Line of Duty series 3, episode 2: Mortality rate

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 3, episode 2 compiles a massive human cost.

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 and 2 in the books, now we move on to series 3.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for and discussion about Line of Duty series 3, 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 third season with Line of Duty series 3, episode 2. If you missed Precinct TV’s commentary on the season premiere, you can catch up here.

More from TV Crime Dramas

Who killed Danny Waldron?

Firstly, let’s state the obvious: Danny Waldron dies of his injuries from the prior episode. This is terrible for the audience as it means no more of Daniel Mays (though you can now see him in another show) but it’s to be expected given how much blood Danny shed when we left him last.

This sets up a new line of inquiry: Who shot Daniel Waldron? His now ex-teammates claim it was Danny himself, committing public suicide because of the AC-12 case against him. But murder is a possibility, too, since all of them have motive—and as Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) points out, Danny seemed to be free and clear of AC-12, so what would he have to kill himself for? And if they really cared, why didn’t they even bother to try and save his life?

No, there are some serious hijinks going on. Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) uses her position on the CV squad to try and pressure each of the three survivors into coming clean, while they in turn push her to reveal what Danny said before his death (“listen”). Meanwhile, Steve is smart enough to know that everything must be related, so he continues the original investigation into the shooting of Ronan Murphy—and into Danny Waldron’s personal life.

An unsung highlight of the opening act in “Snake Pit” is, again, Martin Compston’s uncanny ability to react to a scene so eloquently. Watch Steve when he arrives on the scene of Danny’s shooting: his shock, his nerves, his adrenaline. Compston doesn’t say a word as Steve watches paramedics try and fail to save Danny’s life, but he goes through a whole range of emotions from desperation to defeat, and a little bit of sadness besides. He feels so much and the audience gets every bit of it because that’s how talented Martin Compston is.

But for the survivors of the VC squad, it’s all downhill from here. Because with Danny gone, Line of Duty needs someone else to fit into the crosshairs…

The high cost of lies and half-truths

Line of Duty series 3, in particular, is great at showcasing how the cost of crime (in this case police corruption) goes beyond arrests and body counts. There are all kinds of effects, many of which are on display in “Snake Pit.”

The remaining VC members close ranks in a hurry when it becomes clear that they’re considered suspects, not bystanders, in Danny’s death. But even then they’re fighting amongst one another; Kate certainly doesn’t help by intentionally stirring the pot, but she’s exacerbating tensions that are already there. They had issues before the Murphy shooting (as repeatedly stated throughout this whole series), then they went into a state of panic with that cover-up, and now none of them know right from wrong or up from down anymore.

It’s hard to believe that any of these people were once good cops. Just like series 2 confirmed that Lindsay Denton was a manipulative sociopath for whom police work provided an outlet for those issues, series 3 has shown a team leader with serious emotional problems who used his job as a known crutch and a group underneath him who at best, are completely neurotic. There’s nobody to root for in this scenario.

The closest you’ll get now is, ironically, Danny Waldron. If you concede some of his current behavior based on his past trauma.

But Danny knew the jig was up; he said as much to Steve in their last meeting. And upon a search of his apartment, Steve and Matthew “Dot” Cottan (Craig Parkinson) find Linus Murphy’s dog, a gun, a photo of young Danny with some childhood schoolmates, and an envelope addressed to Steve…which Dot promptly takes and later burns the contents of. Knowing Cottan is a bad apple from the end of series 1, the longer he does things like this, the more the viewer wants to punch him in the face.

An oblivious Steve continues pushing because it’s clear Danny put this together after they parted company and no sane person leaves behind an empty addressed envelope. One of the wonderful things about Steve Arnott is that he keeps pushing no matter what. However, Line of Duty makes him regret it this time.

First, Steve finds Linus’s headless, mulilated body. Then later, he uncovers the man’s severed head in Danny’s storage locker. And we’ll not mention what he discovers about the head in a later report from forensics. Jed Mercurio really needed to include a beat where Steve just knocked back a stiff drink after all that gore…especially as, again, Compston has an excellent reaction because Steve knows that’s a severed head in that cooler and still has to open the thing anyway.

Going back to go forward

The idea of retribution becomes even more concrete when Line of Duty reveals that Rod Kennedy (Will Mellor, Broadchurch) has died after confronting Hari Bains (Arsher Ali, Silent Witness) in an abandoned warehouse. Two people from the same unit die within days, both of them looking like suicides? And then the two remaining people conveniently blame the newly deceased guy for the shooting of the first dead guy? No, this doesn’t look suspicious at all.

(Sidenote: one must love how TV crime drama secret meetings always take place in dark alleys and abandoned buildings. It’s obviously to avoid being overheard or followed, but it’d still have been interesting to see Rod and Hari having their contretemps in a Waterstones or something.)

The link between the two cases, and the truth about Danny’s death, is confirmed when Hari has a burner phone dropped off at his house—he’s in somebody’s pocket. And that somebody sounds like Matthew Cottan. But did Hari kill Danny to get back at him for the cover-up, or to cover up something else? Or both? It could honestly be both, in a twisted “honor among thieves” sort of way. One does not preclude the other.

Meanwhile, Line of Duty drags us back into the past series, too, as Lindsay Denton’s retrial goes on with her accusing Steve of having sex with her, and Steve’s testimony to the contrary blowing up like the lead balloon one would expect early in the season. Honestly, despite how talented Keeley Hawes is, the Denton bit’s grown tired by now and only serves to give Steve more of a headache.

It’s been some time between seasons as well (he mentions that he and Kate have worked together for “three years” in this episode, meaning that two years have passed between series 2 and series 3), so it would have been better to admit that the show’s attempt at roughing Steve up around the edges didn’t really work and just move on. Not all good guys have to be antiheroes; sometimes, you can just be a good, solid hero and that’s watchable on its own.

But now Steve’s in a Denton-sized hole and he’ll have to dig out, while trying to get justice for a cop who actually does deserve it. Oh, the painful irony. And if this show is aiming to point out the messed-up psyches of many police officers, series 3 is doing it—which is all the more reason to preserve someone like Steve, to show that there are still genuine heroes out there in a minefield of smoke, mirrors and abject disappointment.

Somebody has to put things right; there are just a million wrong ways to go about it.

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

Line of Duty series 3 is now streaming on Amazon Video, Acorn TV (with a 7-day free trial) and BritBox.