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Line of Duty review, season six: We’re back to the show’s unmistakeable brand of kinetic mayhem

After the more outlandish conspiratorial shenanigans of series five, the first episode of series six returns to what ‘Line of Duty’ does best

Ed Cumming
Sunday 21 March 2021 22:00 GMT
Line of Duty series six trailer

A new series of Line of Duty means the internet has been treated to another episode of its creator, Jed Mercurio, being rude to journalists. In a 2019 piece about disappointing TV series, a writer for The Guardian suggested that Mercurio’s police thriller had gone “disastrously off-piste” in its fifth outing. Mercurio replied directly, saying, “The biggest disappointment these jokers really experienced in 2019 was when they realised what they do for a living.” As usual, he had done his research. Entertainment writers, who had previously thought of themselves as vital frontline workers, closed ranks in shock. This week, Mercurio used a GQ interview to double down on his comments. “I don’t see why it’s OK for a journalist to participate in an article which is fundamentally sneering and not at least have some insight into what a c*** she’s being,” he said. “She’s a piece of s***. F*** her.”

Hacks have reacted as you’d expect. They can’t be expected to pass up on a chance to talk about themselves. The journalist might fairly wonder why Mercurio couldn’t let it go. An outburst is one thing; a sustained attack looks more like bullying.

That said, some of the defensive pearl-clutching by Fleet Street rings a bit false. Aren’t hacks meant to love a ding-dong? Besides, it’s oddly endearing to see the multimillionaire Mercurio, one of the biggest stars in British television, drop the shopping over a review. It’s like a cow going berserk over a few flies. I’m sure it’s annoying, but doesn’t it come with the territory? Especially if you trundle around laying the odd massive turd.

Anyway, you don’t care about any of that nonsense. When you order a sausage, you hardly worry whether the maker is a curmudgeon. The question is whether the show’s any good. On the evidence of this frenetic, nerve-jangling opener: yes. After the more outlandish conspiratorial shenanigans of series five, the first episode of series six returns to what Line of Duty does best: dodgy coppers, tense action and characters who communicate almost exclusively in acronyms.

There’s no mucking around. One of the secrets of Line of Duty’s success is that it doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand. By building a credible world through procedure and jargon, Mercurio buys enough suspension of disbelief to carry the viewer through the twists of the later episodes. All the same, for a moment it feels like we’ve missed an episode, such is the torrent of new information in the opening seconds. DS Farida Jatri (Anneika Rose), answers the phone in the murder investigations team. Then we see DCI Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald, this season’s guest star) striding up towards the station. With her signature mix of sweetness and guile, Macdonald is smart casting for a role that will no doubt toy with our sympathies. She learns they’ve just received information relevant to Vella. Vella? Who’s Vella? A dead journalist, it turns out, whose unsolved murder is at the heart of the new plot. (Possibly a warning from Mercurio to hacks, too.) But wait, here’s DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), in a comfy jumper, no longer in AC-12! No time to dwell, the guys are collecting their machine guns. On the way to the raid, Davidson spots a dodgy van out of the corner of her eye. She identifies it as a robbery, like a tracker spotting a rare bird on the savannah a mile away. Moments later, a young man is dead in the road. How did she do that?

While we’re still getting our bearings, AC-12 sniff something amiss. It’s a relief for Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), who’s bored of low-level corruption. After his crisis last time, Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) is settled back in command and glad to have something to get his teeth into. They and McClure are more comfortable as the straight men, doggedly rooting out corruption, rather than being embroiled in it themselves. Or so it seems, I should say, to insure myself against a twist later on. Arnott invites Fleming to spy on her new department. “So either I’m accused of being a traitor or become one to avoid being accused,” she says, pinpointing one of the main narrative dynamics of the entire series. “Jesus Christ, Steve. I’m going to have to think about it.” Not for long, though. We’re plunged back into Line of Duty’s unmistakeable brand of kinetic mayhem. It’s five from me, Gerald. Please don’t make me cry on the internet.

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