'Line of Duty' S6 preview: A low-key start but with hints of danger to come

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DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly MacDonald) - (World Productions/Steffan Hill)
DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) - (World Productions/Steffan Hill)

The BBC really ought to publish a Line of Duty acronym guide, as it’d be an instant bestseller.

So jam-packed with jargon is this opener to series six of Jed Mercurio's hit cop show that you’ll be left wondering whether all the combinations of different letters have now been used up. There’s a CHIS, an FFC, a PNC, an EFO, a GSW, an HCP, an MIT and an AFO. By the time the credits roll accompanied by those thunderclap drums, some viewers may be left thinking, ‘WTF?’

But LoD (see, even I’m doing it now) is at its best when we come away feeling that police work – headed up by Vicky McClure, Martin Compston, and Adrian Dunbar – has been portrayed accurately. Abbreviations and all. Because, truth be told, there have been occasions in the past when it's got a bit carried away with itself.

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I’m thinking here of that climactic scene in the previous series when (spoiler warning) a dying Dot was seen in flashback tapping out a vital clue in Morse code with his finger. Even diehard fans had to admit this twist beggared belief.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/03/2021 - Programme Name: Line of Duty S6 - TX: n/a - Episode: Line Of Duty - Ep 1 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 16TH MARCH, 2021* Superintendent Ted Hastings (ADRIAN DUNBAR), DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) (World Productions/Steffan Hill)

Mercifully, we’ve now returned to the realms of reality for this solid (though slightly muted) scene-setter which establishes the reasons why newcomer DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) will become AC-12’s latest person of interest.

It’s obvious from the get-go that Joanne has never watched the show before, because no sooner has she appeared on screen than she’s ordering a squad of armed underlings to head out in cars and vans to arrest a suspect in a murder case.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/03/2021 - Programme Name: Line of Duty S6 - TX: n/a - Episode: Line Of Duty - Ep 1 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 16TH MARCH, 2021* DI Kate Fleming (VICKY MCCLURE), DCI Joanne Davidson (KELLY MACDONALD) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) (BBC)

It’s a basic error, as convoys are always guaranteed to screech out of control. And when guns are also involved, you can bet that shots will be fired. So it proves here, but revealing anything more would not only spoil your enjoyment, but get me in trouble with the BBC, too.

Honestly, the list of embargoes issued to critics ahead of broadcast could easily fill one of Steve Arnott’s evidence folders to bursting point.

Read more: Line of Duty S6 gets an extra episode

Now, speaking of the waistcoat-wearing wunderkind, he’s still in post and now sporting the kind of beard that suggests he’s been spending his time whittling wood in the wilderness since we were last in his company.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/03/2021 - Programme Name: Line of Duty S6 - TX: n/a - Episode: Line Of Duty - Ep 1 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 16TH MARCH, 2021* DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) - (BBC)

Whatever’s happened, though, hasn’t been good as there’s little pep in Arnott’s step. And it now seems – shock horror! – as though a career in AC-12 is no longer for him.

Kate Fleming, too, appears forlorn thanks to angst on the domestic front, while Ted Hastings is concerned that he’s being side-lined by his superiors. (I suspect the top brass are making jokes in meetings about Hastings using his work laptop to search for pornography.) This atmosphere of disillusionment results in a low-key first hour and there’s no real gasp-inducing moment to match (again, spoiler warning) Jessica Raine’s encounter with an open window or Thandie Newton’s confrontation with a buzz-saw.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/03/2021 - Programme Name: Line of Duty S6 - TX: n/a - Episode: Line Of Duty - Ep 1 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 16TH MARCH, 2021* DC Chloe Bishop (SHALOM BRUNE-FRANKLIN), DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
DC Chloe Bishop (Shalon Brune-Franklin), DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) - (World Productions/Steffan Hill)

But such is the pulling power of the series that it can afford to stay grounded for 60 minutes and save its more sensational thrills for future weeks. Already, there are hints that the team will be facing a formidable adversary, with returnee Farida Jatri seen warning, “You have no idea what she’s capable of.”

And a recently released trailer suggests that we will, at some point, be revisiting the long-running ‘H’ conspiracy, with Hastings seen seething about a “barefaced liar promoted to our highest office”.

So, while this is Line of Duty starting out in a lower gear, it’s likely to gather speed in episodes to come. Here’s hoping, though, that once the pace accelerates, it remembers to remain credible.

Give me acronym lists rather than Morse code twists and I’ll be happy.

Line of Duty S6 begins at 9pm, Sunday, 21 March.

Watch a trailer for Line of Duty S6

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