Last week’s Line of Duty was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Ending with a dramatic cut to black, two gunshots, and DI Kate Fleming’s (Vicky McClure) life in the balance, the fifth episode of the BBC drama’s sixth series left viewers with a tantalising cliffhanger.
Such is the risk with cliffhangers– when you’re finally allowed to peer over the edge of the cliff, you’re expecting to see something pretty gruesome. If all you get is someone perched safely on a platform just down below, you can’t help but feel cheated.
And that’s exactly what happens with the latest episode, more or less. The gunshots– both gunshots – turned out to have emanated from Fleming’s gun; the beloved DI escaped from the incident unscathed. By the time AC-12 show up on the scene, PC Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper) is dead, and Fleming has absconded with Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald), for reasons that never seem entirely sensible.
The pair are soon caught, however, and the episode segues into its main segment: the long, methodical interrogation of Davidson conducted by Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and Patricia Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin).
Some of those tuning in to Line of Duty tonight may have been expecting a season finale – but because this season lasts for seven episodes, not the usual six, they will have to wait a week.
One of the things this extended run of episodes has afforded is to allow extra time to really indulge the procedural element of police interrogations, and the Davidson interrogation shows how even a slow, static scene can make for compelling television.
Here’s a breakdown of the biggest talking points and theories from Line of Duty’s penultimate season six episode…
On the run
The episode begins with AC-12 discovering Pilkington’s body, with two expert gunshot wounds left in his neck, close enough to resemble a vampire bite. Even though Davidson set Fleming up, there’s clearly a bond between the two; as they attempt to evade police in Arnott’s car, Davidson opens up about her family history, which includes the mention of her “father”, a police officer she refers to as “Ben”.
The whole sequence slightly strains belief. Pilkington was suspected of serious corruption; it’s hard to imagine that his killing would have been seen as anything other than what it was: justifiable homicide committed in self-defence. Still, Fleming seems to fear she’s in the frame for murder.
When the police quickly hunt them down (using tracking devices Carmichael knew were planted in the cars of every AC-12 officer), there’s a strange, tense standoff – Hastings, Arnott and Carmichael on one side, Fleming and Davidson on the other. Of all the plot developments in Line of Duty this season, this sequence seems the most abrupt, the most lacking in explanation.
Davidson in the box
A repeated refrain we hear from Davidson in this episode is that she’s “not bent”. She says it to Fleming in the car; she says it during the interrogation. She literally is, of course – she conspired to set up Fleming’s murder just last episode. Her protestations seem to come from some deeper (some would say less correct) interpretation of the word. Her argument seems to be that she may have committed various acts of corruption, but that doesn’t make her corrupt. OK then.
The biggest bombshell in the interrogation is undoubtedly the revelation about her relationship to Tommy Hunter, the OCG ringleader whom she claims was her uncle. Last episode, Arnott flagged Davidson’s DNA results as having “runs of homozygosity”. At the time, this was left unexplained, but now, he spells it out: “This is an indicator of a close blood relationship between the subject’s mother and father.” So Hunter wasn’t just Davidson’s Uncle, but also her father.
There’s still an air of mystery around her family history – especially around the identity of the man she previously thought was her father –but the closer we get to the truth, the darker it seems to get.
At the end of the interview, she confesses to Pilkington’s shooting, leaving Fleming to go free. As an actor, Macdonald has an extremely sincere screen presence; she excels at the formidable task of turning Davidson from schemer into shell-shocked victim. But it’s clear that the character is still withholding parts of the truth, and no amount of “no comment” responses will save her.
The unbearable Carmichael
Line of Duty has featured its fair share of questionable performances down the years, but I’m not sure any have provoked such a nails-down-a-chalkboard shudder as Anna Maxwell Martin’s turn as the cartoonishly smug Detective Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael.
The Line of Duty viewing experience often involves a fair share of guesswork – working out who’s good, who’s bad, who’s a rat and who’s a red herring. With Carmichael, it barely matters: villain or not, she’s simply one the most (deliberately) infuriating character the series has ever featured.
Episode six suggests that there could be something more sinister lurking beneath her general veneer of unbearableness, however. We see her give the order to remove Chief Constable Philip Osborne’s image from the investigation board; during Davidson’s interview, she seems to interject when Osborne’s name comes up. Is she part of the cover-up at the centre of Gail Vella’s murder? If so, she’s making quite the flagrant show of it.
Arnott’s personal struggles take a backseat in this episode, though a glimpse at his laptop screen reveals that he is on the verge of some serious disciplinary action. Unless he attends a medical review within five days, he’ll be given a yellow notice and face suspension from duty. The situation seems pretty dire, and Arnott mostly seems to just be hoping it will resolve itself on its own.
Internet sleuths are also sure to pore over the glimpse of Arnott’s laptop files, which includes folders named after many key people and locations from the series’ past. Curiously, there are two separate folders marked “Edge Hill”. Why the duplicate? It’s probably nothing, but you never know…
Thurwell that ends well
James Nesbitt makes his second appearance in Line of Duty this week – again in the form of a blank-faced photograph. Nesbitt’s character, the former ranking police officer Marcus Thurwell, seems a likely candidate for the mystery texter who has been communicating with Davidson.
After having vanished somewhere in Spain, Thurwell was, somewhat fortuitously, located in time for the end of this week’s episode, when local authorities raided the house where he was apparently staying. Hastings watches via video link as the police search the building, finding only two corpses, a man and a woman. “La casa está desierta,” they say into the microphone. You don’t need Spanish lessons to know that AC-12 is bang out of luck.
It’s clear that Thurwell has some significant part to play; the casting of Nesbitt practically confirms it. But with just one episode left, he may not crop up in person until next season. For now, it’s a story of frustration for Hastings and the gang – a penultimate episode that still leaves most of the season’s biggest threads unresolved.