Line of Duty has, over six episodes, teased and tantalised us as to who “H” is and whether Superintendent Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) is “bent”. Hastings has been the rock of AC-12 since the series began in 2012 and the possibility that he is behind the Organised Crime Group that has been working with corrupt police officers seemed impossible. Yet, last week’s episode saw Hastings impersonating H and meeting with Lisa McQueen (Rochenda Sandall) which resulted in his arrest by AC-12.
With his department now off the case and Hastings accused of being the mastermind behind John Corbett’s murder and organised police corruption, AC-3 and Chief Superintendent Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin) were put in charge of investigating whether Hastings was H or not. Carmichael declared to the shocked DS Arnott (Martin Compston) and DI Fleming (Vicky McClure) that they would prove Hastings was H.
Carmichael, now taking control of AC-12’s buildings speaks to Arnott and Fleming and warns them not to show too much loyalty to Hastings – in case they are implicated in his “crime”. Arnott rebukes this to Fleming, arguing that he couldn’t forgive himself if the Gaffer went down and he was innocent. Arnot and Fleming decide to further investigate Corbett’s past to discover whether or not Hastings was involved in the murder of Corbett’s mother, Ann Marie McGillis. As Arnott and Fleming attempt to uncover how Corbett was recruited in the first place by speaking with Detective Superintendent Powell (Susan Vidler), Hastings is further interrogated by Carmichael over his past and the insinuation that he is H.
Most of the episode functions almost like a two-hander play with Carmichael and Hastings batting off against each other as Carmichael attempts to pin the blame on Hastings; Jed Mercurio uses this stripped back format to allow the rising of tension and make it seem as if the walls as closing in on Ted – ensuring that the audience continues to pay attention and endeavour to make the audience uncertain about which next twist the story will take.
Gill Biggeloe (Polly Walker) soon becomes involved after she suggests to the ACC (Elizabeth Rider) and the Police and Crimes Commissioner (Ace Bhatti) that they should keep an eye on proceedings. However, whilst Carmichael thinks that she has Hastings placed at the scene of Corbett’s death Arnott and Fleming arrive to reveal that Hastings has been framed; Gill Biggeloe ensured that Corbett was chosen as the Undercover Officer for Operation Peartree and told him that Hastings was responsible for the death of his mother.
Biggeloe attempts to exit AC-12 in a similar way to Dot Cottan but instead is arrested and taken into custardy. Biggeloe survives an attempted assassination and is led away to Witness Protection. Back in control of the AC-12 building, Arnott, Hastings and Fleming discover something they hadn’t previously seen in Cottan’s dying declaration – Dot tapping out four which Arnott interprets as meaning there were four main players in police corruption; Cottan himself, ACC Hilton, Gill Biggeloe and one another who is still out there.
As final episodes go, the finale of Line of Duty Series Five can’t help but satisfy its viewers. With Hastings cleared of being H and Gill Biggeloe ousted as part of the corruption that has been aiding and abetting organised crime it feels as if Jed Mercurio has once again delivered a clever and inventive resolution whilst also keeping his audience intrigued to see how the series will develop.
Mercurio’s character work for this episode is masterful, particularly with Hastings and Carmichael. Mercurio presents both characters as being the diametric opposite of the other which not only helps the drama create tension but also allows the audience to understand why one hates the other – Carmichael views Hastings as an out of touch dinosaur who is corrupt and Hastings views her as an officer who hasn’t worked hard and sees her work in the police simply as a career and not as a mission to do as he does. Mercurio portrayal of the battle between careerism and a crusade against crime adds a deeper meaning to Hastings’ battle to ensure he is not sent to prison; he’s not only fighting for his life to be free from the blemish of corruption but also to ensure that the police still have officers who don’t view the job as simply a job but as a calling. The almost religious overtones Mercurio weaves into his script chime nicely with Hastings’ characterisation as an upstanding Catholic who is guided by his morals.
The acting across the board is excellent and praise has to be given to the full cast for pulling off not only genuine performances but heart-rendering ones also. Adrian Dunbar gives a believably defiant performance as Superintendent Hastings. As Hastings is facing what feels like his downfall, he doesn’t relent in proclaiming his innocence – Dunbar gives Hastings a ragged and battered majesty, like a lion in a cage, desperate to get out. His utter dismay upon learning that Corbett is Anne Marie’s son and the hatred he felt towards him in incredibly powerful and Dunbar plays it with full and frank emotion. He brings Hastings fully to life and we truly believe in him; not simply as a character but as an example of what we can all try to be; a moral person who tries his best to make the world a better place.
Martin Compston puts in an excellent performance as DS Steve Arnott. Arnott, like Fleming, is faced by a great dilemma in this episode – whether or not he can go along with Carmichael’s investigation against Hastings or if he can find some evidence to prove him innocent. Compston’s full belief in his performance as his character gives him the ability to deliver a fully realistic and engaging performance. His shock at having to shoot Sergeant Tina Tranter (Natalie Gavin) after she attempts to kill Gill Biggeloe is wonderfully done by Compston; he is so able to bring Arnott to life that we believe every second of his time on screen.
Anna Maxwell Martin gives an astonishingly good performance as Superintendent Carmichael. Carmichael determined to get Hastings sent down as H has a quiet determination that Maxwell Martin channels superbly. Carmichael’s ruthless desire to get Hastings convicted embeds itself in every scene that she’s in; the glint in her eyes when she thinks she has Hastings is excellently played. Carmichael’s calm cool only slightly snaps when she learns from Gill Biggeloe that D.I. Michelle Brandyce (Laura Elphinstone) illegally entered Hastings’ hotel room and her immediate dismissal of her is superbly played by Maxwell Martin – there is a bubbling contempt that Brandyce could have nearly destroyed her case against Hastings that rises up during the scene and which Maxwell Martin uses effortlessly. Her performance is not only one of the highlights of the episode, it is a highlight of the series.
Polly Walker, who has been given some excellent scenes in previous series is given a powerful last stand in this episode. Gill Biggeloe, ever the smooth operator, works her magic naturally in the scenes with Carmichael and her ability to find flaws in her investigation is a joy to watch. Walker gives Gill a sense of haughty disdain for Carmichael’s proceedings and carries this over even after she has been exposed as being in the pay of the OCG. Walker’s perfect balance of disdain and imperiousness is not only enjoyable but also realistic – the arc of Walker’s character, though perhaps not fully resolved, is given a sense of closure in this episode and Walker ensures it is a triumphant ending.
The final episode of Series Five of Line of Duty wraps up one of the tensest runs that the series has seen so far. Throughout its run, it has been an engagingly written, excitingly directed (by two truly fine directors John Strickland and Susan Tully) and emotionally acted series that we have seen on the small screen for some time.
With Hastings once more in command of AC-12 and his top team still with him, it seems only a matter of time before Jed Mercurio will furnish us with another engaging and multi-layered story of corruption and cops that will see Hastings, Arnott and Fleming pitched against the never-ending sea of police corruption, determined to find the truth. And we’ll be waiting and watching and loving every second of it.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor