This is just one long spoiler for Line of Duty season 6, episode 1
“I’m bored, mate. Ready for the challenge,” says DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) in the opening episode of series six of Line of Duty. You and us both, mate. He’s speaking for an entire nation who have been waiting two years – one of which was lived through a global pandemic – for the new series of the BBC police thriller; to wildly speculate on who’s the bent copper and to be willfully led on a wild goose chase to uncover the truth, by way of some bombastic action and double-crossing characters with nefarious links to the uber-villain(s) known as H. So, without any further ado, let’s get to it.
We’re straight back in with the action with new guest star for this series, Kelly Macdonald, aka Diane from Trainspotting, now known as DCI Joanne Davidson. She’s a suited-and-booted lanyard-flashing superior who’s keen to show her troops who’s boss. And she’s taking charge with a gruesome murder case.
For anyone who’s not watched the early series and thought they’d check out the hype anyway: no, they were not speaking another language. Look, you’ll get used to it, even if the first minute was practically impenetrable to even the most hardened of viewers. One acronym you need to be across – because it pops up a lot in episode one – is ‘CHIS’. What’s that mean? A covert human intelligence officer, better known as ‘spy cops’ – undercover agents who infiltrate gangs, terrorist cells (and occasionally father children by women who are unaware they’re not who they pretend to be).
We soon learn the case that this series is going to be built around the death of journalist, Gail Vella. Has the creator, Jed Mercurio, turned to the 1999 Jill Dando case for inspiration for this storyline? Quite possibly: Vella was also killed at apparently close range with a shotgun. Like Dando’s murder, it’s a conundrum for the police – is it a stalker or a hitman? My money’s on the latter. I’m also betting that Vella was about to uncover an undercover crime ring as well.
Our faceless CHIS has a lead – a full confession, he claims – that a man named Ross Turner has confessed to the murder. All the necessary backup is dispatched from The Hill to jump on him, including Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), who it appears has now left behind the dream team of Arnott and Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) in AC-12. But there’s no time to process that, as we’re in the middle of a mission... oh, hang on a minute, Davidson clearly thinks she’s in an Uber, as she gets the SWAT team to reroute and swing by an armed robbery taking place in a side street, which she just happens to notice as she’s speeding en route to the initial bust. Looks shady, almost like a – dare we say it? – pre-planned diversion tactic. We do dare, because that’s clearly what it is. Remember the baby-stuck-in-a-car-crash diversion orchestrated by the criminal overlord gang in episode one of the last series? We’ve been here before, lads.
The team make it to the high-rise estate and inside find Terry Boyle (Tommy Jessop), our first proper link back to the previous series. If you can’t quite place him, let me help you out: Jackie Laverty’s dismembered body was stashed in his freezer. Poor old Terry never has any room for frozen oven chips, as the long-established gang regularly exploit him for their evil doings and drop body parts off for his icebox more frequently than the Ocado man.
Terry has learning difficulties, which leads Davidson to conclude he’s more likely a stalker than a cold-blooded murderer, especially when forensics reveal he’s been, er, pleasuring himself over pictures of Vella. Weirdly, though, his entire flat has been almost forensically cleaned, the team discover. There’s also a gaping hole where most kitchens would have a fridge-freezer. Maybe he’s just getting ready for the next flash sale at Curry’s.
Back in AC-12, things are slightly less dramatic for Hastings and Arnott. Hastings – due to his past transgressions in series five – has been demoted to NFIed to most important police bizness, while Arnott’s been stuck in true purgatory: HR and admin hell. So when a source drops into their laps – Sergeant Farida Jatri (Anneika Rose), accusing Davidson of diverting the bust – their eyes practically start flashing handcuffs. “We hunt the truth!” Hastings reminds Arnott. But, he adds, he needs more proof before they can start officially investigating Davidson. A source within her team would be perfect. Like Fleming? The dynamic trio have been split apart, but this is just the plot progression we need for them to be reunited!
However, Fleming’s concerned that her new role as chief UCO (undercover officer) might end up putting her in a difficult position. Still, she ventures some information anyway: Carl Banks’s prints were found all over the flat where Terry was found. Does this Carl Banks have anything to do with Lee Banks, one of the gang members from the last series, who has links with Robert Denmoor (one of the original Balaclava Men), who was sent to jail for giving a bung to another cop to orchestrate the crying baby diversion? Is he just a red herring? Are you confused yet? Good. That’s what every first episode of every season of Line of Duty is for.
It later turns out Davidson’s boss, DCI Buckells, didn’t put through the correct paperwork for the team spying on Terry’s flat – red flag for Buckells! – meaning there was a gap of time (almost four hours in fact) for the real Ross Turner (whoever he is) to flee. Then, the CHIS is found dead and things look even more suspicious for Davidson. Farida’s straight on the phone to Arnott. “You have no idea what she’s capable of,” she warns, which sets Arnott and new sidekick, Chloe (Shalom Brune-Franklin) officially off on their anti-corruption case.
But after a loaded pause between Davidson and Farida earlier on in the episode, we learn that they’ve been in a relationship, and Davidson has dumped her. Does Farida have an axe to grind? Is Davidson not really the villain she’s been painted as so early on in the series? Or has she been deep-recruited by the OCG (organised crime group) to set up a relationship with Davidson?
Davidson packs her suitcase – might as well leave the leather jacket that Farida’s kindly, um, refashioned – and heads back to her flat, where she promptly locks all 17 of her door locks. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? While she’s drinking the customary post-argument glass of vino collapso, the camera closes in on a childhood photo of Davidson with her mum, and we all recall the Chekohovian fact that she told Farida she “has no family”. There’s definitely unfinished business going on here. Then she smashes the glass of wine in anger at the picture. Saves on washing up, I guess.
Terry is released as Davidson says she wasn’t going to set him up: “No way am I going after someone like Terry Boyle as he’s the easy way out.” This could well be a nod to the real-life miscarriage of justice of Barry George, who served time for Dando’s death, then was acquitted after eight years in jail. Finally, enigmatically, we then see Davidson half-smiling as Terry heads off. Read her? Sir, we don’t even know her – yet.
Fleming’s apparently split with her husband, and Davidson sarcastically jokes to Farida that she’s been shagging her – but what’s with that weird hand-touchy moment between the pair at the end? And Davidson jokingly calling her a “dirty stopout” at the beginning of the episode? Sexual tension in the corridors of The Hill: we love to see it.
Arnott’s still at the codeine pills like they’re Smarties. That bodes poorly.
Topical Northern Irish phrase of the week - “Haul yer wheesht!”: translates to “Shut up!”
Line of Duty continues on Sundays on BBC One
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