Line of Duty is finally back, and the sixth series (moving to BritBox in the United States) kicks off in a much slower way than usual for TV’s best crime drama of the modern era. It’s weird to see people walking in the intro as they discuss a potential lead in a major murder investigation, but it’s a slow burn as the series overhauls itself into a new era.
The series centers around Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald from State of Play, another excellent British drama), whose team is running Operation Lighthouse to find the killer of journalist Gail Vella. Detective Inspector Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) has transferred onto the Murder Investigation Team, while her new colleague Farida Jatri (Anneika Rose) shows up at AC-12 insisting on meeting still-Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), who’s apparently become everyone’s confidant.
Jatri thinks Davidson’s strung up the wrong suspect, not unlike Roz Huntley from Line of Duty series 4—she was there for that storyline—and tells Steve about an incident where Davidson diverted the team to a suspicious but unrelated van shortly before the arrest was made. Steve sets out to prove Jatri’s story, while also trying to figure out his future with the force; early on, he approaches ex-fling Nicola Rogerson (a returning Christina Chong) about a potential move to Serious and Organized Crime.
It doesn’t take a copper to see where this is going; while trying to hinder or even help Davidson, our Line of Duty heroes are also considering their lives, as they’re no longer the young upstarts we first met almost a decade ago.
Much of the first episode involves the Murder Investigation Team probing the life of their prime suspect, Terry Boyle (Tommy Jessop), who might have been obsessed with Gail Vella. Or maybe he’s not the person their anonymous tipster named, especially since said source disappears shortly after dropping said critical piece of information. Line of Duty also throws a late curveball by revealing that Jatri is an unreliable narrator; she’s also Davidson’s ex, who is not taking their break-up well at all. So many other shows would have thrown that in for pure salacious value; here it actually layers the plot, because there’s motive for Jatri to be dishonest, but also a reason why she’d be the person to know “what she’s capable of.”
So as usual, who does the audience trust?
We’re used to seeing Kate without Steve thanks to her numerous undercover assignments throughout the course of the series, but the episode does a good job of highlighting why she moved on and showing how both are affected by the split. The most interesting about their partnership was that while they were friends, that didn’t trump their differing personalities; the two disagreed as much as they ever agreed. So this isn’t a melodramatic goodbye; we see both functioning well independently, but also having a respect for one another when they do finally end up in the same scene together.
Steve and Kate’s replacement, Detective Constable Chloe Bishop (Shalom Brune-Franklin from Bad Mothers), are also diligent in trying to see whether they even have a case against Davidson. It’s not until late in the episode that they get approval to open an inquiry, so again, it’s off-pace to see them try to build probable cause instead of AC-12 off to a running start. But that’s one of the charms of this show; Jed Mercurio finds a new way into the story every single season. This time, it’s letting the audience see how an Anti-Corruption inquiry even comes together.
Brune-Franklin, though, proves to be a solid addition to the cast and it’s great to see her in a more restrained role after she chewed so much scenery as a party girl in Bad Mothers. It helps that the script doesn’t try to ingratiate her with the audience, as when Steve hooked up with Georgia Trotman almost immediately in series 2 (only for Georgia to then go out a window). Chloe serves a function in the first episode to fill the hole at Steve’s side, and hopefully in future episodes we’ll learn more about her and see what she specifically has that made her deserve a spot in the unit.
Meanwhile on the personal front, Steve’s addiction to painkillers post-his series 4 injury has taken center stage. It’s frustrating to see things continue down this road for Steve, who used to be pretty good at having his stuff together, but at least Line of Duty is allowing this to play out in realistic time instead of just using it as a one-season plot point and throwing it aside the way many other TV dramas have done. It’s reminiscent of Brotherhood, though we’re not only seeing the character’s recovery from injury but the fallout from that recovery.
Audiences have been campaigning awhile now to see Steve make Detective Inspector, and it’s clear that this is the series where that has to be resolved. He either has to get promoted or move out, because those are the only two ways to address his frustration with his trajectory. And of course, if he leaves AC-12 after Kate, then there’s not a ton of show (as awesome as Adrian Dunbar is, Hastings still needs officers to order around). But is Steve ready to be promoted? Or does he need to work on himself before he can take responsibility for others?
There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, most of it clearly needing to play out over the course of the season. Line of Duty is all about the long game rather than any kind of instant gratification, and the most exciting thing in all this isn’t the new case or the new cast but seeing how this is the foundation for a next chapter. The world has changed a lot since series 5, making the show even more timely, and the show has been on long enough that the characters and actors are at different stations in life. There’s a whole new spread to explore and this season premiere proves that Mercurio and his brilliant cast are absolutely going for it.
Line of Duty series 6 is now streaming on BritBox; new episodes drop Tuesdays.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.