Obviously, this is all spoilers
Seven weeks of the boiling pot of drama, mystery and tension in Line of Duty all finally came to a climax: and honestly, it was all rather unsatisfying. Perhaps we’d all got too deep in our own conspiracy theories about the show – and maybe this perfect fan’s wide-reaching ideas hyped us up for some sort of super-reveal – but that gut-punch of a finale twist never really landed.
Did we find out who H was? Sort of; no; not really. Were all the links tied together neatly? Hardly. Did we even find out what’s become of our dream team in AC-12? No; their names were even left off the traditional end credits update. Is that now the end for Line of Duty altogether? It certainly felt that way, but was ambiguous enough to possibly open the case book again – although whether Jed Mercurio should is a whole other matter entirely.
Anyway, let’s dissect the bones we were thrown and see if we can at least get some type of closure from the past seven weeks’ investment.
First up, the dig on the workshop concrete floor revealed a veritable treasure trove of macabre items: gun and gloves with the blood and DNA of Gail Vella and Carl Banks on them, confirming what we already knew: Carl really was the hitman of the journalist, on the orders of the OCG. The same gang apparently decided to make a time-capsule of all their murdering (cute!), stashing the knife that killed Maneet Bindra (Ryan Pilkington’s prints on it), John Corbett (Pilko’s prints again), even the blade that slayed Jackie Laverty (Tony Gates’s fingerprints all over it, as placed deliberately on by the gang). Oh, and Marcus Thurwell is also definitely dead, so there goes that theory that he faked his death, and any hope of seeing Jimmy Nesbitt getting some actual LoD screen time.
It’s time for Ted Hastings, Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming to pull in Jo Davidson again for questioning, in the hope she’ll reveal who her bent copper stepfather is. Poor Jo’s presumably spent the last week in a prison cell with a horrific revelation running around her head: that her uncle, Tommy Hunter, was also her dad. But someone’s faked Kate’s signature on a production order for an interview and Jo’s been issued a one-way ticket to murderville, via a police van and that shady looking prison officer again.
A half-arsed shoot-out later with some balaclava men – do the OCG have an agency they can go to for these rent-a-thugs? Hopefully they’re getting some sort of bulk discount – and Jo finds herself back in the glass box of doom being interrogated for a second time. Smirking senior Patricia Carmichael hasn’t bothered sitting in on this one though – and it’s not really explained why she’s suddenly backed off on her terrier-like behaviour of the past few weeks – so Ted, Steve and Kate can really go to town on Jo on getting the answers they and we have all been waiting for. They recognise she’s been coercively controlled all her life, and offer her the chance – to paraphrase Primal Scream – to “be free to live the life you want” and join a witness protection programme (although that hasn’t exactly worked out well for her predecessors before) if she hands over the all-important name. She relents, and it’s Patrick Fairbank, the paedophile corrupt officer and all-round ghoul who was one of the perpetrators of the Sands View children’s care home abuse from series three.
Off we pop for a second visit to the notorious child sex offender, who once again claims “I’ve not got the foggiest”. Is he faking his amnesia? Maybe, but he can’t even identify Samantha Davidson/Hunter (his wife) or young Jo (his step-daughter). It’s an infuriating dead-end for Ted and co; a man who can no longer remember his horrific crimes, while his victims still have to live with the memories of what he did to them.
Golden girl Chloe Bishop then gets on to the spelling mistake that’s been bugging us all for several series – seriously, is she the only one doing any work around here? – and links the misspelling, “definately”, back through the OCG online chat and the ordered hits along with a number of hand-written case notes: the Lawrence Christopher case and Operation Lighthouse. It can only be one person. They’ve caught their fourth man, their final H, not with forensics, but with a grammar error! “Come off it!”, “No way!”, “This can’t be right!” etc, AC-12 gasp. So who the hell is it then?
In a reveal more painfully strung out than an X Factor winner announcement, the long shot follows someone in a prison reg outfit and handcuffs walking through the office, into the interview room and it’s...IAN BUCKELLS? The blundering fool already in prison for perverting the course of justice? Eh? As Fleming says, his previous crimes were only thought to be “crap suits, dad cars and never putting his hand in his pocket for a round”, but now it turns out he’s a criminal mastermind? The fourth man has apparently been “hiding in plain sight” and his “corruption was mistaken for incompetence”. After following the Jo Davidson line of dealing with interrogation (“no comment”, ad infinitum) and realising he won’t get immunity until he spills some tea, he finally breaks it down.
Tommy Hunter was H, the top of the gangland food chain, but when he died, the bloody baton was passed down to Fairbank and Thurwell, then Hilton and Cottan, then when they died, Buckells found himself as a sort of default top dog for a collective of split OCG gangs that had spawned off from the OG OCG. What were his motives? “Simple greed”, apparently, and he passes off all the murder, blackmail, drugs raids, torture and evil doings with the same air of a man who forgot to put the bins out. “I just passed things on,” he shrugs, “I didn’t plan it!”. Annoyingly, that means: Buckells both is and isn’t H; that H or the fourth man doesn’t really exist; that there are potentially many merry splinter criminal gangs all feeding off each other, like QAnoners and their elusive leader(s). It’s all very anticlimactic when we’ve been used to killer twists at this point (that “URGENT EXIT REQUIRED” text, for example).
Off Buckells goes, back to prison, and the attention turns in on our three heroes. The focus this episode is on Ted, who as we discussed previously found himself in the extremely dubious position of acting exactly like the bent coppers he rails against and, to sound like the man himself, his chickens certainly came home to roost. At the beginning of the episode, Steve and Kate were struggling with the knowledge of his previous duplicitous actions, apparently tipping off John Corbett as the OCG, leading to his death, and bunging £50k of dodgy money to his widow, Steph Corbett.
Ted confessed to Steve and Kate that in his visit to Lee Banks in prison (after Corbett tortured his wife, Roisin), he informed him that there was a police mole in his gang, which directly led to Corbett’s throat being slit. He explains: “I swear to God I did not disclose him. I just said there was an informant in the OCG. I thought Corbett would hand himself in... What a terrible thing I did. If I could take back one thing, it would be that”.
The £50k - part of the £100k foisted on him unwillingly by the OCG - he gave to Steph was “some form of atonement”, but it’s now become the noose around Ted’s neck. When he goes to update Carmichael after the Buckells revelation, he tells her that he’ll be starting his appeal to contest his early retirement. In a rousing monologue, he laments: “Those in power should be held to account. It devastates me that we’ve stopped standing up for accountability, that we’ve stopped caring about truth and integrity because it is these institutional failures that enable the likes of Ian Buckells to be corrupt.” He chose the wrong crowd: she’s really not arsed.
However, he realises his words ring empty, as a few moments later, he tells Carmichael about his Corbett leak – but interestingly doesn’t mention the money – and leaves it up to her to decide what happens to his career. “What you do with it is up to you. Do it because you care about truth, accountability, you do it because you carry the fire,” he says, a man who knows he’s come to the end of the line (of Duty). If it's the police viewpoint that there’s no corruption in the forces, then Carmichael could just sweep Ted’s actions under the carpet. But if he does return to the Hill, that means he’s now complicit in police corruption and cover-ups. A dead end and a catch-22 for Ted – all things point to sadly this being his moment to bow out from the series.
As for Kate and Steve; Steve finally confesses about his painkiller addiction (after a therapy session which didn’t really add anything to the episode, the same for 30 seconds of Kate in the therapist’s chair), and they “mate...mate” each other into the sunset with the platitude of “you don’t realise what you’ve got until it’s gone”. There’s a suggestion that maybe Kate might become the new gaffer, then it’s on to the end credits updates. Terry Boyle’s a free person, as is Farida Jatri; Darren Hunter is finally charged for the Lawrence Christopher murder (but with a shifty-looking aside from Chris Lomax) and Buckells is likely to get public-interest immunity in his case. The final line shown alongside all of the mugshots on the blue wall being filed away: “AC-12’s powers to curb wrongdoing in public office have never been weaker”.
Where’s the update on Kate? Steve? Ted? We’re left hanging once again. Alongside the implication that Chief Constable Philip Osborne is still somehow involved in some high-level bent copper-y – and that Buckells may have confirmed his name as such – it’s all very unfulfilling and vague. Is it a comment about the current political climate; just because those in charge lie and deny abuse of power, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist? Topical. But we deserve better than an ending that’s essentially the existential: “H is no-one and everyone, nowhere and everywhere.”
As Buckells smirked in his interview: “I’ve made total mugs out of you lot”. We can’t help feel that it’s not only directed at AC-12, but perhaps it’s at us viewers too.
As mentioned, there doesn’t seem anyway for Ted to come back from this. Is Mercurio paving the way for a Kate and Steve spin off? Should he?
At least someone finally got a happy ending; Jo, living the country life with a good old doggy and a lovely girlfriend. The Kate and Jo love affair that was hinted at never really took off, which was a shame.
On a seventh series, Mercurio has said: “We’re in a situation where it’s not entirely clear that there will be a seventh series…We would hope there could be”. Although he also added: “Line of Duty may have reached ‘the Chandrasekhar Limit’, at which a mass collapses under its own gravitational force.” Well, quite.
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