Line of Duty – knowing how to finish a story

Spoiler alerts

Shortly before the final episode of the current series of Line of Duty, I shared my predictions. I suggested that, the ending would

  • Prove a bit of a tear jerker
  • Be ambiguous enough to leave open the possibility of a seventh series.
  • Leave viewers frustrated and annoyed.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad!  The programme started with a chase to rescue Jo Davidson who was about to be killed off and a little bit of mild tension about the future of Steve Arnott whose career hung in the balance due to him struggling with an addition to pain killers. All of that was sorted out early on and we waited for further dramatic scenes of peril.  None arrived.  Finally we had the big reveal, who was the 4th man? Who was H? A suspect was escorted onto the premises of AC12 surrounded by heavily armed policemen. Was it the Chief Constable himself? Was it Carmichael? No, it was neither of these. Carmichael was watching on.  The 4th man was none other that Ian Buckles, a character who has had a minor part throughout, occasionally showing up as a bungling cop who gradually got promoted above his competence. Not a criminal master mind but just someone who had managed to rise through the ranks and be useful to the OCG.s

The response of most people was “is that it” confirming my prediction that the ending would disappoint and annoy. Viewers had tuned in expecting a big beast, a proper villain to be taken down only for this.  Some people have suggested that it was of course realistic, how much trouble in life is just down to incompetence. However, that misses the point, it was not what the show had set up to do, it was an anti-climax to the storyline.

That can’t be it can it?  And that’s why I suggested that the ending would be ambiguous enough to allow for another series. There remains the possibility that AC12 will rise again to take on one final villain but the final shots of pictures being removed from the incident board and the tying up of lose ends allows for this to be where it finishes. That ambiguity also robbed me of my first prediction. The suspicion we haven’t seen the last of Ted, Kate and Steve muted emotions and in any case we were all expecting one last bit of  action to cut in, a knifing, bomb or heavily armed attack.

Season Six finished on a bit of a whimper. And there lies the problem for the writers and producers. As I wrote last week, I think that Line of Duty has now jumped the shark. The producers may want another season but that may be one season too far.  The team have been through their own experiences of danger and self-discovery, we’ve covered all the possible big twists and the only way to keep up excitement and intrigue has been to push at the boundaries of credibility.

Furthermore, one does not get the feeling that here is a carefully planned, tightly written storyline with the story-arc intended to unfold over 7 or even 8 seasons. Rather, it feels like the last show of a series is put together not quite knowing whether or not there will be another season. You get the feeling that the writers and producers don’t know how it will all turn out. 

The result is that we end up with something I’ve mentioned before on Faithroots. We often end talk about two genres, comedy and tragedy. Comedy is where a story progresses from despair to hope and a happy ending. Tragedy progresses from high hopes to despair and a tragic ending. We can cope with either of these. A tragedy serves a purpose. It forcibly confronts us with the evils we face in this world and challenges us to confront them. It also allows us to express our emotions, our own sadness and grief.  Comedy brings us out of the despair of this world and gives us hope. It allows us for a while to believe. The Gospel is of course the truest and deepest comedy as it lifts us out of the despair of sin and gives us the hope of a wedding feast with the lamb.

Yet in a world which has stopped believing in anything in much, we get denied both comedy or tragedy. Instead, we are left with the never ending back and forth, up and down storyline of the soap-opera punctuated by the damp-squib pseudo ending.  We are lured back into he story with the promise that one day a better resolution will never come.  We stop believing in the greatest story and we struggle to write decent stories ourselves! We are just left with the frustration of incompetence.

The dominant narrative today tells us that there aren’t really good guys and nor are there true villains. So we can’t be brought low and made to weep when the hero dies nor can we be filled with joy as the hero triumphs or love wins through. We live in the age of the anti-climax.  So, it is good news to know that the truest and deepest comedy has not gone away. There is a hero has died and risen. The enemy has been conquered and there will be a wedding feast at the end.