Reese-Williams) identified the corrupt police officer who had recruited her into organised crime. Mercurio’s excellent use of editing allowed the audience to be worried that it seemed as if Superintendent Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) was the man who had recruited Caffery. It soon becomes clear that Cafferty was in fact recruited by the late Detective Inspector Matthew “Dot” Cotton (Craig Parkinson).
Mercurio’s utilisation of this editing trick occurs throughout this episode and it works strongly to his advantage, such as Hastings appears to close his laptop after Corbett (Stephen Graham) and McQueen (Rochenda Sandall) converse with a corrupt police officer. Mercurio knows how his audience will react to the implications that Hastings is in charge of the Balaclava Gang as “H” and he plays on preconceptions that the audience might have about Hastings, particularly given Corbett’s insistence that Hastings doesn’t want him or Arnott (Martin Compston) to find the root of corruption in the police force.
As Arnott and Corbett work closer together, AC-12 learn about the planned assault on Eastfield Depot and begin to penetrate further into the heart of the gang’s activities, raiding the print shop and the house used by the gang for modern sex trafficking. At Eastfield Depot, Corbett turns on the corrupt police officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Hargreaves (Tony Pitts) who has allowed the gang to raid the depot, mortally wounding him.
Ramping up to the dramatic stand off between Arnott and Corbett, this episode not only raises the stakes of the series but also demonstrates what can happen when you cross the line. Mercurio knows how to write a series but he also knows how to ensure that each episode of that series is as compelling as possible – we’re already halfway through the series and Mercurio is still keeping his audience guessing and on tenterhooks as to what will happen and whether Hastings is in fact corrupt.
Mercurio’s skilful manipulation of viewers in the closing minutes of the raid on Eastfield Depot by making it seem as if Hastings is the corrupt officer that Corbett shoots helps to add another layer of mistrust and danger to proceedings. By having Hargreaves as a corrupt officer, Mercurio subverts what the audience thinks they know about characters in the series and disrupts any preconceptions that viewers might have about who is or isn’t corrupt – further fostering then suspicion that Hastings might be.
The direction by John Strickland is particularly striking in this episode. Like the last two, Strickland has been given explosive set-piece scenes to direct in Episode Three. Both the police raid on the house used for sex trafficking and the raid on Eastfield Depot are done with considerable skill and energy. In particular, Strickland gives a sense of urgency and tension to the raid on Eastfield that makes the sequence all the more exciting and engaging. By intercutting the scene with reactions from Fleming (Vicky McClure), Arnott and the rest of AC-12 it makes the sequence feel all the more dynamic than if it was just Corbett and the Balaclava Gang going about their nefarious business. Strickland’s work as director of this series has been excellent and his skill allows both Mercurio’s script and the casts’ acting to work perfectly in tandem.
Martin Compston gives an excellent performance as Steve Arnott. Arnott who is used to dealing with Kate Fleming as an undercover officer is presented with a different challenge in his dealings with Corbett. Compston perfectly plays not only Steve’s determination to get to the truth, whether it is through Corbett’s information or not but also his exasperation at Corbett for failing to turn himself in or to give him the information on corrupt police officers he needs. Compston knows exactly how best to play both Steve’s burning desire for justice and his emotional vulnerability when he’s with DS Sam Railston (Aiysha Hart).
Adrian Dunbar continues to put in a charismatic performance as Superintendent Hastings. Dunbar perfectly balances both Hastings resolve to bring Corbett in with his failing personal life and continued infatuation with Gill Bigelow (Polly Walker). He also ensures that the scenes in which it appears that Hastings may be doing something underhand have an air of mystery about them that let the audience read into them what they like. Without Dunbar’s excellent ambiguity then the question as to whether Hastings was H would not be so compelling for the audience and his capacity to make himself look perhaps slightly dodgy is a demonstration of his acting capability.
Stephen Graham turns in a masterful performance as John Corbett. Whilst Corbett had broken certain rules this is the episode in which he finally “crosses the line”. Corbett’s almost evangelical desire to catch “bent coppers” is channelled with energy by Graham and his scenes with Arnott at times feel like a lay prayer meeting with both of them determined to get to the root cause of the corruption in the police force. In many ways, Arnott’s relationship with Corbett mirrors that with DCI Gates towards the end of the first series as both Corbett and Gates found themselves in situations, they could not get out of but wanted to make amends. Graham plays Corbett’s horrified realisation that he has “crossed a line” at the end of the episode exceedingly well and this gives Corbett a feeling of instability in his last scene with Arnott. The ending of the episode demonstrates that Corbett finally has gone fully rogue and Graham’s acting in this final scene is duly menacing.
The third episode of Series Five of Line of Duty is another roller coaster and further unravels the mystery of who H is and how AC-12 will conclude their investigation into the Balaclava Gang. With a terrific script by Jed Mercurio, excellent direction by John Strickland and truly stand out performances from the cast the series continues to not only exceed expectations but set the bar for television excellence even higher.
Line of Duty continues on BBC One each Sunday at 9:00pm.