Following the attack on the Eastfield Depot and John Corbett’s (Stephen Graham) murder of DCS Lester Hargreaves (Tony Pitts), AC-12 are out to bring down Corbett and the Organised Crime Group that he’s embedded in. Corbett, however, resists Steve Arnott’s (Martin Compston) attempts to bring him in declaring that Hastings is “H” and that he’ll find the proof. Corbett then assaults Hastings’ wife, Roisin (Andrea Irvine) whilst posing as a man with a Northern Irish accent in the hopes of attracting attention to Hasting’s past.
Jed Mercurio has a talent for opening sequences and the beginning of the fourth episode of Series Five is no exception. He writes Hastings’ discovery that Corbett has attacked his wife with a heartbreaking subtly as Hastings is forced to realise how damaging his work can be to those he loves. This also allows us to see that Hastings doesn’t just want to catch Corbett; he wants revenge. Mercurio foreshadows Hastings’ loathing of Corbett throughout the episode well in this initial scene by ensuring that Ted’s anger isn’t simply instant but hot rage as we saw in the first episode when Manheet Bindra’s leaking of information was revealed but colder and continually burning under the surface.
Realizing that there may be something that their boss isn’t telling them Arnott and Fleming (Vicky McClure) delve deeper into Corbett’s background, attempting to find more information from his wife Steph (Amy De Bhrún) and hiding Corbett’s implications about Hastings when he gets in touch with Arnott.
Corbett meanwhile has discovered that due to the police involvement, the goods taken from the Eastfield Depot are “too hot” to move and that Lisa McQueen (Rochenda Sandall) intends to return to human trafficking. Racked with guilt and sure that McQueen will turn, Corbett decides to once again try to convince Arnott that he can finally catch “H” and bring the corrupt officers to book. After an intense scene with Arnott and Corbett standing off, which Mercurio writes with an intense immediacy as it seems as if Hastings is going to order Corbett to be shot as revenge for the attack on his wife.
After failing to bring “H” out for a public meeting, AC-12 impersonates them in a message to Corbett. Mercurio’s zest for detail comes out in this sequence as Hastings makes the same spelling mistake which viewers noticed the real H makes in communications when Hastings is interacting with them posing as H.
As the episode comes to a close, Corbett finally attempts to redeem himself by getting McQueen to help him release the trafficked women. Yet, in a twist that Mercurio must have been saving up for the right moment, Corbett is murdered as the gang realize he is “the rat” that has been leaking information.
In contrast to the previous episode of Line of Duty, episode four isn’t centred on a great set piece like the robbery of the Eastfield Depot but rather scenes that advance the plot whilst also allowing for great character moments. By beginning with Hasting’s shock and anger at the assault on his wife and ending with Corbett’s murder, there is a sense of justice for the viewer; that someone who has truly lost his moral compass gets his comeuppance.
Yet Mercurio also gives to Corbett, like the other corrupted officers who have been the focus of the series, a moment of attempted redemption. Corbett wants to help the girls trafficked for sex and is certain that he can persuade McQueen to help him and yet, unlike Lindsay Denton or Tony Gates his redemption is soured because his death is pointless. Corbett’s ultimate punishment is that, unlike the others, his death meant nothing.
Adrian Dunbar gives a particularly fine performance as Superintendent Hastings. Dunbar builds Hastings’ cold, calculated rage against Corbett to its perfect breaking point when Arnott and Corbett meet, and Hastings gives Arnott the order to shoot Corbett. Dunbar perfectly channels the deep hatred he has for Corbett in a sincere and engaging way; the scene in which he berates Steve for failing to shoot Corbett has an uncomfortable undertone of disappointment and fury. Arnott’s brief refusal to tell Hastings about the location of the meeting between Corbett and H is played perfectly by Martin Compston and Hastings’ shock at Arnott’s refusal is channelled with sincerity by Dunbar.
Martin Compston delivers a superb performance as Steve Arnott in this episode. Arnott is trapped between wanting to apprehend Corbett and finally finding out what is at the root of the corruption he’s been fighting all these years. Compston plays the sequence in which he attempts to bring Corbett in perfectly and he and Graham know exactly how to play Corbett’s attempts to convince Steve to trust him. Compston knows exactly how to play his scenes to the height of their potential and he injects a cold calm into the scene with Hastings following Corbett’s escape. Compston engenders a sense of true internal conflict throughout the episode in his relations with Hastings and Corbett, this allows us to realize that the character is undergoing a conflict as to whether he can even trust his boss.
Stephen Graham’s final appearance as John Corbett will see him go down in LOD history. Graham allows us to both dislike Corbett and to feel sympathy towards him; trapped in a violent world that won’t let him get the answers he needs to root out corruption in the police force and one which makes him feel as if he can only do it through violence. Graham plays his confrontation with Arnott perfectly, allowing his desperation that Arnott won’t listen to him build throughout the scene till it reaches its crescendo. Graham also ensures that his final scene is both melancholy and somewhat heart-breaking – he attempts to finally do the right thing and gives his life to do it, but it is ultimately for nothing.
Rochenda Sandall’s turn as Lisa McQueen is excellent in this episode. McQueen appears to be showing a softer side and the scenes with her and Corbett which display this are perfectly done. Yet Sandall also ensures that McQueen’s decision to orchestrate Corbett’s murder is portrayed with real confliction. Sandall’s portrayal of McQueen perfectly balances the severe with the real human being underneath, desperate to come out with some shred of humanity left.
John Strickland provides excellent direction in this episode. Both Corbett’s murder and the encounter between Arnott and Corbett are filmed with precision and Stirling injects a great deal of energy into his film of the latter sequence.
The fourth episode not only ramps up the stakes for our characters but allows us to have deeper characterful moments from the main cast. Mercurio’s writing keeps his audience always on the edge of their seat, desperate to find out what will happen next. It continues to keep viewers enthralled with its masterful script, excellent acting and dramatic directing and leads us ever closer to discovering who really is H.
Line of Duty continues next Sunday on BBC One.