‘Line of Duty’: why was the sixth season such a disappointment?

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Note: this article contains spoilers.

Like millions across the country, my housemates and I tuned into BBC 1 on Sunday evening having eagerly discussed our predictions for Line of Duty’s season finale. I’d binged the first five seasons of Line of Duty before the pandemic and had been anticipating the sixth season since then. Though season six had failed to fulfil my high expectations for one of Britain’s most successful TV crime dramas, I remained hopeful as the final episode began. Little did I know that an hour later I would be sitting in shock, close to uttering arguably the three most famous words from the show, “Mother of God”. However, this wouldn’t be because of the incredible plot twist I had been imagining, but instead due to an overwhelming sense of disappointment.

Little did I know that an hour later I would be sitting in shock

Reassuringly, many were equally astonished by how lacklustre the finale was – for weeks the season had been slowly drawn out, only being aired every Sunday as fans theorised in what seemed like a never-ending seven day wait between each episode. Despite some exciting police ambushes and shoot-outs with various criminals, I couldn’t help but feel that all that was holding this season together was the weekly appearance of Steve Arnott’s flashy waistcoats and Ted Hasting’s ever iconic phrases.

All that was holding this season together was the weekly appearance of Steve Arnott’s flashy waistcoats and Ted Hasting’s ever iconic phrases

The final episode had 12.8 million viewers, a record for the show. However, it seemed as though the finale was merely a preamble for a seventh season. Much of the drama and plot twists that viewers have come to expect from the show simply did not have the same impact. For the majority of this season it felt as though one of the show’s new characters, Chloe Bishop, was doing all the investigative work. Viewers could be assured that at some point in an episode, Hastings would tell Bishop to do some digging and ten minutes later she would effortlessly emerge with countless pieces of information. One can only hope that Bishop is getting a significant pay rise after carrying AC-12 for the entire season.

Though Kelly Macdonald was good in the role of Joanne Davidson, unlike principal suspects from prior seasons, such as Lindsay Denton or Roz Huntley, Davidson lacked character development. Her motivations were instead briefly explained by her troubled relationship with season one’s Tommy Hunter. As I scrolled through Twitter after watching the finale, I saw many calling for antagonists as well-formulated as Matthew “Dot” Cottan.

What many adore about Line of Duty is the satisfaction of seeing Kate Fleming or Steve Arnott uncover a key piece of information after tirelessly working away on what seems like an unsolvable case. Season six failed to capture that sense of catharsis. When Ian Buckles was announced as being ‘H’ in the last fifteen minutes of the episode, it felt unexplained and unsatisfactory. How could a seemingly incompetent police officer who can’t spell the word ‘definitely’ act as a central component in organised crime?

It’s not fair to completely write off this season as there were still some classic Line of Duty moments. The character of Ryan Pilkington was one of this season’s highlights, making the threat posed to Joanne Davidson seem even more imminent. Line of Duty has always been good at exploring the theme of police corruption, and the most recent season did that with particular nuance. Unfortunately, the anticlimactic finale arguably diminished some of these more interesting elements from prior episodes.  

The character of Ryan Pilkington was one of this season’s highlights

It’s understandable that the show’s creator, Jed Mercurio, felt pressure to deliver unpredictable plot twists this season given Line of Duty’s reputation. However, if the most rewarding part of the season finale was seeing Joanne Davidson in witness protection with an adorable dog, then something must be wrong. Viewers have become so invested in the show’s main protagonists that an unfulfilling ending simply won’t make the cut. Here’s to hoping that if a seventh season is made in the future it will be more inventive and less disappointing than the show’s sixth season.

Illustration: Anna Kuptsova

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