Describing the effect last night’s Line of Duty finale had on me is difficult. The words ‘shock’ and ‘awe’ would be a start, but go deeper and this would just turn into one big love letter from me to the show, and to British crime drama in general. In amongst the (justified) lauding of Scandinavian imports, it’s easy to forget the consistently brilliant home-grown entries to the genre.
Instead, let’s start with some details. The first two series of the show seemed to suggest a formula of escalation for the show, even if it’s a program that loves to turn expectations on their head. Series 1 had Lennie James’ Tony Gates under the spotlight by anti-police corruption team AC-12, whilst having a wider subplot of further corruption bubbling beneath the surface. Following Gates’ demise, series 2 featured Lindsay Denton, brilliantly played by Keeley Hawes, being investigated surrounding a botched witness transfer, while the previous subplot became ever more important. It seemed then, that whatever Daniel Mays’ Danny Waldron had done, it was going to be big.
Then came the end of this year’s first episode, with Waldron in critical condition and any formula out the window. With Waldron dying soon after, the focus switched to his team, seemingly responsibly for his death. But by the end of episode four, all three members of that team had been dealt with – one having ostensibly hanged himself, the other two arrested – and one could be forgiven for wondering what on earth was happening. But then the audacity of series creator and writer Jed Mercurio became clear: that previously bubbling subplot, revolving around Craig Parkinson’s Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan, was sub no longer.
It was the same audacity that had Cottan, the show’s most corrupt copper, join the anti-corruption team for series 3. And it was the same audacity that meant this series was the best yet.What other crime drama gets a feature length, hour-and-a-half series finale, and then spends the majority of that following two unabridged interrogations? When people think ‘crime finale’, they think brawn, action, danger, death. But for the most part, Mercurio gave us brains.
The two interrogations were brilliantly scripted. First, we had perennial good-guy Steve Arnott, now framed by Dot for the murder of Hawes’ Denton, who returned this year to great effect. It was incredibly tense viewing, watching as Arnott tried, and kept failing, to escape Dot’s cleverly constructed web of deceit. All of Arnott’s mistakes over the show came back to bite him – not least his potential relations with Denton in the last series. But, true to form, there were little details backing his corner – why would he use his own car and service weapon, but with fake number plates, to murder someone connected to him?
After these leads were picked up on by Kate Fleming, Steve’s friend and colleague since the beginning, the focus suddenly shifted, and Dot was left, finally, in the crosshairs. As his interview progressed, it seemed he had everything covered. Yet then he slipped. The acting in that exact moment by both Parkinson as Cottan and Vicky McClure as Fleming was perfect, capturing the personal angle of the mistake Cottan had made – his alibi was a lie: he wasn’t in his flat at the time of his murder of Denton, as Fleming had gone there to continue their budding relationship. It seemed like the trap had closed on Dot. But just as the little details in the scripting are pivotal, so too are the little details in the camerawork. A few episodes back, the camera had lingered just too long on a seemingly irrelevant extra, as Arnott turned in the service weapon he was later falsely incriminated with. And then, during Cottan’s interrogation, it happened again, as the camera picked up on one of the armed guards outside.As Dot squirmed, suddenly we got the action that was expected; gunfire, chaos, and a gripping final chase. It was prime evidence of how well the show balances it’s twisty, dialogue-heavy approach to crime with visual, physical drama. The specifics of Kate’s final chase may have been slightly bizarre, with Dot’s getaway car seemingly going round in circles to give her multiple chances to shoot, but that can be excused as it seemed more an oversight on choice of filming location than anything else. Certainly Mercurio has earnt one questionable moment thus far.
The question now is where they go next? With Cottan dead, the thread linking the three series thus far has been tied up. There is the question of who his driver (and also killer) is though, and who the mastermind behind his corruption was. With a fourth series reportedly close to production, and airing soon after that, it might not be too long before we get to find out, and before I get to hear the show’s amazingly satisfying end theme once more.