In the U.S., Internal Affairs, the unit charged with ferreting out dirty cops, is not popular among the rank and file. In the BritBox series, Line of Duty, that fictional British unit is called AC-12 (for anti-crime), whose job is to root out “bent coppers.” In each thrill-packed season, the AC-12 officers play a game of whack-a-mole, targeting criminals in the ranks, only to have them escape, wriggle out of prosecution, or end up dead after “grassing” on someone higher up.
The highly anticipated sixth season of the series is being released in the U.S. on BritBox, seven episodes, one released each week through the end of June. Anyone new to the series can jump in and watch, but starting at the beginning is highly recommended. Plot threads are woven throughout, and while it’s possible to fill in the blanks, small details that add to the depth of this crime drama, may be missed.
For Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), who heads up AC-12, holding police officers to a higher standard is a mission. Hastings (who often equates his job with his name – “oldest battle”), believes there’s nothing worse than a cop – or an elected official – who betrays the public trust by colluding with organized crime. He’s backed up by two talented officers: Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), and Detective Constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure).
In season one, Arnott, a firearms expert, is leading a unit going after a terrorist. An innocent man is killed after the police break into the wrong apartment. Arnott is the only one on his team who refuses to cover up the unlawful shooting. If he can’t join them, he decides to beat them, and when transferred to AC-12, embraces his new role. Fleming’s experience includes long stints working undercover, making her the perfect officer to be embedded into a unit whenever criminal activity is suspected.
While these three actors remain front and center throughout the series, a high profile actor is brought in each time to portray AC-12’s next target. These stars not only turn in stellar performances, but, one assumes, help to raise the quality of the acting overall. These actors include: Lennie James (The Walking Dead); Gina McKee (The Forsyte Saga, Notting Hill); Keeley Hawes (Body Guard, Death at a Funeral); Thandiwe Newton (Beloved, Mission Impossible, Crash); Stephen Graham (This Is England, Gangs of New York); and Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire).
AC-12 often has a bent copper in its sights, but nothing is ever that simple. The police officer in question may be seen as a hero and may have earned the respect of fellow officers and the public. In some cases, a copper may not be bent, but merely a scapegoat, placed in a bad situation by higher ups hoping to escape prosecution. And then there are cases where a police officer tries to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, perhaps to settle a personal score. What all this means for the viewer is that each season will keep you guessing. There are red herrings, plot twists, and unexpected – really unexpected – outcomes.
The AC-12 officers themselves frequently become targets, sometimes sustaining violent attacks which leave them seriously injured, or, being framed as a bent copper themselves. Because those involved in setting up a police officer are inside the system, they know what they’re doing and proving innocence becomes a race against time.
There’s plenty of action – stake outs, shoot outs, and gruesome killings – but there’s also lots of time spent in interrogation rooms. First, the long buzz of the recorder starting up (nerves on edge, much?), followed by endless questions and slide shows presenting the evidence. These interviews frequently end in frustration for Hastings as the one being charged answers again and again with “no comment.” Besides being riveting theater, these question and answer sessions often produce the clues AC-12 needs to move the case forward. (Fans of courtroom dramas will enjoy these scenes.)
While the AC-12 officers are professionals, they are also human and their personal lives show the stress of their demanding jobs. There are romantic partners, yet the ones Hastings, Arnott, and Fleming truly consider family are the AC-12 group itself. Besides dodging real bullets, the team continues to dodge administrative ones as well, the higher ups, for numerous reasons, continually trying to close the unit down.
In any organization, even one charged with upholding the law, there are bad players. AC-12 does its job and does it well. Would that other institutions had such dedicated professionals willing to risk their reputations and their lives to uphold what’s right.
Line of Duty can be streamed on BritBox.
Top photo: Adrian Dunbar (Hastings) and Martin Compston (Arnott)
Photos courtesy of BritBox