Line of Duty: Series 1 DVD Review: The Thin Gray Line

In television and in the movies, Internal Affairs officers are often seen as out of touch with real police work, bullies, and even masters of corruption themselves. Often they are the antagonists going after our heroes (or anti-heroes) and trying to stop them from performing their duties. Almost always Internal Affairs is the enemy. In reality, we ought to be very thankful for Internal Affairs as they are what stand between us and corrupt cops. It should also be said that the line between good cops making mistakes and true corruption is a thin one and can be very difficult to differentiate.

Line of Duty is a show that tries to walk that line. Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) is a member of London’s Anti-Corruption team whose current target is Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James), whose elite team of officers has returned the best crime figures for three consecutive years. Arnott and his superiors believe that this cannot be possible and that at the very least Gates must be fudging the numbers. The series rotates between these two characters’ perspectives showing the blurred lines between good and corrupt cops.

There are quite a few similarities with this show and The Shield. Both deal with corruption in the police force but also take pains to show that corrupt cops can also yield great results for the entire police force and those charged with stopping corruption sometimes bend themselves.

Interestingly, Gates starts the series mostly clean. He does seem to be doing what the British police call “laddering,” that is juking the stats by only taking on cases he’s sure they can solve while pushing more difficult ones to other departments. Likewise, he often tacks on charges to solved cases that he knows won’t stick in court but that look good in his stats. Other than that he seems to be good police, but as the show gets moving he falls into more and more corrupt holes.

Early on, Gates is seen having an affair with Jackie Laverty (Gina McKee), an old lover who is now also deeply involved with a drug cartel. Gates helps cover up what he thinks is a minor traffic accident Laverty was involved with while drinking. Turns out that accident was more than he imagined and the cover up goes deeper and deeper until Gates becomes truly corrupt indeed.

Also like The Shield, Line of Duty is a fast-paced, seat-of-your-pants-exciting bit of television. From scene one, it never stops going faster and faster until you are out of breath, begging for more. The plot is tightly woven, the acting superbly done, and the pacing relentless.

It weaves a careful web of characters who are all dark shades of gray. Arnott is a good cop who wants the police force to run clean and smooth, but as he is pulled deeper into the Gates case, he shows that he’s not above bending the rules and blurring the lines to get what he wants. Gates certainly becomes corrupt yet also shows that he truly wants to be good police and capture the bad guys. The entire show lives in those grays.

My only real complaint for the whole series is the ending. Just as things are wrapping up, they throw in a completely left-field twist that nearly ruined everything before it. Presumably, the showrunners wanted to stay away from having a too neatly wrapped-up show (and perhaps a good in for season two), but they should have found a better way to weave it into the series not just tack it on at the end.

That aside, Line of Duty Series 1 is a terrific bit of television. The DVD includes intervies with many of the key players involved in the show.

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Mat Brewster

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