Ever get that feeling when you meet someone, and can’t quite place their face? It was Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) with a serious case of deja vu in season 6 episode 2 of Line of Duty, when introduced to a shifty-looking bobby at the murder scene of Carl Banks.
“This has been bugging me,” she asks the young cop, “but have we met before?”. Yes, you have actually, Kate. This is none other than Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper), the teen tearaway turned gangland assassin who has now fraudulently infiltrated the Murder Investigation Team at Hillside. While she figures out where she’s seen him before – no, you didn’t both reach for the last loaf of bread at the corner shop – here’s the full case notes on PC Pilkington: the most bent copper currently on active service.
Ryan tha kid
Ryan first popped up in series one as a bike-riding teen recruited into gangland business by Tommy Hunter, and his main duties were bombing around the estate on his BMX, nicking phones, and delivering burners to other gang members. When he wasn’t working his way up from the bottom of the greasy ranks of the OCG, he spent his spare time generally terrorising the public who lived on Borogrove Estate; from old man Alf Butterfield to Terry Boyle, the man with Downs Syndrome who has been manipulated into covering up crimes for the gang.
After Alf batters Ryan with his walking stick – about time someone did, tbh – Ryan was apprehended by the police, so he had to ditch the drugs and money he had on him, and he told Hunter that small-time dealer Wesley Duke refused to give him the money: Duke’s later found dead and hanging from a lamppost in the estate.
Ryan next turned up in the kidnapping of DCI Tony Gates, who is shown the body of his former lover, Jackie Laverty, that the gang have offed and stuffed into a freezer – which is where Ryan gets inspiration from when marvelling at Terry’s fridge-freezer in his flat.
DS Arnott (Martin Compston) is on to Ryan and his associates, and unfortunately for him, that means he’s also kidnapped. Ryan goes all Donnie Brasco on him, and attempts to cut off Arnott’s fingers with a bolt cutter, before realising that with just the strength of a 13-year-old’s forearm, he'd struggle to cut through a piece of edam.
Gates arrests Ryan – and here’s the clincher for Kate – she’s the one who interviews him to find out his level of involvement in the gang, but he says no comment for pretty much the whole session, even when Kate threatens him that he’ll be sent to jail where the lads will “knock out his teeth so you give better blowjobs”. Is he bothered? Is he hell, and instead delivers the now iconic line: “Can I have a Big Mac now?”
Ryan the gangland apprentice
We hear nothing of Ryan for another three seasons until 2019’s series five and, now in his early 20s, he’s a fully-fledged part of the OCG: taking part in police diversion heists, stealing heroin, killing PC Maneet Bindra to order, moving body of the freezer-dwelling Laverty and orchestrating huge drugs deals behind which appears to be the boss, John Corbett (Stephen Graham). But Ryan smells a rat, a Corbett-shaped rat, as he’s one of the first to realise that Corbett is actually an undercover officer and goes to an elaborate plan to eventually slit his throat.
When the gang is on the brink of being busted by AC-12, Ryan mentions that he’s passed several exams, and that he’s got an up-coming interview. For those slow on the uptake on Ryan’s long game, at the end of series five, it’s revealed: “Ryan Pilkington has been accepted for training as a student police officer”. Which is why the fandom have been on the edge of their seats to see the return of Ryan in series six.
What does this mean for the OCG, AC-12, MIT and other Line of Duty acronyms?
As we learned in episode two of the current series, Ryan was drafted in as a replacement to the MIT, after Joanne Davidson managed to bin off her ex-girlfriend Farida Jatri and sets her up as the true villain of the Gail Vella murder cover up. When Davidson is released from AC-12 questioning, who’s there to pick her up in his little blue-flashing car? It’s....Ryan. Davidson tells him in his own language: “That’s what happens to a rat”.
It looks likely that Ryan’s orchestrated the killing of Carl Banks, the suspected hitman of Gail Vella, and that he couldn’t even bother placing the murder weapon more than 10 metres away from the body, which seems to set Kate correctly questioning the convenience of it all.
The fact that Ryan hasn’t even bothered to change his name before signing up to the force surely shows a high level of either cockiness or stupidity. While Ryan’s planning to hide behind plant pots and the like whenever Kate’s around, surely he’s going to come face to face with Arnott soon, and unlike Kate, you’re unlikely to forget the face of the kid who tried to lop your digits off with a mechanics’ tool.
But some eagle-eyed fans have suggested that Kate is already on to him. “Kate knows!” one person tweeted, with a still of Kate by a computer with Ryan’s profile on it:
Meanwhile, others have picked up on the fact that the MIT boss, DS Ian Buckells, also interviewed Ryan back in season one, and could have swung it for him to be released without charge. This seems to be suggesting Buckells could be the missing part of the H quartet and is the one who has really recruited Ryan:
And is the set of golf clubs in Buckells’s office a red herring, or a not-so-subtle nod to him being “the caddy”?
What is Ryan’s end game? It’s hard to tell at the moment, but what we do know is there’s going to be an awful lot more of this as the series rolls on:
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