Line of Duty: 5.01

A generally established rule in the Line of Duty universe is that one named character must die in the first episode of every season. Usually, it’s just a matter of who that will be and let's be clear: season five is no exception. 

The long running BBC show returned last week, dropping audiences straight back into AC-12 with Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and the man himself Ted Hasting (Adrian Dunbar) still trying to work out the definitive identity of ‘H’. At the end of last season, the mystery seemed solved but for a last lingering shot on Ted Hasting’s face; it was unclear whether he was musing on the case or whether it might transpire that Ted is actually at the centre of the organised crime gang which AC-12 has been tracking since season one. Whilst the first episode of season five didn’t confirm or deny this, but it did add some more suspicion and deepen the mistrust between the trio.

In an opening which executes all of show-runner Jed Mercurio's signature moves, a shipment of repossessed drugs are transported with police protection when the mission becomes fatally compromised. The circumstances are suspicious; one single female police officer is left alive (just) and her colleagues are dead. She’s spared - but why? Enter AC-12. The team quickly establish that there’s more to this case than meet the eye, stumbling across classified information which leads them into hot water with a specialist undercover unit.

Things move at lightning speed from here. With more acronyms than one can shake a truncheon at (UCO = undercover office, OCG = organised crime group/gang, ED905 = the name of the AC-12’s new case), Kate and Steve jump straight back into the action, feet first. Steve takes this pretty hard, what with spending most of season four in a wheelchair.  This prior injury plus the high stress of the job (including rugby tackling a potential conspirator to the floor) sees Steve taking what looks like prescription painkillers. As we know, Mecurio never leaves anything to chance so it’s likely that this will become important later in the season.

Kate seems to be the only one doing alright - we’re privy to a small glimpse of her family life - whereas Ted has checked in indefinitely to the local Premier Inn (or a hotel of the same price-tag). He’s looking ever so tired; is this because of sleepless nights in a strange bed or is it because Ted has something to hide?

Mecurio hints at this guilt several times within the episode, but none more so than Ted is glimpsed staring out of those glass windows the AC-12 office just can’t get enough of. He’s also highly suspicious around the specialist undercover operations manager, though this makes sense when she reveals that they haven’t had contact with their UC for months. Months! 

The tragedy of episode one is truly heart-breaking. Line of Duty is consistently excellent at shaping characters who are neither wholly good nor bad, and particularly characters who want to do the right thing but inevitably end up morally compromised. Poor Maneet falls victim to the age old problem of digging one-self deeper and deeper into a hole until it’s impossible to crawl your way back out. Maya Sondhi has been utterly fascinating to watch throughout show; Maneet began spiralling out last season and whilst it’s satisfying to finally understand what was behind her shady actions, it’s a sad ending for a great character. 

The bait and switch of the identity of the UC (it's not who we has been led to believe it was) is classic Line of Duty but still it fits so well into this established universe which is all about double identities and backhanded dealings. It also establishes the woman we thought was a UC as a weak link - she might be good at negotiating drug deals but she spared the life of an officer and we can assume she tried to help Maneet before she met her sticky end. It will be intriguing to see how it all plays out.

It is a shock ending (as much as it can be for a show which seems to enjoy nothing more than pulling the rug out from underneath it’s audience) but the message is clear: Line of Duty is back and it’s playing hard ball. This story-line has, in different shapes and forms, been going from season one and it feels like the narrative is coming to a natural climax. Each season, the corruption has been shown to go deeper and deeper - with any luck we’ll actually discover the true identity of H and perhaps season six will focus on a new narrative altogether. Even so, it’s gripping TV which hasn’t lost any of it’s punch at all. 

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