I’ve just spent six hours watching the best suspense drama I’ve seen in a very long time. Series 2 of “Line of Duty,” a BBC product now available in the U.S. on DVD, is certainly not your average procedural. Its inner engine is an uncanny combination of outstanding writing by Jed Mercurio and a superb performance by Keeley Hawes as DI Lindsay Denton. To see television acting and writing so intertwined and executed at such a high level is a rarity.
The series opens with a tense sequence that you’ll need to replay later on, probably more than once. Denton is the replacement duty officer on the night she catches an emergency call from another officer in charge of a witness in protective custody. The witness has been threatened and must be relocated that night. But things take a horrific twist when the two-car convoy transferring the witness is ambushed, Lindsay’s car is sideswiped into a tree and the vehicle carrying the witness and three police officers is sprayed by automatic weapon fire, doused with gasoline and set alight. Only Lindsay and the horribly burned witness survive.
Because this botched operation screams “inside job,” Lindsay comes under the scrutiny of AC-12, a police anti-corruption unit. Lindsay is initially interviewed by Police Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). She comes across as a drab, put-upon drudge (If Ms. Hawes’ name weren’t on the DVD case, I never would have recognized her minus makeup and sporting what must be the ugliest brunette wig ever created). Unmarried, she’s had to downsize in order to afford her mother’s nursing home care. As the story unfolds, the members of the AC-12 team variously suspect her of incompetence, recklessness and outright corruption. Her finances are scrutinized for bribes. DC Kate Fleming (Vicki McClure), another member of the AC-12 team, goes undercover to serve as her aide in investigating missing persons cases while keeping a close eye on her. There’s never a moment when Lindsay is not under scrutiny.
It’s the “Is she or isn’t she?” that makes this vehicle go. You’re never sure of Lindsay. On the one hand you feel sorry for her. When she protests at one point “Being a police officer is the only thing left to me and now you want to take it away,” it seems AC-12, and Kate Fleming in particular, have gone off the deep end with their suspicions. And yet there are times when Lindsay seems far too glib, too ready with an explanation or excuse when an investigator points out an inconsistency in her story. And in fact, when you go back to the rapidly unfolding events of that first episode, there are certain points at which her reactions and responses seem somewhat off. Even more damning is the fact that she’s got a mean streak–at one point she smashes a bottle into the face of a noisy neighbor and bangs her head into the ground. So don’t be surprised to find yourself siding with the doubters in AC-12 on more than one occasion.
As Keeley Hawes notes in a special features interview in the DVD set, “When I first read through the scripts to the end of Episode 5, I still couldn’t tell whether she was a goodie or a baddie.” That’s what makes this series of “Line of Duty” so extraordinary—the ability of Jed Mercurio and Ms. Hawes to sustain that ambiguity over six hours without faltering for a moment. Ultimately all is revealed, but it’s to the credit of Mr. Mercurio that he never flinches in telling this story. There are a number of brutal events that occur—the murder of yet another police officer, Lindsay’s treatment by her fellow officers and her arrest and imprisonment, all of which are shocking in their unexpectedness. But the resolution—if you can call it that—while not necessarily a happy one, is not unexpected in a drama that treats its audience like adults.
Kudos all around.