Line of Duty, season 6 episode 7 recap: H is unmasked, but what now for AC-12?

“And all the time we were here, thinking we were chasing some criminal mastermind.” I feel you, Ted Hastings, I feel you.

DCI Ian Buckells was “H”, aka the Fourth Man

Be honest, who saw that coming? Up until the moment we saw Buckells’s face, I was utterly convinced that Chief Constable Philip Osborne was the bent cop mastermind behind it all. Well played, Jed Mercurio. No, it was the bluffing, blustering, buffoonish Buckells (who I had my suspicions about in episode two – but I assumed he was bent, not “H”).

But, of course, he was no mastermind. Brummy Buckells (Nigel Boyle) has been on the take since he was a dodgy DC working under the dodgy (now dead) DCI Marcus Thurwell. We can assume Buckells helped Thurwell cover up the Lawrence Christopher case for Tommy Hunter and the OCG (to stop Tommy’s son Darren Hunter falling into the hands of the police) and that he has been doing oddjobs for the OCG ever since.

However… H? Not really. “I just pass on orders,” he said. “First it was Fairbank and Thurwell. Then it was Hilton and Cottan. And now they’ve gone, it’s just…” Just little old Buckells. No mastermind, just another link in a bent chain, doing the OCG’s bidding in return for brown envelopes stuffed with cash (which we know now he spent on a big house, a time share in Gran Canaria and fast cars). The big reveal may not have satisfied everyone, but it felt realistic that there was no Big Baddy, just a ring of greasy coppers, on the take. Buckells just happened to be such a clown that no one suspected him of anything other than incompetence.

Nigel Boyle as Ian Buckells

There he is, the swine: Nigel Boyle as Ian Buckells

Credit: Steffan Hill/BBC

It was “definately” Buckells

So, how did AC-12 get their man? Poor spelling, that’s how! (There’s a lesson there, kids.) Routing equipment in Thurwell’s Spanish villa showed that the mysterious messages sent to Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) by the OCG were being bounced via Spain, but originated from the UK. And a new message – the order to kill Davidson – was intercepted with the word “definately” used. Good egg DC Chloe Bishop (Shalom Brune-Franklin) got to work and found that the devious mis-speller was Buckells, with the word “definate” linked to statements he wrote on the Lawrence Christopher and Gail Vella cases. Laptops found in his cell and at his swanky house sealed his fate.

At first it seemed that Buckells would “no comment” his way to freedom (a mere 14 “no comments” to Davidson’s majestic 34), but Hastings cracked him by appealing to his vanity. “Yeah, right, I’m a blundering fool?” said Buckells, lured into showing off. “I’m only the one who made total mugs out of you lot.” Buckells was playing hard ball, demanding witness protection and immunity from prosecution. AC-12 played along, allowing him to admit to arranging the Eastfield Depot raid from series five (presumably this was enough to then link him to the orders to kill John Corbett, Maneet Bindra et al). The clincher, however, was Gail Vella. The newly splintered OCG groups would have no reason to kill Vella. Thurwell, Buckells and Osborne, however, did.

When Buckells hesitated in answering the question, AC-12 reminded him that not cooperating with the investigation made him ineligible for witness protection, and putting himself in the frame for conspiracy to murder made him ineligible for immunity. Buckells was trapped. “No one makes mugs out of AC-12,” said Hastings, who was so pleased with his own line he inadvertently ended the interview and sent Arnott and Fleming to the pub.

Kelly Macdonald as Joanne Davidson

Poor Jo: Kelly Macdonald as Joanne Davidson

Credit:  Steffan Hill/BBC

Joanne Davidson believed Patrick Fairbank was her father

Saved from the OCG by a cunning AC-12 white-van switcheroo (it took me two viewings to clock they must have intercepted the prison van when it went under the bridge), Joanne Davidson was granted witness protection by AC-12, who would attest to the fact that she had been forced into a life of bent coppering against her will. She did, however, need to cough up the name of the shadowy figure who had been controlling her, leading to the two finest bits of acting in the series. One, when Davidson was told that this figure, who she had believed to be her father, “doesn’t care for you, you mean nothing to him”. And two, when that figure, the disgraced paedophile and former copper Patrick Fairbank, was put under the cosh by AC-12, who believed him to be faking his senility.

Both Macdonald and George Costigan brought real heart and vulnerability to hard-to-like characters in these moments. However, AC-12 found no evidence that Fairbank was controlling Davidson. “This thing has been driving me mad for years,” said Hastings. Us too, Ted. Thank goodness Buckells can’t spell.

Hastings fell on his sword – for truth, for justice and for AC-12

Throughout the episode, Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) mulled over what to do with the fact that Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) tipped off the OCG about John Corbett being undercover and then gave his widow, Steph, £50,000 of dirty money. They couldn’t ignore it. As Fleming said, uncovering the “Fourth Man” would make waves within the police force and AC-12 needed to be squeaky clean. Eventually they forced Hastings into an emotional confession.

Yes, he told Lee Banks that there was a rat in the OCG. But he didn’t name Corbett and he did it purely to flush Corbett out. Did he know it would put Corbett at risk? He did. “John Corbett had been involved in the deaths of four police officers, our Maneet being one of them. He had beaten and tortured my own wife, so I though he had it coming to him in spades,” said Hastings, on the verge of tears. “But what I didn’t know, was that he was the son of a woman I cared deeply about many years ago. If there is one thing I could take back, it would be that. What a terrible thing I did.”

The money to Steph Corbett was to atone for his sins, but it didn’t work. “Who’s going to judge what I did?” he asked. “Steph? The law? My colleagues? God?” In the end, Hastings realised the only person who could judge him was himself. At first he had told Patricia Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin) that he intended to appeal against his enforced retirement. However, realising that his lies made him a hypocrite, Hastings came clean. No man is bigger than the law. Hastings sacrificed himself on the altar of truth, justice and bloody honest coppering. What a guy.

Adrian Dunbar as Ted Hastings

What a guy: Adrian Dunbar as Ted Hastings

Credit:  Steffan Hill/BBC

Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming are…. mates?

Wow, what a love-in. To be fair, Arnott and Fleming have been through a lot together, including several extremely traumatic events, so it makes sense that they see in each other the only person who truly understands them. Arnott finally visited Occupational Health, where the counsellor (hello to Steve Oram), not unreasonably, admitted he was less worried about the painkillers, and more worried about the obvious signs of PTSD that Arnott was showing after years of watching his colleagues die. Seeing someone thrown out of window does takes its toll.

Arnott, however, doesn’t need therapy. He needs Kate Fleming. The feeling was mutual. In her trip to the counsellor (hello again Steve Oram), Fleming called Arnott “one of the best – I don’t know what I’d do without him”. Arnott told Fleming: “I’m not on my own. I’ve got you, mate.” Some have speculated that the pair will soon end up romantically involved, but I see them as two mutually destructive survivors, brought together by brutal circumstances and a passion for the word “mate”. 

Vicky McClure and Martin Compston

Vicky McClure and Martin Compston

Credit: BBC

Carl Banks killed Gail Vella

We can say this with certainty now. Underneath the OCG gun workshop floor was a strongbox filled with: the gun that killed Vella; gloves and a jacket with Vella’s blood outside and Banks’s DNA inside; the knives that killed Maneet Bindra and John Corbett, with Ryan Pilkington’s prints; and the knife that killed Jackie Laverty, with Tony Gates’s prints (which we know were planted by the OCG). Nice of the OCG to leave all that lying around.

Though, as Fleming handily pointed out, the OCG kept all these things as collateral against Banks, Pilkington and Gates, should they ever be tempted to squeal. And while we can’t say this with 100 per cent certainty, we can assume that Buckells ordered the hit, to stop Vella investigating the Lawrence Christopher case, which would implicate him, Osborne and Thurwell. Unless, of course, someone else ordered the hit…

Owen Teale as Philip Osborne

Chief suspect: Owen Teale as Chief Constable Philip Osborne

Credit: BBC

Chief Constable Philip Osborne is still at large and still in charge

Mercurio’s satisfyingly realistic but dramatically frustrating ending (no boogie man here, just a police force filled with coppers happy to look the other way from time to time) left only one real thread still hanging – Osborne. While we and AC-12 didn’t get a delicious showdown with Owen Teale, we know that Osborne is iffy (thanks to the Lawrence Christopher and Karim Ali cases) and we know that he is desperate to prove there is no institutionalised corruption in Central Police, despite knowing there is bags of evidence suggesting otherwise. We still do not know, however, if Osborne is linked to the OCGs or if he is merely a hard-nosed arch-pragmatist who would defend the police with his dying breath.

He did not mince his words: “Throughout my career, whenever I’ve encountered wrongdoing, I’ve acted. But let me be clear, these are the misdeeds of a few rotten apples and to invoke institutionalised police corruption is an outrageous lie and insult to my officers.” Cuts to anti-corruption remain in place, his mates have been put in positions of power (ie Carmichael), the investigation into police corruption has been firmly ended and, worst of all, Central Police have submitted for immunity in legal proceeding against Buckells. This means, no evidence of institutionalised corruption will be heard in court. AC-12 got their man, their fourth man, but, make no mistake, they have lost the war. And Osborne made sure of it.

Will Patricia Carmichael, of all people, carry the fire?

DCS Patricia Carmichael, now in charge of the smouldering remains of anti-corruption, could not be clearer where she stood. She did not partake in the interview with Buckells. She has implemented all of Osborne’s cut to anti-corruption units. She spied on AC-12. She sarcastically wished Fleming luck in opening a cold case into the Lawrence Christopher killing. And muttered “historic corruption cases aren’t a priority” when Arnott asked if he could open an investigation into the police handling of the same case. The lady was not for turning.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Patricia Carmichael

Fire in her belly? Anna Maxwell Martin as Patricia Carmichael

Credit: BBC

Or… was she? Before her, quivering, stood 15 stone of Ulsterman, and, by God, he had something to say. Buckells’s rise, he said, could not have happened without the “wilful blindness of those in power”. Carmichael remained unmoved. However, once Hastings had admitted his guilt in Corbett’s death, I sensed a change in Carmichael. She saw Hastings was for real. She saw, ultimately, that if anyone was going to root out institutionalised corruption in the police, then it could only be her. Hastings passed her the fire. Will she carry it? 

Tedism of the week

One more the road, Ted? Why it has to be: “You two look like you’ve lost a shilling and found a penny.” To our younger readers – that’s a bad thing.

Idle thoughts of the week

  • So, the inclusion of James Nesbitt as Thurwell truly was one big in-joke. A bum note, for me.
  • Surely one of the reasons the Lawrence Christopher case was covered up in the first place was to stop Darren Hunter falling into police hands and squealing. Well, he’s in police hands now…
  • Whither Steph Corbett? Is Arnott really going to leave the sultry Scouse widow hanging? Seems so.
  • I found Terry Boyle’s ending – rehoused in specialist accommodation – genuinely moving. I found Joanne Davidson’s ending – witness protection, complete with luxurious cottage, fluffy dog and winsome girlfriend – genuinely amusing.
  • I still – still! – think there’s more than meets the eye to Chloe Bishop and Chris Lomax.
  • Note the nod to Aston Villa fan Nigel Boyle? Buckells’s company in the Cayman Islands was called Holte End Holdings. Bostin’.

What did you make of Line of Duty? We’d love your reviews

More Stories
Tom Jones says divine intervention saved his life when he was in shark-infested waters off Mexico