The sixth series of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty was without a doubt the most anticipated instalment yet. Production had already been halted for six months because of the pandemic, and lockdown meant that many people discovered the show for the first time during the last hiatus. The series has kept the nation gripped over the last seven weeks, and on Sunday night, Line of Duty came to its dramatic conclusion – but received a very mixed response.
Throughout the series, the key mystery for the team – Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), and former colleague Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) – was the identity of ‘H’, or the ‘fourth man’. In the finale, he was unveiled as DSI Ian Buckells, seemingly the final link between police and organised crime, and the “last ring-leader in a clandestine network of corrupt police officers”, according to Hastings. In his role as a communicator who facilitated the operations of the OCG network, Buckells was sending messages to DSI Joanne Davidson (Kelly McDonald), forcing her to mislead the investigation of the murder of Gail Vella, a journalist on the cusp of exposing police corruption. McDonald, as the guest lead in this sixth series, was finally given the chance to shine in the last couple of episodes and delivered a captivating performance of an individual born into a world of corruption.
The reveal of Buckells as the final piece in the long-standing puzzle was surprising, but it made sense to me. He had been present since the very first series and was involved throughout the show’s run, plus it was an interesting twist that he was no criminal mastermind but just a corrupt and greedy officer who saw an opportunity to gain wealth and climb the ranks. However, the build-up was arguably stronger than the pay off, leading the finale to feel somewhat underwhelming and anticlimactic.
Whilst AC-12 caught the “bent copper” once again, Chief Constable Osborne’s insistence of a “few rotten apples” within the force and denial of any institutionalised police corruption meant that their hard work ultimately went unnoticed. The epilogue of this series closed with the statement that “AC-12’s powers to curb wrongdoing in public office have never been weaker”, highlighting that the good guys don’t always win. Despite there not being any major deaths in the finale, Line of Duty didn’t deliver the triumphant ending that viewers were expecting, instead producing a sombre and thought-provoking conclusion.
Line of Duty has always had political resonance, but it was difficult to ignore the parallels present in this finale: from the idea that Buckells’s “corruption was mistaken for incompetence” to Hastings’s speech about truth, integrity and accountability (which was Dunbar at his absolute best). To skilfully hold a mirror up to our own leaders is a bold and clever way to end the show, which is, at its core, about compelling dialogue rather than action scenes and stunts. However, I do think at times Mercurio’s desire to make a broader point and a political statement overtook his commitment to telling an engaging story and making exciting television, resulting in a rather flat and forgettable finale.
There was an air of finality to Sunday’s Line of Duty, but the continued success of the show means I wouldn’t be surprised if a series 7 was in the works. The anger and frustration surrounding this final episode is understandable, but I hope this doesn’t tarnish what has undoubtedly been one of the biggest triumphs in British drama in the last decade. What began as a hidden gem on BBC Two in 2012 grew to be TV’s most talked about show: Sunday night’s episode had a massive 12.8 million viewers, making it the biggest TV drama audience for over 20 years. Line of Duty proves that linear television is far from dead, and that audiences are willing to subscribe to the rituals of traditional viewing if a programme can capture their imagination. But is this the last we’ve seen of our AC-12 trio? We’ll just have to wait…
Featured Image Source: Still via BBCiPlayer / Line of Duty / Series 6 Episode 7