The sixth series of the show came to a close of Sunday (Picture: BBC/World Productions/Steffan Hill/Geraint Williams)
*Warning: This article contains spoilers for Line of Duty series six*
When a show is as special as Line of Duty, it can leave its fingerprints on popular culture forever. But when a finale falls as flat as tonight’s did, it can change the way fans think about it for the rest of time.
There may yet be another series of Line of Duty announced imminently (whether there should be or not is another question) but with the reveals that came during the surprisingly perfunctory episode on Sunday, the heart of what made the drama so compelling for so many years is gone and the mysteries wrapped up in lacklustre style.
We now know that H has been found after all this time, Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) seems to be retiring after a grandstand exit and Patricia Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin) is stepping up to take over a much depleted AC-12.
In many ways, series six of Line of Duty was the most frustrating yet. The most rug-pulling run of episodes withheld more information from viewers than ever before and dished up some of the show’s biggest cliffhangers in living memory. But it managed to end on a whimper on Sunday night, despite the biggest reveal in the drama’s history.
Its usual complexity seemed to go out of the window during the pivotal interrogation scene with Ian Buckells (Nigel Boyle), which saw him unmasked as the Fourth Man.
Series six reached its conclusion on Sunday (Picture: BBC)
When Buckells – the banter-loving golf sleaze and single dullest character in the entire series, who is the human embodiment of the laughing crying emoji – was revealed as H, he boasted of his exploits like a cartoon villain detained by Shaggy, Velma and the rest of Mystery Inc in an episode of Scooby-Doo.
After being presented with new evidence (some old letters which showed he spelled ‘definately’ like the Fourth Man, which was flimsy at best) he immediately confessed and laughed about ‘making mugs’ out of Ted and the gang. We were just waiting for him to say: ‘I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids in AC-12!’
In many ways, it was a fitting way for Line of Duty’s strangest series yet to end. The episode, like the run as a whole, had flashes of its usual brilliance. Adrian Dunbar gave one of his strongest performances, with Ted confessing to handing the missing £50,000 to Steph Corbett (Amy De Bhrún) and breaking John Corbett (Stephen Graham)’s cover, bringing vulnerability to a role which is usually all about snappy one liners and self-assurance.
AC-12 found their man after years of searching (Picture: BBC/World Productions)
It left plenty of questions, with narrative arcs tossed aside with abandon. Gail Vella (Andi Osho)’s murder was wrapped up in double-quick time and with little fanfare. Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) somehow managed to swing herself witness protection, despite confessing to the murder of Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper) to protect Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) in episode five.
In fact, Gregory must still be wondering what he did to deserve such a limp off-screen death after such a strong showing in series six. We’d expected his killing to be revisited in the finale, but there was nothing. He deserved better.
It kicked along at a decent pace and for any other cop drama, Sunday’s night’s episode might have seemed a solid enough finale. But Line of Duty isn’t just any old show, and the great dramas of our time – Line of Duty included – are destined to be judged by how they wrap things up.
Some finales manage to keep everyone happy (Breaking Bad), others manage to actively p*** their viewers off entirely (Game of Thrones). But either way, most of them manage to make a real statement and divide opinion – people are still talking about the Sopranos finale, for one, in part because of its infamous cut to black.
Will Patricia Carmichael take over from Ted in new episodes? (Picture: PA)
Over the years, Line of Duty has earned the right to go shoulder to shoulder with these shows, and be spoken about in the same breath.
Sunday’s instalment felt like an ending of sorts, despite the fact there may well be more episodes in future. But will anyone be talking about the Line of Duty series six finale in a decade’s time, or even remember how the dullest cop in the service was revealed as the big bad?
More likely, they’ll be looking back at the final instalments of series three and five which pushed the limits of what a British cop drama could be.
Sunday’s ultimately forgettable finale could mean series six ends up being a footnote in the history of one of the greatest cop dramas ever seen on British TV. That, we’re afraid, is the kind of crime any bent cooper would be proud of.
Line of Duty is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.