Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty is one of the best dramas produced by the BBC in recent years and its welcome third season has proven to be as cold and complex as its predecessors.
Last week’s opener focused on the complicity, and coercion into a lie, of a team of police firearms officers after their bullying sergeant, Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays), executes a suspect on a suburban street in broad daylight.
As the officers of AC12, the police anti corruption unit, probe the circumstances of the killing, they meet with a wall of silence from the firearms team and political pressure from administrators to avoid tarnishing the reputation of the force.
Even the undercover posting of Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) to Waldron’s squad fails to shed any light on the killing or crack the contrived alibis of PCs Kennedy (Will Mellor), Bains (Arsher Ali) and Brickord (Leanne Best). With no option other than to return the officers to active service, suspicion and enmity within the team leads to another deadly confrontation – and the troubled, divisive character of Waldron meets his bloody end on the bedroom floor of a squat during a raid.
The stand out quality of Line of Duty has been its ability to present multi-layered storylines and a blurring of the boundaries between good and bad. A recurring theme within previous seasons has been the ambiguity around the integrity of the officers of the anti-corruption unit – we know who watches the police, but who watches the watcher? Cottan (Craig Parkinson), especially, falls into this category. While outwardly supportive of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and the work of AC12, Cottan dances to the beat of another’s drum and his brass neck and chameleon-like ability to blend into the background makes his screen presence toe-curlingly uncomfortable. He’s a wrong ‘un and with bodies stacking up it remains to be seen whether he will be able to snake his way out of the morass.
As DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) picks away at the scab of Waldron’s background, he discovers the headless corpse of the shooting victim’s brother and evidence of child sex abuse suffered by the officer as a child. However, his path forward is obscured when Cottan pockets and destroys a key piece of evidence containing the names of others involved.
The case is further complicated when Kennedy (Mellor) is found hanged in a disused industrial unit and the two surviving members of the team play the safest card in the deck and pin the blame on the dead guy for the death of Waldron.
Lindsay Denton, the uber manipulator of season two, played with aplomb by Keeley Hawes, returns in a courtroom subplot that threatens to undermine Arnott’s position within AC12. Seeking to exploit technicalities in the case against her, the former detective uses sex as her tool of choice to call into question the credibility of Arnott’s damaging evidence.
This intriguing pot boiler is bubbling along nicely and the introduction of a shady puppet master, pulling the strings of the reluctant Bains, adds further confusion to proceedings.
Line of Duty airs Thursdays 9pm on BBC1. Episodes are available on BBC iPlayer for 28 days after initial broadcast.