If you’re one of our British readers, you probably watched the last episode of season 6 of the procedural police drama “Line of Duty” last weekend. There’s a good chance that many of our American readers watched the show, too. Great British shows have a tendency of crossing the Atlantic, and “Line of Duty” is among the best shows that the Brits have come up with in decades. It had a strong claim on being the best cop show ever made in the UK for five seasons and six episodes. Then that last episode happened – perhaps the last episode of the show that the BBC will ever make, based on how it attempted to wrap up multiple storylines – and that hard-earned reputation for quality shattered in an instant.
From this point on, we’ll be going deep into spoiler territory. If you intend to watch the final episode of season 6 but haven’t had the chance to do so yet, stop reading. If you’ve never seen the show before, we strongly recommend watching the first five seasons and the first six episodes of season 6 and then making up your own ending. Whatever you came up with would be better than what we got. In any event, let’s get into the meat of the discussion!
After nine years of waiting to find out the identity of ‘H,’ the show’s mysterious shadowy boogeyman, we were told it was none other than Ian Buckells – an incompetent police officer who’s always been around in the background of the show and had already been arrested and charged with shady practices. Buckells was constantly represented in both thought and deed as someone incapable of handling the practicalities of his role. The idea of him being a criminal mastermind was and is ludicrous. Yet, we were asked to believe that he’s been running communications between organised crime gangs and ordering executions left, right, and centre for years. It was among the most anti-climactic reveals in television history and didn’t make much in the way of sense.
What made even less sense was Buckells explanation of his role in it all. According to him, he was nothing more than a go-between. He received information from one criminal gang and passed it on to another, occasionally feeding police information back to the gangs to help them evade detection. This wouldn’t explain why he had the power to order gangs to carry out politically or personally motivated assassinations on his behalf. It also doesn’t explain why he was known as ‘H,’ or why every other implied underling of H we’ve seen in the show before was so terrified of him. If Buckells was really H, then H never really existed as we thought he did. Perhaps H was the friends we made on the way. More likely is the idea that writer Jed Mercurio never had an ending planned when he created the character, and this is the best he could come up with when crunch time arrived for the narrative.
As if the non-reveal of H wasn’t bad enough, the show went off the air after telling us that AC-12’s powers had been significantly reduced, the Chief Commissioner of the police was no longer interested in investigating historical allegations of corruption, and the whole “who is H” affair was effectively being swept under the carpet. This didn’t sit well with viewers. Part of this is because the Brits, with a few notable recent exceptions, are fond of their police. They still have an almost cartoonish impression of their police officers, which can be seen in the “Beat the Bobbies” casino game and its sequel. The presentation style of the two “Beat the Bobbies” online slots tells international audiences everything about the way the British police are thought of in their own country and also shapes the way British “coppers” are seen abroad. Rather than being corrupt and conniving, they’re affable-but-violent fellows with oversized helmets and truncheons who still say “hello” three times on meeting you. These slots are featured on popular casinos as seen on review sites such as sistersite.co.uk but this probably shouldn’t be held up as a measuring stick when we’re assessing the realism of a television show. Still, the fact that a British designer made those online slots with that theme reveals a lot about the way police are thought of. So does the fact the slots are so popular. The short version of this is that the British public – or most of it, at least – don’t want the police to be presented negatively on television.
In addition to all that, there was a political overtone, too. One of the observations made about Buckells is that he’d “fallen upward” regardless of his ineptitude, with someone at the very top of the tree working hard to ensure that he reached a senior position despite clearly being unqualified for it. Viewers interpreted this as a criticism of current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who currently faces several corruption allegations of his own and is also viewed by his critics as someone eminently unqualified for high office. Mercurio used his smash hit television show to make a comment about British society as a whole. That would have been fine if it had been signposted anywhere, but this is a show where there was a high-stakes shootout after a convoy was ambushed just one episode earlier. Viewers weren’t in the mindset to expect political commentary, and nor did they welcome it.
It’s the overall mood of the final moments of the episode that have done the most damage. It’s been a difficult eighteen months for everybody. Most people already know the world is corrupt and that bad people tend to prosper at the expense of good people. They tune in to television for a dose of escapism. For the past five seasons, “Line of Duty” had been a show where no matter what was thrown at them, the good guys always got the bad guys in the end. That’s what most viewers were hoping to see. Even if this were to be the very last episode, Mercurio could have given us AC-12 finally getting their man (or woman) and Ted Hastings finally sailing off into retirement on the back of a glorious achievement. Instead, Ted’s pensioned off for politically motivated reasons, bad guys are everywhere, and Kate and Steve are trapped within a corrupt system. Thanks for that, “Line of Duty.” Not even fiction is safe from the misery of reality.