Line of Duty series 2, episode 4: Catastrophic institutional failures

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 4 proves that corruption is a virus.

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

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Arnott vs. Hastings, round whatever

This episode of Line of Duty is entitled “Blood Money,” and with good reason. It’s not just about the suitcase full of cash that Jayne Akers was hiding—it’s about the price you pay to turn a blind eye, or not, depending on who you are.

An expert in that subject is Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), whose personal life continues to be of interest within the writers’ room. Now it’s Major Violent Crimes officer Nicola Rogerson (Christina Chong) he’s slept with. For those of you keeping score, that’s three different women Steve has been connected to in four episodes. If there is a point here, it’s not coming through; Steve just continues to look like somebody who ought to find a new hobby.

But things get interesting when he gets into the office and, based on the new information from the previous episode, pushes Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) to let AC-12 question Deputy Chief Constable Michael Dryden (Mark Bonnar). This is the Steve Arnott we know and love, chasing the truth and damn the torpedoes.

Steve winds up directly in Hastings’ crosshairs, because Ted doesn’t want to believe ill of a high-ranking officer who likes him and could approve his next promotion—which would also solve his financial problems and enable him to save his marriage to Roisin (Andrea Irvine). Or so he thinks. Hastings is borderline syncophantic to Dryden in this episode, including chasing him down after the interview to talk about how “mortified” he’d be if Dryden got the wrong impression.

Hastings is being intentionally blind because he’s protecting himself as much as Dryden. On the other hand, it’s not Steve’s turn to give a damn and he keeps pushing, even though it runs him on the bad side of Hastings, Dot Cottan (Craig Parkinson) and Rogerson’s boss Lester Hargreaves (Tony Pitts) all in the same episode. Needless to say, Line of Duty will never have Steve win a Mr. Congeniality award.

But it’s this kind of internal conflict that puts meat on Line of Duty‘s bones. TV crime dramas are at their best when characters don’t agree and have to point-counterpoint one another, thus forcing the audience to think for themselves rather than presenting a straightforward “good guy vs. bad guy” narrative. As much as Steve Arnott is basically Jack Bauer with a notepad, his relentless nerve wouldn’t have the same impact if he didn’t have a few windmills to tilt at.

And while we’re at it, why in almost every TV crime drama is there some higher-ranking officer who has to be a jerk? There seems to be at least one all the time.

Seeing what you want to see

Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) isn’t exempt from the drama in “Blood Money” either. When she and Steve find out that Major Violent Crime are targeting Richard Akers (Niall Mcgregor) as their prime suspect, Kate realizes that her friend’s husband/her boyfriend wasn’t innocent after all. That hits her hard, and Line of Duty also implies some impact on her marriage, as Kate is seen coming home and then later checking herself into a hotel room.

Plus, how did MVC get to Richard, anyway? Well, that would be because Steve tripped up and told Rogerson that he thought Richard was hiding something, leading her to pull his financial records. She thought that she and Steve had a sort of quid pro quo arrangement—which he did not and is not thrilled about. At least she makes amends by tipping him off about one of her leads, and Steve discovers there was a tracking device on Jayne Akers’ car the night of the ambush.

Once Steve and Kate turn over one stone, the rest start to fall into place; it’s like once you see the tree, the whole forest opens up. Dryden’s call logs confirm a relationship with Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), and Dryden just happens to have been at the same event with missing girl Carly Kirk and the Vice cop who claimed to be investigating Carly’s disappearance. That cop’s partner, in turn, is quickly identified as the person who killed Georgia Trotman (Jessica Raine) what seems like forever ago. This is blue-on-blue crime, coming clearly from the top.

Another interesting bit is Cottan’s role in this whole episode, because if you have seen past series 2, you see clearly how Jed Mercurio was laying the bread crumbs for later on. Line of Duty cleverly cuts to Cottan right after Ted Hastings asks who The Caddy is, and then it’s oh so convenient that Cottan declares he wants to take over that part of the case. What was such a jaw-dropping reveal later on has been in the works going back to series 1 and it carries through here. Keep in mind that Craig Parkinson is the same guy who played the Kray twins in Whitechapel, so he knows a thing or two about double acts.

Enemy turned victim

Of course, with AC-12 starting to piece together the full extent of Dryden’s wrongdoing and Denton being innocent, Line of Duty has to throw something else into the mix to raise the stakes (and also to shake the narrative up a bit). After an episode and a half of Denton-in-prison angst, she is let out to see her now-dying mom—and is promptly kidnapped.

From a TV viewer standpoint, this is entertaining because one of said kidnappers is played by Sacha Dhawan, now even more well known as the current incarnation of The Master in Doctor Who. Fun fact, by the way: Dhawan’s partner Anjli Mohindra delivered a knockout performance as Nadia Ali in Jed Mercurio’s other series Bodyguard four years later. Small world.

But this is also an important twist of plot for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no matter how great of an actress Keeley Hawes is, there’s only so long you can make a character sitting in lockup worth watching. Secondly, even if you missed all the aforementioned evidence, having Denton get taken definitively affirms to the viewer that she’s innocent—the critical bit to reinforce with only two Line of Duty series 2 episodes left.

And last but not least, the whole Denton being kidnapped/Denton looking like an escaped fugitive means that everyone else can run around looking for her, injecting an action element back into the show. These are cops who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, but they need opportunities to do that.

By this point, Line of Duty series 2 has become a clear iteration of the fairly common theme that the police as an institution are broken. It’s set up a conspiracy that starts with the highest-ranking officer in the season and involves a missing girl, at least two Vice cops, and a fatal collapse in witness protection. This is serious institutional failure, even though the original antagonist of the season is innocent, and it’s up to the show—through the heroes of AC-12—to convince the viewer to not just write the whole lot off.

How do you prosecute the bad cops and root against the bad cops, without tearing down the whole thing? How do you find heroes and villains within the same metaphorical ecosystem? In the first series, it was a very clear case of mistakes made and overzealous superiors, but this series is now showing much larger issues within the police force. How, and if, anything comes out of that will be the talking point. If series 1 made a clear ideological statement about telling the truth no matter what, what’s series 2 got to say for itself?

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.