Line of Duty series 2, episode 2: Everyone plays dirty but no one wins

From left: Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure from Line of Duty. Photo Credit: Des Willie/Courtesy of Acorn TV.
From left: Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure from Line of Duty. Photo Credit: Des Willie/Courtesy of Acorn TV. /

Line of Duty series 2, episode 2 puts Steve Arnott in a hard place.

In honor of Line of Duty series 1 having re-aired on BBC One this summer, we’re looking back at the best TV crime drama in any country—likewise, from the very beginning. With series 1 in the books, now we move on to series 2.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for and discussion about Line of Duty series 2, episode 2. You can stream the episode on Acorn TV, Amazon Video, and BritBox now.

Line of Duty follows the casework of Anti-Corruption Unit 12 (AC-12), a team of police investigators who are solely dedicated to stopping corruption, no matter what the cost. Created and written by Jed Mercurio (Bodyguard), it’s the definitive crime drama for the modern era.

This week, we continue the second season with Line of Duty series 2, episode 2. If you missed our commentary on episode 1, you can catch up here.

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Steve Arnott’s emotionally winding road

The psychology of Steve Arnott continues to be one of the most interesting things in Line of Duty, and in “Carly” he gives the audience even more to chew on.

Let’s get the cliched part out of the way first: reeling over the death of his new partner slash sort of love interest Georgia Trotman (Jessica Raine), it’s implied that Steve (Martin Compston) goes and sleeps with the nurse that Georgia’s killer was impersonating. It’s supposed to come off as a sort of bonding over mutual grief thing, but what it looks like is another moment where a hero’s only way of coping is to end up in somebody’s bed. Steve’s better than that, much as he was better than the Georgia of it all in the first place.

That being said, his arc in “Carly” is still admirable for a different reason. It’s clear that Steve takes responsibility for Georgia’s death because she was his partner, much like he carried an emotional burden for the death of Karim Ali because that also fell under his purview. He lives in his mistakes, and though that’s tough on him, it also speaks to his character.

He steps up to the plate first all of the time, whether it’s in the small moments Compston brings to the table with Steve’s downcast looks or glances at Georgia’s photo, or the major scene where Steve accompanies Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) to inform the Trotmans of their daughter’s death. Martin Compston does a lot to illustrate his character’s inner turmoil outside of what’s on the page and that’s one mark of a truly great actor.

Steve might make another dumb decision in trying to find a way to deal with that weight, but the fact that he has it shows that he’s still that good person we can root for.

So of course, let’s bring in some bombastic detectives from another department (in this case, Serious Violent Crime) to treat him like an uncooperative suspect and show absolutely no empathy for what he’s just been through. No wonder why Steve holds all this stuff in; he doesn’t have any safe space to let it out. He’s been trained by the events of series 1 to keep his guard up and we’re seeing him suffer emotionally for that in series 2.

But there’s a common through-line that’s interesting: both suspects ultimately end up confiding in Steve. Tony Gates (Lennie James) utilized him as an ally in the closing episodes of the first series and here Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) is pleading for him to believe her. What is it about Steve that the people he’s on the opposite side of also open themselves up to him?

Can they tell that he has that integrity even if they don’t like what he stands for? Is it something about Steve as a person and how he carries himself that they respond to? Whatever it is, he’s sort of a polarizing character in that these other cops want to tear him down, yet also want to rely on him. Maybe his heroic qualities resonate with more than the viewing audience.

Kate’s cover gets blown—again

Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) gets exposed again in “Carly,” even earlier than she was in the first series. And Line of Duty series 2 has it go down the same way: because somebody notices what’s really on her phone. Did Kate, or the writers, not learn from her prior mistake?

Obviously she can’t be undercover the whole series, because Vicky McClure has to be able to interact with her co-stars more than one or two scenes an episode; as we saw in the prior hour, the show suffers when she’s absent too long. But certainly there had to be another way to force the issue that didn’t look similar to the way she was blown before.

Prior to that happening, though, there are some interesting moments. Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) asks Kate what the worst thing she’s ever done is; she replies that “Someone told a lie to help a dead man’s family and I didn’t stand up for the truth,” which is a clear reference to the end of Line of Duty‘s first series. Kate is almost assuredly using this as fodder and not actually feeling guilty about going along with Steve about Tony Gates’ death, but it’s nice to have that callback.

Much like Hastings gets told that he’s about to deal with someone from AC-9 joining AC-12; for those of you who haven’t seen the show before, we won’t give details just yet, but that line is one more that would seem to have ripple effects beyond its particular scene. Maintaining continuity is hard and takes a concerted effort, and Jed Mercurio has put his time in.

Vindictive or vindication?

“Carly” also lets Keeley Hawes run with the side of her character that’s slightly smug and a bit holier than thou; one wonders if this is where Mercurio got the idea to cast her as Julia Montague in Bodyguard, because Denton just looks like she’s so damn pleased with herself in most of this episode. It makes you want to punch her, which is good because it feeds into the idea that Denton is to be rooted against.

Denton goes on the offensive to attack AC-12, which is a different approach from what Gates and his TO-20 team did; they would respond when AC-12 came after them but weren’t going into their files and financial records.

Actually, given Denton’s apparently slavish adherence to police regs, it’s hypocritical that she abuses her power to pull Hastings and Steve’s financial records and claim that it’s for a missing persons case. She also lies about assaulting her drug-addicted neighbor. Not to mention how she got photos of Steve with the nurse, too. She wants to be a good cop, but then justifies illegal and immoral actions because someone came after her first. Sounds like she’s deluding herself about her own integrity.

Line of Duty gives us Denton unhinged, whether it’s slugging Kate or turning her second AC-12 interview into her roasting them over the coals. She’s happy to drag out their personal lives and does it with no small amount of glee. Yet when Hastings has her formally arrested, Denton asks Steve, “How can you let this happen to me?”

Perhaps it’s because she’s still a viable suspect (and the only one), albeit not as strong as she was before the episode started? And maybe, just maybe, after you’ve essentially given someone the middle finger by illegally digging into their life and throwing it in their face, you shouldn’t then be expecting any help from them? Even if Steve agrees that Denton is innocent, he’s got no reason to be sympathetic to her and about three reasons not to be.

Line of Duty series 2 wants to turn the tables and have AC-12 working to free an innocent cop instead of chasing down a guilty one. Again, it’s a fine idea to see Mercurio trying to reverse the formula from the first time around. But that only works if we care about Lindsay Denton and “Carly” shows that she’s a character with a long way to go—and a long fall to take off that high horse.

Next. Martin Compston talks Line of Duty and The Nest. dark

Line of Duty series 2 is now streaming on Amazon Video, Acorn TV (with a 7-day free trial) and BritBox.