Line of Duty series 2, episode 6: Aiming for the top, hitting the bottom

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 6 asks more than it answers.

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 6. 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 finish the second season with Line of Duty series 2, episode 6. If you missed our commentary on episode 5, you can catch up here.

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Steve Arnott’s incredible game

For a large portion of this episode, Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) looks like he’s totally lost the plot. Which makes no sense, because Steve is sharper than he’s ever been given credit for. So there must be something up.

Through most of “The Caddy” Steve is Lindsay Denton’s (Keeley Hawes) new best friend. He’s at her mother’s funeral with her, spending more time at her apartment, and coming to her defense in interviews. Denton doesn’t need an advocate when she has Steve fighting for her.

Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) gives Denton some key information, though: she shows the other woman footage of her ex-boss and boyfriend Michael Dryden (Mark Bonnar) with Carly Kirk at the City Hall function, and Kirk leaving the event with Dryden. And then we see further footage of Denton herself at that same event. Why was she there?

Denton claims that she showed up to confront Dryden about ending their affair, but didn’t go through with it. She may as well have said the Earth is flat by the look on Kate’s face. It’s now clear that Lindsay Denton has blood on her hands in some way, even if she’s not the mastermind of this season’s plot.

Line of Duty throws a third-act wrench in when Steve is woken up in the middle of the night by a call about Kate. She’s trying to get back into her house, but her husband (from whom she’s been estranged for a few episodes now) has changed the locks. In trying to comfort Kate, Steve tells her that he’s actually cozying up to Denton as a new kind of undercover operation, and does indeed still believe Denton is guilty.

“The Caddy” bears this out later in the episode when Denton returns home to find Steve leading a whole scene-of-crime team to search her apartment. He reveals that they’ve found a large sum of payoff cash in her late mother’s personal effects—the ones she had him fetch after the funeral—and Denton is formally arrested again. Yes, even the cop who spent so long turning in dirty cops is ultimately dirty in the end.

The more interesting bit, character-wise, is Steve’s reveal that he was manipulating Lindsay as much as she’s tried to manipulate several people over the course of the series. It’s hardball tactics that maybe the Steve Arnott of pre-Line of Duty wouldn’t have gone for; he’s seen some things now and is a little rougher round the edges.

It also helps to make him not look quite as lost, though perhaps the twist would have been more effective if we hadn’t seen him demonstrate a pattern of similar behavior in the first two episodes. Perhaps those things were set up to make Steve getting close to Denton more believable, but from a viewer perspective, it’d have been even more rewarding to realize Steve was acting out of turn in this episode and understand that he, too, was playing a chess game.

Martin Compston continues to be flawless in the role, though, and it’s fantastic to see Steve back in command of his life instead of seemingly along as a passenger.

Self-preservation is an inherently lethal thing

As is the case in most TV crime dramas, as Line of Duty nears the end of series 2, the dominoes start to fall because the good guys are closing in. Manish Prasad (Sacha Dhawan) gets immunity like he’d insisted, and through him the script explains a bit: Tommy Hunter, aka Alex Campbell, was blackmailing Dryden through use of Carly Kirk. The dead body in the garage, though, is not Carly’s; she’s run off somewhere new.

We eventually see this in flashbacks to two months prior: Dryden did indeed leave the City Hall event with Carly, but when she tried to perform a sex act on him, he wasn’t lying about putting a stop to it. He pushes her off after a moment and kicks her out of his car. Hunter is nearby in a second car with Prasad, and a trailing Denton saw Hunter punch Kirk in the stomach and try to pull her into that vehicle before she got away.

Denton doesn’t take any immediate action to intervene; instead she bides her time, taking notes and using a computer belonging to colleague O’Neill (Matthew Nardone of The Night Manager) to get Hunter/Campbell’s information. When she attempts to confront him the next day, Jayne Akers (Allison McKenzie) warns her off.

Prasad also punches a massive hole in Matthew “Dot” Cottan’s (Craig Parkinson) claim that his ex-partner Cole was “The Caddy,” by saying that Cole couldn’t organize anything. This forces Cottan to take further drastic action to hide his own criminal activities; he leans harder on his ex-friend Nigel Morton (Neil Morrissey). When a panicked Cottan tries to strangle Morton, he escapes by stealing Cottan’s car.

Realizing that they both have smoking guns on one another, the duo make an agreement not to inform on each other, and so Cottan gets offered a permanent job at AC-12 (Steve will love that) while Morton continues taking payoffs from the press. Some bad apples are still out there, for now at least.

What really happened—and what happens next

Line of Duty spells out the entire ambush-turned-retribution scheme by the end of “The Caddy.” Jayne Akers, working with Cottan, convinced Denton to help them hand off Hunter for a tidy sum of money (the funds found at Denton’s apartment) under the guise of saving Carly Kirk from the gangster.

The ambush was made possible by the tracking device found on Akers’ car. Forensics reveal, and the flashbacks confirm, that the tracker was originally on Denton‘s vehicle. However, realizing that she was being set up, the always-cagey Denton plucked it off her car and put it on Akers’ instead, while Cole and Prasad killed both Akers and Hunter to protect Cottan, but had specific orders to leave Denton alive.

Though Denton was intended to be a scapegoat, the fact that she knowingly took money and was a participant in some kind of scheme makes her guilty in her own way.

And unfortunately, with most of the participants involved deceased, she does ultimately end up taking the fall because she’s the near-sole survivor with the money in her hands. The episode states that while Denton pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, she was convicted and is now serving a life sentence in prison.

As for Mark Dryden, he was only ever charged with perverting the cause of justice due to there being insufficent evidence on any other counts, but Denton’s former fling does end up resigning in the scandal. Prasad’s fate is unknown, as the caged bird continues to sing but how much does that immunity agreement actually cover?

The best part of the ending, of both “The Caddy” and Line of Duty series 2, is the final scene where Steve and Kate are having a drink together at the bar. Steve postpones a planned date with Nicola Rogerson (Christina Chong) in order to stay and support his still-struggling partner. Now there’s the Steve Arnott we know, love and admire (and Rogerson is never seen again, anyway, so that subplot didn’t last long). The heart of this series is the AC-12 characters taking their punches and still fighting the good fight, and it’s fitting that Kate and Steve end this second mission together, as they did series 1.

But is this journey as compelling as series 1? A lot of people would say so, and it’s really a matter of personal preference. The impact of seeing Tony Gates knowingly commit suicide was a whole lot more visceral and agonizing than Lindsay Denton just getting arrested, and the personal tie that anchored Line of Duty‘s first series somewhat evaporated in the middle of series 2.

Yes, Kate had a connection to Jayne Akers, but the focus stopped being on Kate’s moral and emotional struggle and became more of a Denton story—whereas in series 1, Steve’s journey to becoming an anti-corruption officer and his sort of coming of age in that sense was always under the surface of every episode. The guest stars on this show are incredible, and so are the roles that they play, but it’s a fine balance between showcasing them and keeping the core team that give this show its head and heart.

Ultimately, though, it’s important to see the differences in how the two series conclude, as Jed Mercurio keeps the series unpredictable and keeps its credibility. If AC-12 had gone two series without convicting somebody the audience would question their effectiveness, especially with our knowledge of Cottan’s duplicity, too. It means something that the team puts someone away even though it’s not the best possible outcome.

We see a character in Denton who ended up being less sympathetic than Gates, so there’s no saying that this series is trying to overly simplify or make palatable its bad cops. Mercurio does a wonderful job making them fully fleshed out people but he also doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, either.

And we see our heroes make mistakes and learn from them, whether it’s Steve and his errors in judgment early on or Hastings being too quick to dismiss the very idea that Dryden could be dirty. Every season of every series, TV crime drama or not, should demonstrate significant character growth and make their journey worth the audience’s time.

Line of Duty series 2 accomplishes that by telling the tale of a cop who knowingly went down a dark path, instead of one who got in over his head, and showing the different ways that the main characters react to those different moral circumstances.

Both Gates and Denton were somehow motivated by emotion—Gates had Jackie Laverty manipulating him, Denton had Mark Dryden that she couldn’t let go of—but they’re otherwise very different people with different ways of looking at policing. (What would Gates think about Morton and Cottan now, one wonders?)

In challenging both of them, Steve and Kate both make terrible personal sacrifices, and go to some damaging lengths. At the same time, the audience is left with a sense that this is what they’re made to do. If the first series left us with hope that Steve Arnott was going to be the hero we all need, the second series at least proves that Steve and Kate are the team we need, and that they need each other.

The end results are still hard to swallow, but in the land of Line of Duty, there are no easy answers. The only thing we know to be true is that we can follow these characters into the darkness.

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. For complete Line of Duty coverage, visit Precinct TV.