Urgent exit required. You can say that again. Hearts were in mouths. Breath was taken. Edges of sofas were perched on. Kettles were not boiled. Shots were fired. Lines were crossed. Evidence was presented. Lorry drivers were asked to follow that car. Line Of Duty (BBC Two) mostly talked its way to glory in the series three finale, but when Dot texted those three magic words, the ensuing shoot-out and car/foot chase were a blessed relief. It began with a man being shot and ended with a man being shot, linked by a whole identity parade of other men, and although enough threads were left hanging to allow Jed Mercurio to resurrect the case should he wish to in series four, the protracted interview sequences (protracted even for LoD) pretty much joined all the dots to Dot. (Craig Parkinson is one of a few actors I know well enough to have a coffee with, and he is, of course, a charming, uncorrupt, non-shifty, non-lurky man in real life, but he played one of about a dozen blinders in this series.)
You don’t really need another voice added to the chorus of approval at the end of what has been, arguably, the tightest, most disciplined and most topically resonant of the three series so far. But I would like to commend all concerned for creating the holy grail of steam-powered television in the stream-powered age: TV you want to watch when it goes out (the equivalent of John and Gregg’s “food you want to eat” on Masterchef). But the fuss being made currently seems disproportionate. Not because series three wasn’t amazing. It was. But because it was the third series. There were two more before this one. Its quality and addictiveness are nothing new. We first met the anti-corruption outfit AC-12 in the summer of 2012 – Steve, Kate, Ted, Dot, Nigel – in a five-episode run that saw Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James) investigated. Its ratings held steady and firm at around 3.7 million. Figures slipped a bit for series two in 2014, in which we met DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), but crucially defied TV ratings orthodoxy by rising during the six-part run, a sure sign of positive word of mouth. A buzz was created. Social media said hello. As such, anticipation for series three was high. And the heat was on Jed Mercurio.
While Gates was killed (he walked into traffic) in series one, Denton was merely locked up, and her return was series three’s second big shock, after the Marion Crane-style death of its apparent new lead Daniel Mays in episode one. Mercurio knows how to play to the gallery: he had an audience this time, and he gave us what we wanted: surprises, police procedure and – yes – loads of talking. It was the lengthy interrogation of Mark Bonnar’s crooked Detective Chief Constable Dryden in series two that really strained preconceptions about what a TV audience wants and rewrote the rulebook in doing so. As Vic and Bob used to say, it’s not all talking, but Line Of Duty‘s courage and conviction live in those interrogation scenes. By the way, it’s always Adrian Dunbar’s Ted Hastings who makes those scenes breathe with his muttered asides. Scenes like those should by rights be dry and technical, and they are, but individual characters still arise from within them, which is fantastic writing. (Ted’s even got a comic catchphrase: “Hastings, yes, like the battle.”)
I’m all for hyperbole and noisy praise, and I like it when the name of writer is bandied around by people who normally only name actors, but the morning after the last episode before is no time to nominate people as the next James Bond because they did a bit of running on the TV. Most of the principal cast on LoD had already established themselves in any case; this just gave them a perfect platform to show us what they’d got, and which many of us already knew they had. But the fact that even the most loquacious and verbose cheerleaders of Twitter seemed content merely to say “breathtaking” speaks volumes about the shock it left us in.
Let us not forget that series one and series two were also breathtaking, and so were the actors in them: Parkinson, Dunbar, Vicky McClure, Martin Compston, Keeley Hawes, Neil Morrissey. That the main characters now seem to exist is as much down to the airtime they’ve had as the skill with which Mercurio has developed them in series three. I want them back. We all want them back. Urgent re-entry required.
I wonder how many people currently whooping about LoD saw Bodies in 2004? I wish they’d repeat it – it was on BBC Three and I imagine only a critical hit – it’s one of the best medical dramas I’ve seen. And Line Of Duty is one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen. That’s hyperbole enough.