A new case comes AC-12’s way after a murder investigation unit led by boss DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) bungle a high-profile job, letting a likely murder suspect escape. But with Kate (Vicky McClure) having left the anti-corruption team and now part of the one under scrutiny, will she work with her old colleagues or against them? Plus, will we ever, for the love of God, find out who H is?

Episodes viewed: 2 of 7

As has now become Line Of Duty tradition, episode one of the new season opens with a high-octane, nerve-shredding, pulse-pounding police-work set-piece. This series, it’s a charging convoy of black unmarked cop cars (quite literally sucking diesel), en route to raid a property thought to house a suspect in the murder of journalist Gail Vella (Andi Osho). A raid that’s delayed dramatically en route by murder-investigation boss DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald), who coincidentally spots a seemingly unrelated armed robbery taking place. As they divert to tackle “an immediate risk to the public”, they incur a three-hour-plus delay which potentially allows the suspect to escape and a vulnerable man to be left to take the rap in his stead.

To add suspicion to increasingly dodgy behaviour, there’s a familiar face in Davidson’s team: a criminal we recognise from prior seasons who’s now firmly embedded in the police force. But who does he know, and who knows who he is? And more to the point: why on earth does Davidson (a wonderfully tense and tart Macdonald) appear quite so unbelievably, well, bent? As this is Line Of Duty, we have to assume that absolutely nothing is as it seems, and that absolutely everything will be tipped on its head fairly shortly.

Even without this, it was already shaping up to be no simple AC-12 investigation. It’s all change and has been clearly for some time. Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) was in the charging convoy, having left the anti-corruption unit for a new job in Hillside Lane police station, working for Davidson in the murder squad. She quickly finds her loyalties tested as her new unit, and boss, find themselves under investigation by her old colleagues. And at least seemingly, she’s left her ex-workmates very firmly behind.

Without Fleming — and until Davidson’s questionable operation, without an interesting dodgy-cop case to dig into — AC-12 is a shell of an office, filled with silence, minor complaints and nervy new junior staff.

The opening action sets the throbbing pace and it doesn’t let up as the initial episodes unfurl.

Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) is once again frustrated after being pushed out of senior meetings and struggling to get his claims of corruption taken seriously by the top brass. And Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) for his part has cultivated a huge man-of-the-mountain beard and is popping over-the-counter painkillers by the truckload. As he prepares to go up against his old partner, there’s the small matter of him secretly considering leaving the unit himself, not to mention the after-hours visits he’s paying to the widow of an ex-officer.

The opening action sets the throbbing pace and it doesn’t let up as the initial episodes unfurl. Where other crime dramas may take their time — calmly, carefully laying out the plot, planting the seeds of character arcs — Line Of Duty bursts into life with immediate violence and vim and vigour.

It doesn’t self-consciously consider the twists and turns of the ride it takes you, its audience, on; it strides out with confidence when other shows would tentatively tip-toe. It pretty much demands you suspend any disbelief, any raised eyebrow, and rewards you handsomely: with superbly executed wall-to-wall action; hugely compelling, constantly changing characters; and a precise script that always punches above its weight, even when it’s insanely dense with mind-mangling acronyms.

Its ever-rotating cast of guest stars —previously Lennie James, Thandie Newton, Stephen Graham, Daniel Mays and Keeley Hawes — has always been one of Line Of Duty’s greatest strengths, and within two short hours, Kelly Macdonald is already shaping up to be one of the most mad and memorable.

But really, Line Of Duty is about one man. And Jed Mercurio still, consistently, creates episodes that are without peer on British television. Because there’s only one thing he’s really interested in: the art — and it is an art in his hands — of catching bent coppers.

A promising, pulsating start to the sixth season that, on the strength of two episodes, stands shoulder to shoulder with previous Line Of Duty highs. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHO’S H?

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