Line of Duty
2012–2021 (Though rumors suggest a new series is coming next year)
Created by Jed Mercurio
Starring: Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar, Craig Parkinson
This blog serves an international readership, so, naturally, some content that I review should come from international sources. Conveniently, my family has recently taken to recommending me foreign television. I figure that if I can easily access it via streaming, the show must’ve been fairly popular in its native country (or has a diligent sales agent…). That’s why this month is…
…month. This recommendation comes from my younger sister. I begrudgingly admit this because that means she’s right every so often.
Britain’s shows usually run for two or three series (the equivalent of American TV seasons). Line of Duty has run for six. Every season has gained popularity with U.K. viewers; series one averaged under four million watchers while series six averaged near 15.5 million.
This show is also a breath of fresh air in the crime procedural genre. Not only is it a gripping drama, but it also examines and deconstructs police-shows’ brass-badge propaganda. In a time when police brutality is under intense societal scrutiny, Line of Duty marvelously gets to have its donut and eat it too.
Steve Arnott is an authorized firearms officer who, upon receiving faulty information, makes a call that results in a counterterrorism raid at the wrong house. Unlike his peers and superiors who opt to cover up the botched operation, Arnott testifies in court that he made a horrible mistake. Arnott’s integrity gets him blacklisted–until he’s recruited by Superintendent Hastings. Steve Arnott has a new lease on his career; in return, he must investigate the thorniest suspects–corrupt cops.
As part of Anti-Corruption Unit 12, Arnott, along with undercover officer Kate Fleming, must bring those who abuse their position to account. The job is messy with scarring consequences. If a copper is clean, the whole department’s dirty laundry gets aired, permanently destroying relationships. If a copper is bent, the villain has cultivated a mentality of fear and secrecy, which makes witness testimony near impossible to extract.
Each series of the show examines a different case, a different possible source of corruption. As the series add up, though, the cases begin to connect through the years, revealing a chilling, widespread conspiracy to permanently rot the Central London Police Force.
Yes, but it doesn’t kick into high gear until the end of episode three. Until then, the antagonist of the series seems like a typical, self-righteous blowhard who thinks that only he is above the law. When that same egoism gets a character killed, our villain becomes a worm on two hooks. Everything after that moment is transfixing.
Even before that scene, I found the show intriguing because I’ve rarely seen a drama focus on Internal Affairs (Anti-Corruption as it’s called here) in a police show. I think that’s because the nature of the premise admits fault with the job in which it’s based. Of course, everyone makes mistakes at their jobs, but each field has room for those in power to take advantage of those around them for personal gain.
The stakes are heightened, however, when it comes to the police force because citizens are expected to trust that officers and investigators are bound to protect and serve. In reality, Americans have recently seen dozens of dehumanizing videos confirming the systemic abuse about which marginalized communities have claimed for decades. While I can’t speak to police practices in other countries, I imagine that a department is rarely flawless.
Line of Duty usually acknowledges that no one can live up to ideal standards, yet their targets often fall short of any metric.
By investigating police, Line of Duty gets to examine the plot as it entertains its viewers. Yes, one of the main characters is a womanizing horndog, like in every cop show, but here, his poor decisions haunt him for years. In any other police drama, taking shortcuts to get results is lauded as “ballsy.” Here, it results in a 20-minute, gripping, dialogue scene that would make Quinten Tarantino jealous.
Another thing to make any writer jealous is Line of Duty‘s stacked bench of multilayered characters. Highlights include…
Absolutely. While the episodes are close to an hour long, there’s only six episodes in a series (seven in series six). I will say, however, that Line of Duty is still a cop show. That means the show deals with occasional, heightened tropes–of course the drug buy goes wrong, of course the prisoner transfer gets ambushed, of course a character who wants a transfer gets suckered back into the department.
What’s refreshing about the show, however, is its conscious diversity. The target of season one’s investigation is black, a concern that Steve Arnott brings up almost immediately. He’s imperfectly shot down by his Irish boss who lectures him about the definition of prejudice. What I appreciate about that exchange and most that follow afterwards is that when the characters have their soapbox moments, it never feels like it’s moralizing from the writing team; it authentically feels like what that character thinks. What the show DOES do is give people of multiple minorities–racial, sexual, and class–a chance to take center stage. By the end of series six, the viewer’s seen people of all creeds and colors do heroic, horrible, and understandably flawed actions.
That’s why I believe Line of Duty is the perfect Law & Order antidote. When policing is done honorably, it is a vital service for the community. The show then explains in detail where corruption and abuse of power can derail the entire process. Then, after all the investigating is done, Line of Duty holds up its exemplary and well-intentioned officers as examples for its viewers to look for in real life.
And if you’re thinking that this show sounds too neat and optimistic, I’ll direct you to the masterful, yet highly controversial series six finale…
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