Crikey, where do we begin with unpacking that thrilling hour of TV?
Even by Line Of Duty’s ridiculously high bar, episode 4 of series 6 was one of its strongest ever instalments.
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An AC-12 interview, the return of a crucial character, a tense gun battle and the mother (of God) of all cliffhangers - this episode had everything.
Time to take a deep breath and wade our way through all the evidence...
*WARNING: this article contains spoilers for episode 4 of series 6 of Line Of Duty*
1. Book Buckells
Episode 4 opens with that Line Of Duty staple - the AC-12 grilling - and show-long haters of DSU Ian Buckells (Nigel Boyle) get to see him squirm in the hot seat in front of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DI Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and DC Chloe Bishop (Shalom Brune-Franklin).
Buckells is in Ted’s firing line over the botched Murder Investigation Team (MIT) probe into the killing of journalist Gail Vella (Andi Osho) and the interview serves as a neat catch-up for the audience.
The only new information comes in the form of Buckells’ gross text messages and sleazy coded abbreviations for the women he’s courted - it wouldn’t be Line Of Duty without some jargon, I suppose.
Buckells is charged with perverting the course and locked up in Blackthorn Prison, which we shall come back to later.
2. The Ryan and Jo Show
Steve isn’t convinced, however (“This bloke couldn’t organise a p***-up in a brewery.”), and tells DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) to keep an eye on DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald), who’s had a temporary promotion and taken Buckells’s job.
But there’s no time for celebrating the new role for poor Jo, who is too frazzled by the stalking habits of Organised Crime Gang (OCG) member turned police infiltrator PC Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper).
The two have quite the cat-and-mouse battle in this week’s episode. After learning from Kate of Pilkington’s movements (Steve is not going to thank his mate for spilling the beans), Davidson makes the ballsy call of removing him from her team - Piper’s change of facial muscles in this scene is one of the finest pieces of small-screen acting I’ve witnessed for years.
It won’t be long before that “nasty piece of work” (Ted’s words on Pilkington) has the upper hand again, however.
3. Last battle of Hastings?
There’s bad news for Ted, who is informed by DCC Andrea Wise (Elizabeth Rider) that AC-12’s days are numbered and that he should retire before he is pushed.
While it makes sense for ACs 3, 9 and 12 to merge, culling 90% of their workforce is a huge kick in the teeth, and something of a theme for this episode, as Davidson blamed “budget constraints” for dropping Pilkington and Chloe tells Kate: “Resources are stretched, Ma’am.”
Ted asks Wise: “When did we stop caring about honesty and integrity?”, bitter that corrupt officer Philip Osbourne (Owen Teale), who lied about the Karim Ali case way back in series 1, is the current chief constable.
A clearly rattled and emotional Ted trying to rally his troops later (“I’m just counting on all of you to carry the fire.”) almost brings a tear to the eye.
4. Jimmy’s back!
Some viewers with ears like wolves swore they heard the voice of dodgy solicitor Jimmy Lakewell (Patrick Baladi) in a recorded interview with Vella a few episodes back, and sure enough, former DCI Roz Huntley’s (Thandiwe Newton) lawyer from series 4 turns up here.
Having pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice, he is now in Blackthorn Prison - but not for long! Steve has a plan that simply cannot fail to bring him out, glean his information and scurry him into witness protection.
But the OCG has other ideas, resulting in a nail-biting gun battle after Steve and Jimmy’s transport van gets overturned, in which firearms officer PS Ruby Jones (Sherise Blackman) is killed. It is overly suspicious of me to ask why Chloe wasn’t shot when she was in the exact same spot seconds earlier?
I hope so, although her spotting of a dodgy vehicle down a side street while going at full speed was very Davidsonesque, and she also later voices her concerns that AC-12 may have a leak, which is exactly what you would do if you were the one doing the leaking.
Baladi gives a terrific world-weary performance as Lakewell, but he was never going to be hanging around for long.
After refusing the offer of immunity (“I’m a coward, not a fool.”), Lakewell takes his chances and insists he’s keeping his mouth shut (although a huge wink at Steve suggests he may have done otherwise in that van) and goes back to his cell in Blackthorn, where the newest inmate Buckells is making him a nice cup of tea. Awwww…
It’s the last thing Lakewell ever sees, as OCG member Lee Banks (remember him? Who Ted visited in prison? Who may be related to murdered Carl Banks?) sneaks up and strangles him to death, before giving Buckells a warning: "You watch what happens to a rat.”
It’s echoed when Pilkington, who has since threatened Davidson at gunpoint to force her to reinstate him, tells her of Lakewell's demise. When she asks the cause of death, he replies: “Being a rat, Ma’am.”
5. “Mother of God!”
And even after all that, there’s still time for a last-second episode stinger every bit as effective as the one the OCG used to intercept Lakewell’s prison transport.
Chloe and Steve inform Ted that the forensic sweep at the home of PS Farida Jatri (Anneika Rose) found traces of Davidson’s DNA.
This isn’t much of a revelation, given they were seeing each other before Davidson called things off then seemingly framed Jatri by planting burner phones in her house.
But there’s more… Davidson’s DNA is a partial match to someone else (Steve says it is a “he”) whose details were already on the police system. Steve says it is a “nominal”, someone convicted, cautioned or arrested for an offence.
And judging by Ted’s reaction, Davidson is a blood relative of someone pretty central in Line Of Duty lore - and it is going to send shockwaves through the rest of this series.
Whoever it is, we’re going to have to wait at least another week to find out about Davidson’s past.
Episode 4 verdict: This is why Line Of Duty remains must-watch TV. A blistering episode that shocked and teased in all the right places.
Watch: Line Of Duty series 6 teaser