Another glossy and intelligent Jed Mercurio series hits the ground running on its return to BBC Sunday nights. Try to keep up!
This Line of Duty Season 5, Episode 1 recap contains spoilers.
If you’ve been watching Line of Duty from day one, you’ll know that there is a lot to take in and it is fast-paced. (If you haven’t, I urge you to borrow a box set or tune into BBC iPlayer or Netflix for the earlier seasons: they’re not crucial to understanding this season, but there are several layers that you won’t even know are there otherwise.) So I’ll assume you know the set-up. And also that you’ll understand me leaving out some details that are unlikely to make it into the next episode.
As usual, our anti-corruption heroes start with what looks like a straightforward case and rapidly find themselves moving their focus in a zigzag until they discover who the real target ought to be. And in this one that takes the entire first episode… And then only because someone actually told them who it was.
Line of Duty Season 5, Episode 1 starts with the hijack of a truck by a gang wearing black balaclavas. (Black balaclavas featured heavily in Season four, and it’s too early to know whether there’s a connection, or it’s a sign of hasty/sloppy writing.) The truck was carrying heroin seized by police from local gangs, and three officers were killed in the attack. A fourth was in critical condition in hospital, having been apparently spared by one of the gang members, a woman. It is – fairly reasonably – suspected that the officer in the hospital, PC Jane Cafferty (or at least someone she knows), might have tipped off the gang, and DS Steve Arnott and DI Vicky Fleming are assigned to investigate.
They move on from Cafferty fairly quickly, but you have to wonder whether she might turn out to be crooked. Not only is she played by Sian Reese-Williams (Hidden), too good an actor to waste on one scene, but the ploy used was very similar to the one that brought about Lindsay Denton’s downfall in the first season.
Anyway, via a couple of clues too fiddly to note, Arnott and Fleming (who Arnott now calls Ma’am!) find their way to a police office they’ve never heard of before for a meeting with undercover handler DSU Alison Powell. She reveals that they’ve stumbled upon a very delicate operation and they are not entitled to details…
So this season has a situation we’ve not seen before: the investigators cannot interview the person they’re investigating. And straight away, we see a couple of other new angles: we see inside all three of our good guys’ living spaces (Arnott, Fleming and their boss Supt. Ted Hastings); and we also get to see inside the workings of a criminal gang.
By the way, Line of Duty doesn’t come with a glossary, but I gather UCO is undercover officer and OCG is either organized crime gang or organized crime group (I’m sure both were used). The gang who carried out the hijack meet with the rival gang the police seized it from in the first place and try to negotiate a “finders fee” for getting it back. There’s clearly some tension between some of the hijackers, two of whom appear to be battling for the alpha spot: the bloke (played by Stephen Graham) who acts as tough guy leader and the sole woman, who seems to be the gang’s conscience. And a thug from back in season one is in the gang too, presumably having been in juvenile detention since then.
Back with AC12, we have a new police officer, PC Sohota, who has identified a fellow officer who may have passed on information about the seized drugs. She’s timid, and rather poorly acted, but she’s right: Vihan Malhoutra is identified and arrested, then questioned about bribery. He owns up when threatened with conspiracy to murder, and dobs in his cousin PC Maneet Bindra as the one who got him into it. Remember her from last season? She was the one sneaking information to Hilton, later identified as H, the corrupt police boss.
Fleming, you might remember, used to work undercover herself. She declares that if Malhoutra had been recruited to help the operation, that should have been declared: this is a sign that the undercover work is going wrong, a line has been crossed and they need to go back to Powell…
In the meantime, the female gang member (the likely undercover officer) makes a successful deal with rival Slater. But it’s very clear she’s acting tougher than she feels.
PC Maneet Bindra confesses everything and must have made an arrangement to be a go-between with the gang because she’d be out of her job otherwise. Hastings tells all his team about the connection between Hilton to Bindra to Malhoutra to organized crime group via undercover officer and behaves as though this simply proves their late boss Hilton was H. I still think H might turn out to be Hastings himself, and Fleming seems to think it’s all too suspicious as well. And she doesn’t know what we know: Hastings can’t afford his rent, which might make him susceptible to bribery.
Three swift and final incidents follow: Slater’s gang is raided, with drugs found in a van outside his premises, clearly set up… but by the UCO? Was Hastings phoning her? Next, Bindra meets with the gang, offers to get more police information, and is summarily and bloodily executed for her double-crossing nature. And lastly, we get the big twist, when our heroes meet with Powell again…
The undercover officer she’d lost touch with wasn’t a woman at all: Detective John Corbett (the one played by Stephen Graham) is it. Has he switched sides? Has he lost the plot? Is he under the sway of some other H?
Clearly, each season of Line of Duty thus far has revealed police corruption to go both higher and deeper each time. I’m thinking of the various layers in The Bodyguard now, which Jed Mercurio also wrote. No idea yet where this season will take us, but it surely keeps viewers paying careful attention, not to mention tuning in with bigger and bigger numbers.
Just five more of these, and then we’ll be itching for season six. See you next week.