Line of Duty series 4, episode 1: Looking after our own

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 4, episode 1 heads down a new and darker road.

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 1-3 in the books, now we move on to series 4.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for and discussion about Line of Duty series 4, episode 1. 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 open up the fourth season with Line of Duty series 4, episode 1.

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Falling through the trapdoor

Line of Duty series 4 introduces Detective Chief Inspector Roseanne Huntley, played by Thandie Newton, whom viewers will recognize from her Emmy Award-winning role as Maeve in HBO‘s Westworld. Or, for genre fans, starring as Grace Travis in Audience Network’s Rogue for the first three seasons before an absolutely terrible exit. But she’s here now, playing another strong woman and this series’ latest high-profile antagonist. Or is she?

Roz, as she’s called, is the investigating officer in charge of Operation Trapdoor—the hunt for a man who abducts and dismembers young women. This episode opens with the abduction of his third victim, Hana (Gaite Jansen), who narrowly survives because a bystander called for help from a local cafe. (Sidenote: how refreshing is it to see someone actually call the police, instead of the oh so many scenes where they just take out their phone and film the crime in progress?)

But Roz is under pressure from Assistant Chief Constable Derek Hilton (Paul Higgins, back to be as smarmy as ever) to find the killer. When the investigation leads to convicted sex offender Michael Farmer (Scott Reid), she’s quick to make an arrest. Too quick, as forensic expert Tim Ifield (Jason Watkins, just recently seen in Des) believes. When his questions about the evidence fall on deaf ears, Tim marches himself into AC-12, and that’s where Line of Duty‘s heroes enter the story. Is Roz Huntley framing an innocent man for two murders and an attempted murder?

Well, of course, it’s not that simple.

Also, someone give Higgins a gold star for delivering one of the most cringe-worthy lines of dialogue when Hilton tells Roz “they’re killing us on Twitter” while they watch the interrogation of a suspected murder. Do you hear yourself, Hilton? Or has your ego created an echo chamber?

A Dexter moment

The bulk of this episode, called “In the Shadow of the Truth,” orbits around Watkins’ performance as Tim. He’s as manic as Huntley is calm; sort of like an over-anxious Colin Mochrie. It’s clear from the go that there’s something off with him; watch how Line of Duty‘s camera lingers on him giving a look to another officer as he signs in to the crime scene.

He’s also got a certain fixation on Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), because Tim insists on talking to Steve when he makes his report to AC-12. Not only that, but then he spends hours in the AC-12 meeting room waiting for Steve to show up on another day so he can go on more about forensic evidence. (There’s a lot of forensic-speak in this script, making it one of the slower episodes of the show, by comparison—and bless Martin Compston, who has to spend several scenes giving us Steve’s utterly bored face.)

Tim’s problem is that he doesn’t seem very good at hiding things, with his looking around all the time and his seeming lack of social skills. Near the end of the episode Roz finds out that he’s been poking around, and she goes to his flat to confront him, which is when Watkins gets to do the classic TV crime drama turnabout.

The two argue and Tim pushes Roz, causing her to hit her head and fall unconscious. He produces, among other things, a ski mask and after a quick trip to the home supply store, prepares to cut up her body on a plastic tarp. But lest you think we’re going the Danny Waldron route, Roz wakes up just before the circular saw can slice her. So do we have a British version of Dexter on our hands?

It’s probably not that simple either. If you’ve been watching Line of Duty to this point, you know that there’s always something else. Especially when there are five more episodes after this one. But it’s creepy nonetheless, and a definite way to hook viewers into series 4. Now you don’t know who to be worried about—which is the fun of it.

The continual frustration of Steve Arnott

The subplot in this episode involves Steve continuing to be put upon by the universe. Tim’s arrival proves what has been unspoken since series 1: our hero has a reputation amongst the police for being a whistleblower. Plus, his partner Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) makes a crack later about things “ending up in court,” so at least among his team, his woes from last season haven’t been forgotten either. It’s interesting to see how much Steve’s public image has changed from that earnest counter-terrorism officer we first met to someone who’s now known as a ball-busting whistleblower and maybe a bit of a pariah.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that he’s looking toward his future with AC-12. He’s firmly entrenched in anti-corruption now, whether he likes it or not. This is the leap he took in the first series but because of everything that’s come after it’s where he’s going to stay. Though he was celebrating Kate’s promotion to Detective Sergeant, he chafes at the fact that he hasn’t gotten a bump up in rank, lamenting as such to Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar).

Steve has a point; he’s turned his life inside out for the job, and hustled incredibly hard. He wants to see that there’s some kind of a reward after all the crap that Line of Duty has put him through, because it’s certainly not going to come from his personal life. So where’s his validation? Where’s his solace? It might seem a bit petty, but it comes from a place of just wanting to be recognized for something good again, and therefore know that he’s doing the right thing, after three seasons of being a physical and emotional punching bag.

That endurance, though, is what makes him such a great character. He’s had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him and he’s still standing there. That’s not to take anything away from any of the other characters—least of all Kate, who got one of the most impressive action sequences last season when she chased down Matthew “Dot” Cottan (Craig Parkinson). They’ve all had their rough moments.

But Steve is defined by those moments. They’re what got him to AC-12 and what continue to drive him. He deserves a break, deserves to find something to hold onto, and it looks like series 4 might involve more than a little self-exploration for him. This is his chance to assert himself, and that will be as compelling as figuring out what’s really behind Operation Trapdoor.

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

Line of Duty series 4 is now streaming on Amazon Video, Acorn TV (with a 7-day free trial) and BritBox.