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22 March 2021

Is Line of Duty gaslighting me?

Watching the new series has made me wonder if I need to up my intake of vitamin D or something.

By Rachel Cooke

Is Line of Duty (28 March, 9pm) gaslighting me? I’m not sure. But since there’s a lot of talk right now about authenticity, I hope you’ll hear my truth, which is that watching the new series has made me wonder if I need to up my intake of vitamin D or something. Of course it’s perfectly possible that I am, in fact, mad. I don’t discount this. Lockdown has had strange effects on us all. However, on balance, I’m inclined to bet you a glossy, full-colour Ted Hastings kitchen calendar (let’s go for 2022, when you might actually have something to put in it) that I’m not the only viewer who spent the first episode wondering why everyone kept going on about the “chiz”, as if they’d all spent their last surveillance operation reading not Lee Child, but The Compleet Molesworth. (In Geoffrey Willans’s stories, as any fule kno, a chiz is a swiz.)   

[See also: Francis Lee’s Ammonite is a film of earthy, robust sensuality]

I’ve complained before about the acronyms in Line of Duty (CHIS, it turns out, stands for “covert human intelligence source” – in plain English, an informant). But as we embark on series six, a far greater problem is the weight of the past. As the plot races on, names and events float to the surface of my consciousness like something disturbing in a canal. Who was Roz Huntley again? And how many H’s are there still to be unmasked? Jed Mercurio’s long-running show is the cop equivalent of Le Morte d’Arthur, with the crucial difference that no useful concordance is yet available. Its legends may only be cracked open via laborious excursions into dusty liveblogs and Wikipedia. Cross-referencing remains impossible, even for its most devout scholars. 

Don’t read on if you’re exceptionally spoiler-anxious. This series has a new star, Kelly Macdonald, who plays Jo Davidson, the DCI leading an investigation into the murder of a journalist. On her team is Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) – no, she’s not undercover; she has actually left AC-12! – and who could now be a useful resource for her old colleagues in anti-corruption, given that they suspect her new boss of being bent. En route to arrest a suspect, you see, Davidson spotted an unrelated (and possibly fake) robbery, at which point she detoured her convoy of armed police – a decision that may have allowed the suspect to escape. How she managed to “see” this event no one knows. The only evidence of trouble was a van parked outside a bookie. “You’d do well to spot a piped band in there,” said Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), reviewing CCTV footage of the incident with Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). We don’t yet know if Hastings is still living in a Travelodge – how his tea tray used to pierce the heart! – but he’s starting to sound dangerously like a spoof of himself.

[See also: Patricia Highsmith’s psychopath heroes]

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I gather that some women long to be wrapped in Hastings’s arms, as if in an Aran sweater. But he makes me think, for reasons I cannot quite articulate, of a porpoise (if porpoises were Masons, and up for a balti). I’m more fascinated by Davidson, who unaccountably wears heels with her body armour and whose bun is comprised of elaborate pre-Raphaelite whirls. Such things make her character seem less than convincing. And her weirdly expressionless voice! With the exception of Hastings, everyone in Line of Duty sounds more and more like they’re working at the Halifax. No, scratch that. Even Hastings is starting to sound like all he really wants to do is help you find that missing direct debit: “Well, that’s what we do, son, we hunt the truth.”  

I worry about how this is going to get wrapped up. Is this the last series? Or will there be more? On the internet, there’s wild speculation that this is indeed The End, and that Fleming is H (maybe her middle name is Hermione, or she’ll be revealed as a former hairdresser). But I’m not convinced. To use another analogy, perhaps Line of Duty will turn out to be like Edward Casaubon’s book, “The Key to All Mythologies”, in Middlemarch. It will go on and on. It will never be finished. Until the day we die, Mercurio’s mysterious hieroglyphics will be inscribed on the tatty manuscript pages of our minds. Lindsay Denton. Balaclava man. The Caddy, the Caddy, the Caddy.

[See also: BBC Radio 4’s Conspiracies is a deep, broad consideration of conspiratorial thinking]

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This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special 2021

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