Line of Duty series finale review: ‘Pulverising and draining’

Line of Duty, series five, has come to an end. Picture: World Productions
Line of Duty, series five, has come to an end. Picture: World Productions
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I interrogated Adrian Dunbar once. Well, when I say interrogated I mean that 20 years ago I bought him a mineral water in a boho part of London and interviewed him. But I did extract the confession that he’d had a terrible time with the bevvy and no longer drank. Actually that’s not quite true either. He gave up this info willingly, big, bluff Irish charmer that he is.

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But what a grilling Dunbar as Ted Hastings got here. What a smug, supercilious, sarcastic inquisition that was from the investigator intent on bringing down Mr Sunday Night, Supt Water-Cooler, The Most Important Fella in Britain. (And if you think that’s exaggerating his status you should have heard Andrew Marr earlier in the day: “On the programme this week, some more Brexit bores, but there’s no doubting who you all really want to hear from … ”).

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What a shock to have to all but given up on Ted and his magnificent hawk-like glower. To contemplate no longer hearing his abrasive Ulster brogue echoing that of James Ellis in Z-Cars which was the first cop show many of us watched and just look how far they’ve come. To think we’d never again catch a glimpse of the Blouson-Wearer of the Year trophy in his office (in fact, scrub that: it’s been dispiriting seeing Ted permanently in casuals while under suspicion - unshaven, puffy-eyed, shorn of epaulette and a sound reason to exclaim “Mother of God!”).

His fate seemed sealed, H meant Hastings right enough. But - “Mother of God!” - what a turnaround. That lawyer woman who bonked him in his budget hotel had lain a dreadful trap. When Alan Partridge attempted a night of passion in such an establishment he revealed himself as knowing rather too much about fixtures and fittings when he told his would-be conquest: “You’ve got chocolate everywhere … it’s even on the vallance!”). Stray hairs from Ted’s swooping grey mane collected from the bathroom were about to frame him for Corbett’s murder until in stepped loyal lieutentants Fleming and Arnott.

The first hour and all those questions was pulverising and draining. For the last 30 minutes creator Jed Mercurio bundled us into the boot of a stolen car for a handbrake-turn ride round the crazy Cluedo board of his darkest writerly imaginings. “My characters operate in a world where no one is safe,” he says. As Ted would put it: “You’re telling me, fella.”

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Mercurio doesn’t have much faith in our institutions (his debut show Cardiac Arrest, made by BBC Scotland, was a black comedy about hospital cock-ups). In this, his perspective on the police, corruption comes as easy as a squeezy handshake. By the end last night force recruiters were even letting in throat-slitters.

Line of Duty probably needed its brilliant finale. There was the odd moment when this series - number five, after all - didn’t completely grip me in its thumbscrews. Mercurio can get irked by what gets written about his work so here I’ll say: “It’s not you, Jed, it’s me.” No show - however great, however dominating of the national conversation - can maintain that terrific lick for ever. Mercurio is restricted by the subject matter: there are only so many ways you can skin the police station cat. And he’s not the kind of writer to have his hero pursue bent coppers in the Costa del Crime merely for a change of scenery.

For season six, then, it should be Ted in his glass-walled enclave as usual. Ted in his starched shirt, the silver gleaming. Ted not quite free of suspicion on account of a misspelling. Am I ready for that? Definately.