Line of Duty series 3, episode 5: Corrupt ways and violent means

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 1 unravels a new murder mystery.

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 5. 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 5. If you missed what happened before this episode, you can catch up with Precinct TV’s previous commentary.

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Steve continues to get screwed

In “The List,” the primary theme is that Matthew “Dot” Cottan (Craig Parkinson) continues to throw shade at Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). Because if everyone’s looking at someone else, they’re not paying attention to you.

The cool thing about this episode, from a viewer perspective, is now that there’s no doubt whatsoever that Cottan is The Caddy, Parkinson can really lean into that with his performance. He doesn’t have to try and be subtle about his character being completely bent; sure, Cottan still has to play nice when he’s with Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), whom he clearly has a crush on, but otherwise we get to watch him go full bad guy. This is the culmination of basically his entire run on this show.

But you have to continue to feel for Steve. We discussed this last week, but he really doesn’t have an advocate in his entire unit. It feels too easy for him to get suspended, and it’s a cheer-worthy moment when he finally unloads on Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), pointing out how many things he’s uncovered that were not in the case file. If he’s going out, he’s doing it to somebody’s face.

Plus, Parkinson gets the line of the episode when Cottan tells Gill Biggeloe (Polly Walker) that “I’m the last person to go behind anyone’s back.” Everyone knows better, and you can almost imagine Jed Mercurio smirking to himself when he wrote that one in.

Who’s the boss?

It’s a bit of a creative risk having Steve separated from the rest of AC-12, as we saw in prior series when Kate was largely absent, because any time you sideline a great performer—even when it’s a necessary move for the plot—it’s always a little dicey. But “The List” keeps its momentum going by showing all kinds of shenanigans as everyone debates the location of Danny Waldron’s list of conspirators and whether or not it exists.

Before getting drop-kicked to the curb, Steve calls out Hastings for not moving faster to pull in retired Chief Superintendent Patrick Fairbank (George Costigan), and Gill also questions Ted due to his Masonic connection to the ex-Chief Super. But Hastings isn’t a guy who minces words either, and he confronts Gill about giving him a doctored version of the case file. She claims she doesn’t know who did the redacting; who could that possibly be?

Hastings and Kate formally interview Fairbank at AC-12 and he blames his slipshod memory for being totally useless when abuse accusations were originally made. Line of Duty does fall into the TV crime drama trope of having a ton of senior officers who are either corrupt, ignorant, or both, but as the whole show is about police corruption, and the stories of every season are connected in an overarching story, it’s a lot more understandable than it would be on any other series. They’re really not supposed to be helpful.

Never one to sit on her hands, “The List” also has Kate approach the commander of AC-9 to request permission to investigate her own unit, starting with Steve’s prior suspicion of Hastings. There are power games going on all over this episode, and those always end with somebody taking a hard fall down the ladder. With only one episode left after this, Kate’s investigation has to be on rails—and the growing affection Cottan has for her is no doubt going to make it awkward.

Denton’s day of reckoning

“The List” is the final episode for Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), and it’s supposed to be a kind of redemption for her, because she sacrifices her life in order to salvage the main piece of evidence in the case. All credit to her—if she doesn’t push send on that email, the whole thing probably does go to ruins.

But it’s still difficult to feel too great about Denton as a character. There are the continued snipes about some sort of romantic moment between her and Steve (which add nothing to the story) and her blatant self-interest continues to do her no favors. She’s concerned only with clearing her name and flat-out tells Steve that she doesn’t care “how unjustly” she does it. Later on, Denton deliberately misleads him so she can find the list herself, therefore giving herself leverage.

It’s only in the end that she does the right thing because it’s the right thing, and frankly, that’s too late.

Denton serves a purpose because Steve needs an ally who’s outside of AC-12 and outside of the system. He has no faith in his teammates or his occupation at this point, so of course he’s going to go rogue. But that doesn’t make her character any more palatable. If his death wasn’t necessary to kick off the season, it would have been more interesting to see Steve join forces somehow with Danny Waldron, and continue the juxtaposition of those two characters (plus get to see more of what was a brief but incredible performance by Daniel Mays).

Hopefully, with the Denton chapter closed, Steve can eventually get his name cleared from the accusations she made against him and get out from under that dark cloud. But he’s got bigger problems at the moment, because now he’s out of allies—and her dead body is sitting in what Line of Duty fans will have noticed is his service car. With the aforementioned bad blood, he also has a great motive for murder…setting up what’s going to be one heck of a finale where the hero will have to choose between saving the day or saving himself.

It’s a classic conundrum, and given the caliber of talent and production values on Line of Duty, it’s going to be fantastic to see how the cast and crew put their own spin on a well-done plot.

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.