Like the battle


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.



23 thoughts on “Like the battle

  1. Ha! You caught me re-watching LoD ep6 on iPlayer just now. Like so many internet comments I’ve seen, the ending was a bit too US cop show to comfortably fit into what LoD has been over the last 3 series. Like a bombastic orchestral finale (too much tympani!) to a finely-tuned, exquisitely played (and edited) intricate, intimate concert.

    And the really big bad guys go on; the smaller swimmers get caught, and eaten. But the nuances of even Big Bad Cottan were well worth watching.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree, LoD has been consistently excellent, and provided surprises and twists throughout its three series (the death of a new character at the end of the first episode was done before as well, of course). I think this and the second series have been better than the first, and perhaps this one an improvement on the second in light of the ending of the second series that so many people found unsatisfying (I liked it, but it definitely split opinion). I actually think that the last 15 minutes worked precisely because it was out of the ordinary for LoD, that made it such a surprise when it all went off. And I thought it quite plausible (to the extent that drama like that is), that the series earned that twist by showing how the tension had been building for Dot through the series and he had been acting in more, and more desperate ways and showing signs of cracking. So even though the action sequence was extreme, and was to a certain extent out of character for the programme, it was made plausible why the characters might act out of character in that case. I think that is one of the things that has set this apart, the way it has earned those twists and surprises.

    It certainly sets a high bar for the opener of Peaky Blinders to jump next week. I’m looking forward to seeing it try though.


      • Pre-publicity suggests that it’s a further escalation in scale and quality from the super second series. In that respect i think PB and LoD are similar in that they have improved from one series to the next (and The Bridge is another in that group). Using a comparison you used in an earlier blog they’re the television equivalent of the Toy Story trilogy (as opposed to the Godfather films).

        W/r.t. the blog post, I think you’re right about Mercurio too, it’s not as though his reputation wasn’t already established before LoD. I don’t remember Bodies, and perhaps didn’t watch it, but I remember Cardiac Arrest was perhaps the first proper drama series I really committed to when growing up.


  3. Caught this series out of the blue as I somehow missed the previous 2 series. Loved every minute, and like you watched it when it was broadcast, which is highly unusual these days. It felt like a “proper” drama, along the lines of Jimmy McGovern and Peter Flannery. My dilemma now is whether to watch series 1 and 2, knowing what transpired in series 3.


    • You could definitely watch Series 1 without the events of 2 and 3 spoiling it. But 2 would be slightly spoiled by your having seen the outcome of the Arnott/Denton storyline, I fear (which is not to say there aren’t plenty of other delights in it that you can enjoy even with the outcome at the back of your mind). It’s too good to deprive yourself of!


  4. So first of all I have to say that while this is not quite the Tuesday delight of the defunct Telly Addict, the demise of which has left a gaping hole in my life, it is terrific to hear your take on a series I only found out about because of your review-thank you. I have enjoyed all three seasons and I think this one was flat out terrific from start to finish. It was a shocker to lose Danny Waldron so early but it did set the plot in motion and the myriad layers, trails, red herrings, double crosses, dirty dealings and crackling interrogations were something to behold. I was worried at one stage that Hastings was not getting the lines he deserved but after the finale I think that Jed Mercurio saved up the best ones for him, the catchphrase yes but the scene with Polly Walker where he growls about taking her down so help him, brilliant! The acting is flawless and in some shows it might seem a little forced to segue from interrogation to millennium thriller chase, it really didn’t here. It is also comforting to see that Vicky McClure did her own stunts (I think) and running. And Peaky Blinders is great you say? Another show that I discovered through you. I can’t wait. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was on the edge of my seat with knots in my stomach for the full 90 minutes. I had no idea how it was going to play out. That over 60 mins of 4 people in a room with back and forth was so intriguing was a triumph of script writing, directing and acting. I had no problem with the end, I felt LOD had earned it and I found it.immensely satisfying, not once when I watched it did I roll my eyes or think it was ridiculous. I just went along for the ride and felt rewarded.
    I never saw season 1 and only started mid way season 2 but caught them on netflix before 3 started and enjoyed it all.

    They are all great, but Adrian I AM CALM Dunbar was brilliant and his putting Dot and Jill and Fairbanks in their place was a sight to behold.


  6. Your entire post arrived as an email again.
    I could read it all without coming here to comment, but since I’m only halfway through the season then I didn’t actually want to read it.
    This will probably post my name as drogmetohellandback, but I’m the same bloke that advised you to change this on your last thread.
    Cheers, Will.


  7. What with The Last Kingdom, And then there were none, Happy Valley, Shetland, The Night Manager, People vs OJ, LoD, currently re-watching Hinterland on iPlayer. And now ‘Blinders

    That’s a license fee right there.

    oh and favourite Hastings line was in the last episode, something like:

    “just like you’re grannies nightie son… covers everything”


  8. Have you seen the good news! Season 2 of Gomorrah starts on Sky Atlantic on May 11. I saw an ad for it on Sky last night.


    • I did, and I can’t wait. Look out, too, for Suburra, from the same director Stefano Sollima, another gangland/corruption story set in contemporary Italy, released here on 13 May.


  9. Good piece on a good show. The tension of the interrogation scenes are brilliant precisely because of Hastings etc., being so normal. Wish there was more of it, but if there were perhaps it wouldn’t be quite as good. Dilution etc.


  10. I seem to be one of few people who disagree. While there certainly were parts that surprised (like Danny’s death), there are just too many things where my brains scream: “This doesn’t make any sense!”. Random example: what were those two armed officers doing outside of the interview room when Dot was questioned? They weren’t necessary before for any other suspects so why would they be needed now, when interview itself began as a “friendly cooperation” without charges? There were so many holes in evidence against Steve (which still resulted in arrest) that no competent copper should feel comfortable with.

    I liked first season while second season annoyed me to the point where I thought I was done with it. My wife, you and Guardian persuaded me to watch third and on the whole I can’t say I did not enjoy it. There were good bits and some performances are great (Dunbar, Parkinson), but I have problem buying McClure’s performance or her character which seems especially inept at undercover work. In fact that’s the weakest part of the script for me because it requires that bent officers who KNOW they are under investigation are consistently surprisingly open to people they have just met (with minor exception of Lindsay to Kate, for a while).

    At the end I am happy they have tied things together well enough that I can ignore next one, if there will be one.


    • I have heard similar complaints from some people about the two armed police officers at the interview, but to be honest, I was so caught up in the fiction of it, I spared no thought for how realistic it was. That, for me, is the power of great writing/acting/directing. I’m always nitpicking if I’m not “in the moment” with a drama. I stop when I’m hooked in.


  11. Been putting off reading this review while I caught up on all three series which I have managed to do over the past week, inspired to watch by your enthusiasm. It was really absorbing telly, even though there were quite a few bits I didn’t entirely follow. The interviews/interrogations were as gripping as any action telly, but during that last one I was thinking that the finale needed a burst of action and then it happened so brilliantly! Urgent exit required! Wow. I actually felt a bit sorry for Dot at the end. So well played by Craig Parkinson. Adrian Dunbar’s Hastings was such a treat with all his off-the-cuff comments, Martin Compston’s eyebrows were intriguing. Great performances all round, really.

    And, by the way, your blog still comes in full in the email with no need to come here. It’s not fixed.


    • And should I bother watching Undercover? I’ve watched one episode, but a friend just told me how disappointed she was with the ending and a quick glance at your blog post suggests you might concur (didn’t read beyond the first line because of spoilers).


      • I would say – seriously – don’t bother. The last episode woefully fails to tie anything up, explain anything, or make sense. It will make you wish you hadn’t wasted the whole six hours. (If there didn’t seem to be such a consensus, I might not be so bold. But there is.) Do yourself a favour!


    • Yes, I seem unable to switch the email to “summary” despite numerous attempts and two pleas to the WordPress tech people. We’re stuck with it. (Unless anybody else has any brighter ideas than the people who run the place.)


  12. Marcella has twists and turns, and mystery, and it tells you whodunit and why at the end. Worthwhile, I’d say. (Which is not to say it’s entirely plausible, but you go with it.)


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