I feel that I’ve been fair when it comes to my judgement on this series of Line of Duty so far. I’ve given Jed Mercurio and company time to let the drama play out. However, as we’re more than halfway through the series, one element I’m still really struggling with is the character of Joanne Davidson (Kelly McDonald). Of all the central guest characters throughout the show’s history, except Danny Waldron who was killed in series three’s opener, Davidson has had the least screen time. We have been given little context about the character and the more intriguing parts of her story have happened off-screen. This was especially true of tonight’s episode as Davidson was barely present, with the focus being primarily on the key AC-12 characters. However, tonight’s cliffhanger at least gave us the feeling that Davidson will be the focus of the back half of the series as we received a revelation regarding her link to a character we may have seen before.
Following on from last week’s arrest, the opening section of this week’s episode was primarily dedicated to AC-12’s cross-examination of Buckells (Nigel Boyle). His AC-12 interview might be the most comical of the series with Ted (Adrian Dunbar) and Steve (Martin Compston) picking away at Buckells’ longstanding incompetence. Although they were unable to directly link him to any corruption, they were able to uncover several instances of misconduct that will probably end his career even if he has no link to the OCG. Their main line of investigation seemed to be that Buckells released several female offenders without charge in exchange for several explicit messages, which were revealed during the interview. However, a lot of AC-12’s evidence against Buckells appears circumstantial and he claims that the files found in the boot of his car had been planted there. He also denied having any involvement in the hiring of Ryan (Gregory Piper), a point that AC-12 seemed to skip over rather than enquiring to who exactly placed the OCG member in the Murder Investigation Team.
One of the biggest unanswered questions from this episode is whether Buckells is involved with corruption or whether he is being set up as the fall guy. The evidence that the audience has been presented is that Buckells isn’t involved in the corruption and is somebody who has been rewarded promotions as he knows the right people. It also appears as if AC-12 isn’t convinced as Ted describes him as ‘a decision dodger’ while Steve believes he couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. But, when we see Buckells in prison, it appears that he is at the very least being manipulated by the OCG now he’s been incarcerated. Whether he has done this as a survival tactic or whether he had links to the OCG before his arrest remains to be seen but I’m still unconvinced that Buckells is connected to those pulling the strings.
This week’s major development was the revelation that the voice heard in the interview with murdered journalist Gail Vella (Andi Osho) was former solicitor Jimmy Lakewell (Patrick Baladi), who last appeared in series four. Jimmy was initially presented as a friend of the Huntley family but then revealed to be working for the OCG. As well as discussing Operation Trapdoor with Gail, Jimmy had also discussed another case that is said to have a racist element. Chloe (Shalom Brune-Franklin) and Steve’s first attempt to get Jimmy to reveal the case he was discussing with Gail proves fruitless as he feels that he’ll be at risk in prison if he divulges any more to them. However, convinced that the revelation will be a turning point in the investigation, Steve endeavours to get Jimmy to speak by offering immunity and a place in witness protection.
This leads up to this week’s biggest stunt as a police convoy arrives to remove Jimmy from prison so Steve can offer him the deal. Although it was obvious that there was an element of this plan that was going to go awry, Jed Mercurio is an expert in building suspense so when the OCG eventually intercepted the convoy I still jumped. Director Gareth Bryn brilliantly orchestrated the action again as the OCG set various traps for the convoy as they tried to silence Jimmy by firing bullets on the van that both he and Steve were in. The performances are uniformly excellent here with both Compston and Brune-Franklin shining as Steve and Chloe who are forced to think on their feet. I found this whole sequence thoroughly engrossing and it’s a testament to those involved that I put my notepad down so I could be fully immersed in the action.
The aftermath of this shootout, which resulted in the death of a firearms officer, was that Jimmy was scared into silence and told AC-12 that he’d rather take his chances in prison. Unfortunately, this decision proved to be fatal as Jimmy returned to his cell to find a nervy Buckells moving in. However, this was a ploy for another OCG member to jump the former solicitor from behind and choke him to death, raising the question over Buckells’ involvement in the cover-up. Despite Jimmy’s murder, there was the suggestion that he did reveal some information to Steve whilst they were under fire but, as this wasn’t given officially, it can’t be used as evidence.
The guns that were used during this sequence also link into the Murder Investigation Team’s line of enquiry as they attempt to connect the firearms used in the robbery at the bookies with the weapon that was used in Gail’s assassination. Kate (Vicky McClure) and Chris (Perry Fitzpatrick) discover that the murder weapon in the Vella case was one that had been made in a workshop. After interviewing one of the young men involved in the robbery, it was revealed that they were offered similar workshop guns but declined to use them. Whilst vital in linking the OCG to the betting shop robbery, and in turn the delay in apprehending ‘Ross Turner’, I found that these scenes were the least engaging in an episode which was my favourite in series six so far.
The episode also made me question whether this will be the last series with Ted brought up against Wise (Elizabeth Rider) and Sindwhani (Ace Bhatti) again who both questioned his arrest of Buckells. This scene resulted in Wise revealing to Ted that his persistence not to keep his superiors in the loop about the investigation is going to result in him being forced to retire. Furthermore, Ted learns that the force will be reducing the number of anti-corruption officers and merging the separate AC units into one. This revelation meant that AC-12’s attempts to reveal the corruption behind Operation Lighthouse now has a time limit, which makes this series more exciting because of it. Whilst I’m on Ted, he also shared one of my favourite scenes this week as he and Kate buried the hatchet whilst the latter shared some information with him. As we’ve followed the relationship between these characters since series one, it was great to see them make amends in a believable way.
So, finally, we come to Davidson and my assertion that all her best scenes this week occurred off-screen. I was hoping that, after her online communication with a representative with the OCG last week, we’d see more of her underhanded tactics and begin to gain some context around the character. Instead, we got the opposite, and Davidson had a minimal amount of screen time in this episode as compared to the other major players. When the reveal came that Ryan had been in the same places as Davidson, Kate felt that he was stalking her whilst Steve believed that they were working together. When Kate told Davidson that she’d seen Ryan watching them whilst they were out together, the latter takes the steps of removing the officer from his post under the pretence of hiring another senior staff member to replace Buckells. However, Ryan didn’t take this demotion well and was seen outside Davidson’s house putting a gun to her head and forcing her into the property. I can’t be the only one who felt robbed of seeing these two characters together in this context as this felt like a pivotal scene that the audience missed out on seeing. It also resulted in Ryan remaining on the team and Davidson instructing Kate to drop the enquiry around the firearms used in the betting shop robbery.
But my hope that we would learn more about Davidson in this episode was bolstered in the final scene when there was an allusion to a connection between her and a character we’d seen before. Predictably, the search at Farida’s house resulted in Davidson’s DNA being found throughout making her the key suspect for planting the burner phones at her home. However, Davidson’s DNA was also linked to another police nominal on the database meaning that whoever this person was is a blood relationship to the DCI. Mercurio cleverly revealed little, down to this person’s gender, but as this discovery elicited a ‘mother of God’ from Ted then it must be incredibly significant. I, like most people, have already started playing armchair detective over which past character Davidson is related to. I concluded that series one big bad Tommy Hunter made the most sense, most notably as he also had a Scottish accent. Whoever the character is, I’m hoping that this results in Davidson taking centre stage this week as we learn more about her background and her connection to the OCG.
There has been much online hoopla this week about tonight’s instalment being the best episode that Line of Duty has ever produced. Whilst it was very good, I don’t think it matches up with some of the excellent episodes from series two or three, especially those featuring the AC-12 interviews with Lindsey Denton. However, I felt that this was the most engrossed I had been in the series thus far with the combination of AC-12’s interview with Buckells, Jimmy’s return and the big action set piece all leading to a fantastic hour of TV. Whilst I still maintain that Davidson is the weakest guest character that the series had produced, the final cliffhanger gave me hope that next week’s episode will primarily focus on her and will give us some background context that I feel the character has required for some weeks now.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly
Line of Duty Continues Sunday 9.00pm on BBC One