Line of Duty series 3, episode 6: Between a bullet and a target

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 comes to a bloody end in Breach.

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 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 conclude the third season with Line of Duty series 3, episode 6. If you’ve missed anything leading up to this point, catch up with Precinct TV’s previous episode recap.

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Bringing down Fairbank

Going into “Breach” there are two things that Line of Duty viewers are concerned about: will AC-12 be able to arrest retired Chief Superintendent Patrick Fairbank (George Costigan), and will they finally figure out that Matthew “Dot” Cottan (Craig Parkinson) has been betraying them from the very beginning?

The first question is straight-forward compared to the second, and with good reason; for viewers, the Cottan story is more compelling, because he’s a character they’ve followed for three series and not a guest star. So Jed Mercurio delivers an interesting end to the Fairbank story but it’s not near as exciting as the rest of the episode.

Fairbank is confronted with the holes in his story, which he continues to blame on his failing memory, and his defense counsel run with that by suggesting he’s not fit to be prosecuted. While Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) feels pressure to keep the case alive, ultimately it’s a declaration from Cottan that puts Fairbank away.

Which is good news on more than one level—this is the first Line of Duty series where AC-12 officially gets the bad guy. Tony Gates (Lennie James) committed suicide at the end of series 1 and while Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) was conviced in series 2, this series messed that up. So this is the first real victory for our anti-corruption team, which goes a long way to keeping the viewer believing that these people are actually making a difference.

Fairbank may only be getting a ten-year sentence, but at his age, the implication is whether or not it’s really a life sentence. We’ll never know.

Steve’s vindication

What audiences are really hanging on is if Cottan will get what’s coming to him and Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) will stop getting screwed over. It’s been a bit frustrating how Steve has been getting the short end of the stick despite pointing out valid flaws in Cottan’s “investigation,” air quotes very much necessary.

But Line of Duty revealed last episode that Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), Steve’s partner and Cottan’s not-so-secret crush, is on the case having gotten authorization to do an undercover operation on her own team. In a great scene, Kate and Hastings tag-team Cottan in a formal interview, attacking every hole in his story and his work product, while he vacillates between apologizing and being indignant.

Much has been made of this show’s fantastic interview scenes, which can go on for 10-15 minutes at a time, but enough can’t be said of how great they are. Jed Mercurio has been able to generate incredible drama out of people sitting in a room with a bunch of paperwork. These scenes are essentially verbal chess, with actors who can say so much visually as they go back and forth.

From both an acting and writing perspective, they’re masterful—and a refreshing counter-point to many TV crime dramas, which rely more on physical force like car chases and fistfights. With Line of Duty, we see that the intellectual side of crime-fighting can be just as compelling.

The downside here is that Martin Compston is off-screen for the bulk of this episode, except for Steve getting run through the wringer—and rightfully continuing to argue his case even if it still feels like no one’s listening. It would have been a letdown if he’d just rolled over and moped, but he never stops fighting. That courage of his convictions is what makes Steve Arnott memorable.

Unfortunately, he loses his live-in girlfriend Sam Railston (Aiysha Hart), who dumps him while he’s still in lockup. Line of Duty gives us an awkward scene where Sam swears that she believes Steve is innocent, but notice that she’s looking off to the right every time she says it. She doesn’t believe him at all, which is again, the kind of thing that makes a viewer throw up their hands. You’d think she would have his back, even if current events have put a strain on their relationship, but no.

His outcome is still better than that of Cottan, who has another corrupt cop shoot up the AC-12 bullpen before making an attempted escape. Kate literally chases him down, shoots out the tires of his speeding getaway car—from a distance that would make every other TV crime drama hero jealous—and then Cottan takes two bullets protecting her from his other co-conspirator.

You can’t necessarily say his feelings for Kate were the deciding factor (since he was all too happy to leave her on the ground earlier when he thought she was hurt), but he draws the line at having her killed. And he’s man enough to record a dying declaration after the fact, which counts for something; it’s the key piece of evidence against Fairbank.

But fans will have to decide for themselves if that makes up for all the things he did over three series, which isn’t a short list. The downer is that we lose Craig Parkinson from the cast, but it’s likewise worthwhile that Cottan finally gets caught; if he’d gotten away after all this it would’ve been ludicrous.

Where does the series go next?

“Breach” is a milestone for Line of Duty. With Cottan being revealed as The Caddy and Fairbank being taken down, is that the end of the ongoing story that’s run through the first three series? So many people involved in the interlinking story are dead or sidelined. So does the show transform into something more stand-alone with the next few seasons, or is there another thread that it’s going to pull?

Audiences who have seen series 4 and series 5 know the answer to that question. For those who have not, though, we’ll leave it at this: the third series gutted AC-12, both in the sense of their losing an officer and emotionally. Everyone had to turn on one another a little bit. That’s a plot that is not uncommon in the crime drama world, but that’s because it has a way of exposing characters and forcing them to make new decisions.

This is a turning point for everyone. Kate just watched a colleague die while getting promoted (and can we give Vicky McClure a round of applause for all the running with a massive gun she did?). Steve has been victimized by the very system he’s been fighting to protect. And Hastings pushed back against legal and political constraints that were very much misinformed. They all learned a few hard lessons, and now it’s time for them to put those into action.

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