Line of Duty reflections (includes spoilers and heavy sarcasm)
Like the roughly 12.8 million of us who tuned into the LoD finale on Sunday night, I was anxious that the elusive fourth man would remain just that, and that the showrunners would resort to teasing us with yet another series. In the event it all felt decidedly anticlimactic didn’t it, and the final reveal could only have attained a higher degree of overstretched cliché had Noel Edmonds appeared in cameo to make one final laboured call upstairs to conclude proceedings.
Watching all of this painfully unfold while sat beside one of the world’s biggest LoD fans was also doubly entertaining. As the show approached its final, ten-years-in-the-making Scooby Do moment, Debbie repeatedly stated that if the fourth man turned out to be Ian Buckells she would, and I quote, “literally fucking die.” But that seemed unlikely, what with so much ripe speculation about Nesbitt’s character, and whether or not he had staged his own death and was part of the armed response unit storming the villa, and whether the Chief of Police, aka the duplicitous Ser Alliser Thorne of the Night’s Watch, was finally going to get his comeuppance at the end of a vast conspiracy replete with audacious killings, intricate layers of subterfuge, golf references and misspellings of the word “definitely”. This all had to lead somewhere, didn’t it?
But no. In a defiantly un-Kafkaesque moment it turned out that none other than incompetent Brummie boob, Ian Buckell’s, had been central to it all, perhaps answerable to the Chief of Police Philip Osborne at the top end, but not to the extent that the writers would permit him to say anything about that all-consuming detail. I suspect that the writers were trying for the kind of world weary reflections of The Wire, where despite everything humanity continues to rumble along its broken path of moral ambiguity, leaving us with a profound sense of spiritual exhaustion and a small piece of gritty enlightenment.
Hastings’s final monologue was probably meant as an indirect commentary on political corruption in England as well as an opportunity to cast a little shade at the obvious failings of the police to address longstanding systemic issues, all of which is certainly to be applauded. Even so, I think I would have liked to have seen Osbourne take a tumble rather than getting to spout his own empty rhetoric about “a few bad apples,” but I guess that’s the point. This final virtual interplay between Hastings and the Osbourne is actually quite telling in this regard, serving as a catalyst for Hastings’s about-turn and confessional purge before leaving the office. This follows the longstanding trend of developing characters with tragic flaws, and part of what is compelling about the series has been trying to gauge the extent of their individual hypocrisy and whether it meets the threshold for us to pass a final judgement. Where it tips over into criminal activity, we want to see justice done, and by withholding closure in the finale I think we’re meant to conclude that we have little choice but to accept a certain amount of corruption in any system. It could be profound if it wasn’t so irritating.
In his essay “Of the First Principles of Government”, Hume writes:
Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.
Is the show then trying to turn the focus back onto the audience, asking them how comfortable they are with this resignation to the corrupting passions of those with power? As if to highlight this point during Hastings’ final scene the audience find themselves watching Hastings who in turn is watching another character, Osbourne, playing a supposedly righteous version of himself on TV. Remind you of anyone? Hastings is willing to sacrifice his pension, his legacy and whatever else to mark himself apart from what he sees as a corrupted system. We might love him for making such a principled stand, but ultimately he has lost, as has AC12, along with the wider public who invest the police with trust. “No one makes mugs out of us!” he declares, but they kind of did, Ted, you and us both mate, plus you can now buy actual Ted Hastings Mugs https://www.amazon.co.uk/Funny-Mug-Tedisms-Hastings-Novelty/dp/B08GKWRQBC.
On one of the forums a fan described LoD as 24 for people who like The Bill, which I think is a rather sly but also entirely accurate description, and this was never more apparent than in the final twenty minutes of the final episode which felt rushed, even despite the more interesting aspects of Hastings’s commentary. At about the 9:45 mark, the final police interview with Ian Buckells now complete, we realised that there wasn’t enough run-time left for any further revelations and that the series had lolloped over the line without really providing closure on any of the major plot points that they had teased us with. I flashed back to series eight of GoT, which also felt like everyone was in a rush to get out of there.
If we learned anything at all from the finale it is that witness protection is a cushy number indeed, replete with period stone-faced cottage and delightful redheaded companion, and OCGs seriously need to consider a subscription to Grammarly.