Line of Duty series 2, episode 3: Self-inflicted personal disasters

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 3 makes everything personal.

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 3. If you missed our commentary on episode 2, you can catch up here.

More from TV Crime Dramas

The song remains the same

There’s a very common tack in not just TV crime dramas, but many TV shows overall: characters are geniuses professionally but can’t control their personal lives. More often than not, those personal lives then come back around to screw up their careers.

Line of Duty goes headlong down that path in “Behind Bars,” which proves that absolutely no one on this show has any semblance of a normal personal life, nor any ability to keep it from affecting their work.

Let’s keep score: Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) is in the middle of a separation from his wife Roisin, which has plunged his finances into disarray and thus made him vulnerable to potential corruption on the job. In this episode, Hastings confesses as such to Deputy Chief Constable Mike Dryden (Mark Bonnar), who ultimately keeps him on duty.

Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), while now in custody as AC-12’s prime suspect, alleges that she had a five-year-long affair with Dryden. The same man who’s happy to personally leak her name to the press solely to deflect attention off a story about him, his wife, and some speeding tickets.

Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) was having an affair with her longtime friend’s husband. She goes so far as to tell Richard Akers (Niall Mcgregor) to lie in his formal interview and not admit that his wife had asked him to reach out to her, in an attempt to keep said affair secret. She does, however, tell her partner during this episode and his response is telling her they have to “choose our moments.”

As for said partner Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), he gets called on the carpet by Hastings for his fling with the nurse—something he still can’t just admit to. Instead, Steve relies on semantics and then gets indignant before eventually apologizing to his boss, who’s moping about his marriage.

All of this is a mess, and it’s awkward for two reasons: one, it’s really nothing that we haven’t seen in other TV crime dramas before. What makes Line of Duty great on the whole is it generally takes a different approach to the genre, but these personal problems—while adding plenty of angst and investigative pitfalls—aren’t that novel.

The second is that, based on what we saw from these characters in series 1, it’s hard not to expect better from them. Steve is a great character because he’s got a fundamentally good head on his shoulders and is honest even to his own detriment. This is a guy you could follow blind into a fire. But here, instead of just saying yes, he slept with someone he shouldn’t have and he now sees the problem (given how much everyone’s gone on about it), he argues about whether or not she’s really a witness and then says he’s entitled to a private life. He comes off like a politician.

He should have known better in the first place, but he also should have the guts to own what he’s done. It’s not a good look on him, and really, just about everybody needs to take a deep breath and look in the mirror by the end of “Behind Bars.” The moral code at the heart of Line of Duty is really put to the test in this episode, and there’s only so far that bends before it doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Denton’s rough ride

Line of Duty series 2 is going out of its way to paint Lindsay Denton much more sympathetically than Tony Gates (Lennie James), and in “Behind Bars” we spend a fair amount of time with her as she faces what it’s like to be a police officer in prison.

Everything TV crime drama viewers expect is here. Denton is pranked by tampering with her food, then assaulted by other inmates in the prison gym, and the security camera footage of the fight is conveniently not available.

Denton’s only semi-sympathetic ear comes from Kate, who pops by a few times to question her as more information emerges—this episode confirms that the witness was indeed Tommy Hunter, as revealed by now-DI Matthew “Dot” Cottan (Craig Parkinson), who’s been promoted since TO-20 disbanded and come over to AC-9. Furthermore, Kate reveals that a body was found in the garage connected to Carly Kirk, but is it Carly herself?

We get to see a more vulnerable side of Denton here, as she realizes that AC-12 are really the only allies she’s got; she does admit to Kate that she called the hospital before Hunter’s murder. It was her attempt at proving her innocence since she hoped Hunter would say who actually was behind the ambush. But then Denton shoots herself in the foot one more time: she won’t go on record with that admission unless Kate admits to being in contact with Richard Akers, thus exposing their affair.

It’s hard to pin Lindsay Denton down as a character. The show wants us to feel sorry for her, as an officer who’s informed on her colleagues’ wrongdoing and ended up with this sad, lonely life in the end. Yet she has a holier than thou attitude that’s hard to shake, and her relationships with the other characters are muddled at best.

She doesn’t initially reveal that she knows about Kate’s affair, but it’s just for leverage; she’s happy to expose Steve’s liaison, but then wants him to help her. If she had perhaps kept quiet about Kate out of respect, or trusted Steve (perhaps based on his very public track record) before appealing to him, she’d be more sympathetic. As is she’s all over the place emotionally.

Likewise, while it’s great to see Craig Parkinson again, Dot’s new persona is a bit scattershot. The idea of him having come to the light per se by joining AC-9 would have been a great arc if it was at all genuine; there’d be the whole idea of an antagonist finding redemption. But the end of series 1 made clear that Dot is corrupt, and even when he’s trying to fit in with Steve and Kate he’s got all the people skills of a fax machine. He continually pulls rank, yet also takes Steve out for a drink.

So which is it? Is he trying to make friends now or does he want to show them he’s the boss? And is he going to find a way to screw up this investigation, too?

Also, in today’s meaningless question that solves nothing: what happened to Denton’s cat? Bella is last seen being picked up by Kate while searching Denton’s apartment and never mentioned at any point after. That cat better be in a good home somewhere.

Where is the moral high ground?

At the very end of this Line of Duty episode, Steve visits Denton in prison and tells her simply, “I believe you.” He and Kate are now convinced that Dryden made Denton his fall woman, and they have three more episodes to work to exonerate her, as opposed to trying to bring Gates down last season. As we’ve discussed previously, it’s a great concept to see the show take the reverse angle and attack its theme in a new way.

The question from a viewing standpoint is what the moral canvas looks like. Line of Duty series 1 was a classic story of two good cops standing up against police corruption, even though it sucked one of them in and ultimately cost him his life. We had a wonderful lead arc in Steve Arnott going to fight that uphill battle at any price, and while Tony Gates could be unsympathetic, we ultimately saw his true nature and his downfall was beautifully tragic.

The show played in the grey areas of policing but our main characters were to be trusted and sort of the guiding light through it all—sure, the system was a mess but we could believe in them and their mission.

Here, particularly in this episode, there’s a lot more grey area and a lot less light. Steve’s growth since series 1 has been apparently to hook up with women, while Kate is faced with having to try and cover up a long-running indiscretion that could ruin her career. Can she choose her moment to tell the truth, as Steve suggests, and still be a good cop?

When did Steve become more willing and able to not be honest? He wants to protect his partner, but is he also saying that he’s comfortable with lying when it serves his purposes? What he’s suggesting to Kate is only a few steps down from the dilemma he was presented at the start of the show—no one is dead, but it’s still lying to protect a police officer’s career.

Line of Duty is walking a thin line between exploring all the angles of morality without losing its own integrity, and it’ll be interesting to see how the show resolves these conflicts, because we still want to be able to look at AC-12 as the heroes we need by the end of it.

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.