Only a few hours to go until the resolution of (at least) the sixth season of what has easily been the BBC’s best TV drama show of the last 20 years. Speculation has been rife as to whether there will be a seventh season of Line of Duty, or whether writer Jed Mercurio will call it a day with tomorrow’s finale of this one. Perhaps he could do a Star Wars-type prequel series called Line of Duty: Ted Hastings – the RUC Years…
Most speculation, of course, has centred on the thus-far-unanswered questions about this series’ plot outworkings:
- Who killed reporter Gail Vella, and why?
- Why did Kate attempt to make a run for it, rather than stay and answer questions, after the shootout two weeks ago?
- How much of a hold do the OCG have on DSup Jo Davidson?
- Is DCSup Patricia Carmichael connected with the OCG in any way, given how she was keen to shut down questions about corrupt cops in last week’s interview?
- Is James Nesbitt going to make an appearance and say something, after his character Marcus Thurwell’s picture has been shown in two episodes so far?
- What was DC Chloe Bishop’s background before she joined AC-12? Is she connected in any way with the officers investigated in previous seasons?
- How is Steve going to explain the drugs and drink in his system when he ultimately has to go before the Occupational Health panel?
- When are AC-12 going to use a different jail for suspects? They must surely realise by now that the OCG have some moles there…
- Who, finally, is “H”/the “Fourth Man”? Carmichael? Chief Constable Philip Osbourne? Deputy Chief Constable Andrea Wise? Ted Hastings himself? Or someone else?
Line of Duty has been a massive ratings success, with its growing audience during its time on BBC2 for its first three seasons more than justifying its move to BBC1 for the next three. Nearly eleven million tuned in to last Sunday’s penultimate episode of the current series, which contrasts with Downton Abbey‘s best-performing episode – the 2011 Christmas special, which pulled in 10.6 million viewers. The intrepid AC-12 head Superintendent Ted Hastings’ (Enniskillen-born Adrian Dunbar) catchphrases have surely guaranteed his status as a TV icon (with ‘Now we’re suckin’ diesel’, ‘We conduct ourselves to the letter of the law – the letter’, and ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey‘ being the stand-out ones).
Maybe, however, more could be at stake this weekend than just the conclusion of a top-quality TV show about bent bobbies. Hastings himself, on being informed by Wise (Elizabeth Rider) in Episode 4 that the force’s three anti-corruption units would be merged and their personnel numbers cut by 90 percent, rhetorically asked her:
What has happened to us?… When did we stop caring about honesty and integrity?
Hastings was clearly not referring just to Chief Constable Osbourne (Owen Teale), who in Season 1 suppressed the truth about the fatal shooting of Karim Ali (an innocent man) – actions that led one of his men, DC Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), to join AC-12 and fight corruption instead. Clearly Osbourne is gunning for Steve and Hastings and their team, and having got away with lying under oath about the Ali shooting he is determined to get his own back in the form of slashing anti-corruption investigations to the bone. At the end of last week’s episode, as Davidson was led to the cells, Osbourne laid down the gauntlet at a news conference:
For too long now, police officers have had to serve faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats. We’ve even had to suffer political opportunists trying to win votes by vilifying police officers with false allegations of corruption. We defend this Constabulary from those who would obstruct us in serving the public. Not only does this Force face enemies without, there are enemies within. I will personally see to it, those enemies within are made to suffer the consequences.
The speech is flavoured eerily with the kind of menacing populism that has bedevilled public life across the Western world at least since the Great Crash. There are dozens of famous (or notorious) mouths from which you can imagine Osbourne’s words also falling.
Nonetheless, in today’s world, Ted Hastings’ Question is a perfectly fair one. When did we stop caring about honesty and integrity? Why have we in the Western world tolerated so much bad behaviour from those who are supposed to uphold the law and maintain the highest standards in public life?
Perhaps we feel we don’t deserve any better (discuss…)…
Several times during Donald Trump’s presidency plenty of his supporters were happy to go in front of TV cameras and say ‘He lies? So what! Everyone lies!‘ – as if that is supposed justify presidential dishonesty, or as if presidential dishonesty were the most mundane thing in the world. Britain’s Prime Minister’s casual approach to the verifiable truth – in both his private and public life – is of course common knowledge. Both men’s cack-handed response to the COVID pandemic (in the face of better examples to follow in countries like New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan) has condemned hundreds of thousands in the US and UK to completely avoidable deaths – yet Trump’s defeat last November was a closer one than he deserved, while Boris Johnson’s party continue to lead their opponents comfortably in most opinion polls.
To ask the Hastings Question is not merely an exercise in navel-gazing over here. The rest of the world is watching us and taking note. Niaz Alam in the Bangladeshi English-language newspaper the Dhaka Tribune recently offered his view:
[P]eople as individuals, across families, and within communities, are endlessly capable of enormous acts of compassion, solidarity, and love.
Yet, it seems, as large organizations and nations, societies made of the same people also tend towards the lowest common denominator of whatever they can get away with…
Whatever your view, it seems the answer to the question “when did we stop caring” is usually a long, long time ago.
Or never quite enough. And sometimes perhaps, we never really did.
Based in Birmingham, Dan is a writer and actor