Cliff-hangers are extraordinary things. They can thrill an audience, pull them to the edge of their seat and then make them desperate to know what on Earth is going to happen next or how a particular character will get out of a situation. Jed Mercurio is a master of them and no more is his talent evident than in Line of Duty. The ending of the first episode of Series Five is a testament to that with audience reeling from the revelation that John Corbett (Stephen Graham) is in fact an undercover police officer and, given his hand in death of PC Maneet Bindra (Maya Sondhi), possibly corrupt. Yet, what is even more satisfying for an audience is a drama that builds on its previous instalments cliff-hanger and keeps them as engaged as they were previously.
This is evident from the very first scene when AC-12 investigation the location of PC Bindra’s murder. Mercurio injects the moment with real pathos and doom which director John Strickland brings to life with his use of stillness and weather and the reactions for both Arnott and Fielding (Vicky McClure).
By presenting the events of the last episode through the eyes of the AC-12 officers during the first few scenes of the episode it allows us as an audience to further empathise with how they feel about the loss of one of their fellow officers and consider the full impact of Maneet’s depth. Both Mercurrio and Stirling work perfectly in tandem to bring not only the events of the script to life but imbue them with deep emotional resonance for the audience.
Furthermore, Mercurio constructs the episode to perfectly have a mixture between moments of character development and great action sequences. Mercurio understands that his audience needs to have a mixture between character and action to not only keep engaged but also to fully appreciate the tapestry that he is unfurling before us.
John Stirling’s direction of the episode is fantastic. Stirling knows exactly when to let a scene play out slowly to let tension build and when to make a scene as dramatic as possible. Stirling’s staging of the first scene in the episode is done with care; he allows the scene to be as emotionally resonant as possible by not over shooting it. Similarly, Stirling’s direction of the second attack is done with fanatic energy that ensures the audience is on the edge of their seat.
Martin Compston as Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott is excellent. As in the previous episode, Compston is able to excellently utilise both Steve’s determination to crack the corruption running through the police force. Compston’s use of facial expressions is not only detailed but emotive in ways few other actors can pull off. During the sequences when AC-12 initially find Maneet’s body, the discussion with Kate about undercover work and how Steve will be next to “settle down”, and in the scene with DS Sam Railston (Aiysha Hart) Compston makes the audience fully understand what he’s feeling without saying a word.
Adrian Dunbar gives an excellent performance as Superintendent Hastings. Hastings reaction to Maneet Bindra’s death is perfectly played by Dunbar and he plays Hastings realisation of what has happened to Bindra superbly. His sense of personal loss is emphasised throughout the episode and Dunbar plays the conflict within Hasting exceedingly well, not simply during the sequences involving Maneet’s death but also with how he interacts with Gill Biggeloe (Polly Walker).
Hastings is clearly a man bruised by his life working in AC-12 and so he feels trapped and unable to decide how to react to the situations he faces. Dunbar’s skill as an actor is clear throughout this episode and his performance in this episode is a testament to his talents and should be praised as highly as possible.
Stephen Graham’s riveting portrayal as John Corbett. Graham is able to flip so quickly and in such an emotional way from his portrayal of “John Clayton” the gang leader to the real John Corbett. Graham achieves this not only through a change of body language but also from the way Corbett changes his voice. Graham is superb at playing both sides of Corbett’s character and demonstrating how a good man can become someone who seems so vile and corrupt.
The second episode of Line of Duty Series Five does not disappoint. Through an excellent combination of acting, a fast paced and thrilling script and John Stirling’s excellent direction not only does the episode work as an individual story but also as a means of further progressing the series’ arc. It allows the audience to feel fully invested in the actions of the characters in the episode but also in the developing story. It proves once again why Line of Duty is one of the best programmes on British TV today.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor