We live in an age of obsession, and it’s all due to the unstoppable rise of the geek over the last two decades.
Geeks used to be the cultural outliers, the misfits on the fringes of the mainstream, whose particular (and, a lot of society used to think, peculiar) interests and tastes — usually, but not exclusively, comic books, horror, fantasy and science fiction — were confined to the privacy of their own bedrooms.
An adult who admitted they loved reading Marvel and DC comics, for instance, would at one point have been regarded as a bit of a weirdo, trapped in perpetual adolescence, detached from reality and refusing to put away childish things.
These days, there’s no shame in an adult of any age being seen walking around with a comic book in their hand, or reading a Harry Potter novel on the bus, or wearing a Batman or Star Wars T-shirt in the pub, or analysing the latest Marvel box-office blockbuster until everyone within earshot drops dead of boredom.
Geeks have always walked among us. I have a couple of cousins who were obsessed with Star Trek in the Seventies, long before the revivals, the reboots and the spin-offs. In the pre-box-set era, they recorded every single episode on VHS. In truth, I’ve always been something of a geek myself when it comes to horror novels and movies.
But, now, the geeks have emerged from the shadows into the sunlight. They’ve moved to the forefront of the mainstream. More than that, they are the mainstream. They own it. The geeks have inherited the earth!
Some of it has to do with the internet. Some of it has to do with the staggering popularity of superhero movies. But it’s also down to the seismic changes in the way television is made, consumed and perceived — not as the poor, shabby relation of cinema anymore, but its equal, and often its superior.
In a sense, TV has made geeks of all of us, turned all of us into obsessives, even if we don’t realise it. There’s one series on television right now that demonstrates this beyond all reasonable doubt. If you thought I was going to say Game of Thrones, think again. It’s Line of Duty, and it doesn’t have a single dragon or White Walker, or garish costume.
For the past six weeks, millions of viewers (11.4 million in the UK at the last count) have been glued to the fifth season of Jed Mercurio’s brilliant police corruption drama. While exact figures of this country are harder to find, the TAM ratings show that Line of Duty is currently the most-watched BBC1 programme in Ireland.
Most viewers might not consider themselves geeks. They might even recoil from the very notion. And yet, they’ve been combing obsessively through every episode, searching for subtle clues and hints as to who’s good and who’s bad, who’s innocent and who’s guilty, who’s a bent copper and who’s a straight copper, who’s bluffing and who’s double-bluffing.
And then there’s the biggest, juiciest question of all: is Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) really the mysterious ‘H’; the corrupt cop hiding behind the curtain like a malevolent Wizard of Oz, pulling the levers and strings that control the vast, corrupt conspiracy that’s run like a stream of poison through Line of Duty since the very first season back in 2012?
They’ve been sharing their suspicions and theories and predictions about how it’s all going to end, and about which character will survive and which won’t, on Twitter. They’ve been chewing over it when they’re at home with their families, friends and work colleagues. If that’s not classic geek behaviour, I don’t know what is.
Line of Duty has always been popular. The first two seasons on BBC2 drew upwards of four million viewers in the UK — the biggest drama audience the channel had enjoyed in over a decade. But since the jump to BBC1 for the third season, which pivoted on the killing of Sergeant Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays) and AC-12’s investigation into historic child abuse, the numbers have just been going up and up.
For those of us who’ve been watching it from the beginning, it’s immensely gratifying to see such a terrific series draw the huge audience it’s deserved all along. Some new recruits were, no doubt, drawn to watching it for the first time this year by Mercurio’s other big hit, The Bodyguard.
Gripping and entertaining as that series was, though, it lacks the scope, depth and richness of Line of Duty, which I’d venture belongs in the top tier of television’s all-time great dramas — and not just ones made by the BBC, either. The key to its greatness lies in Mercurio’s superb, drum-tight scripts.
To watch him methodically construct such a sprawling, detailed story arc across five seasons, juggling a huge cast of strong, distinctive characters and expertly weaving together multiple plot strands, without once letting the material slip from his grasp or become too silly or far-fetched, is to witness a master at work.
Most series, no matter how good they are, suffer a dip at some point. Line of Duty never has. There hasn’t been a single weak episode, let alone a weak season. It’s got better and better as it’s progressed, and the current season may well be the best yet. It’s an epic feat of sustained storytelling. What’s more, Mercurio has done it all by himself, without the aid of co-writers.
Read more: Line Of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar: I’ll never have a better role than this
Which brings us to Sunday’s hotly anticipated 90-minute finale, which may or may not reveal the identity of ‘H’. I’m guessing it won’t, but even if I’m guessing wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), I still don’t think it’s Ted.
Maybe he’s not as snow-white pure as he used to be. Maybe financial hardship has driven him to desperate lengths (he did hang onto to that 50 grand a little too long for comfort). Maybe he did rat out Corbett/Clayton during that prison visit, fearing that Corbett/Clayton might rat him out — or fit him up — in revenge for whatever it was that happened in Northern Ireland, when Ted was in the RIC.
But could there be wheels within wheels within wheels? What if nasty piece of work DCS Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin), who seems intent on destroying Ted and could be in cahoots with the real ‘H’, isn’t really what she seems? There’s been a suggestion that Cameron and Ted could be on the same side, running their own deep-deep cover op, and that the whole arrest and interrogation business is an elaborate ruse to flush out the real mastermind.
Read more: First episode of latest Of Duty series becomes year’s most-watched programme
And what’s the real story with Lisa McQueen (Rochenda Sandall)? Is she just a straight-up villain? Questionable, since she was very upset about Corbett/Clayton’s murder and also spared a copper’s life in episode one. Is she too an undercover cop? Seems unlikely.
The most credible suggestion is that she’s related to the late Tony Gates (Lennie James) from all the way back in season one. Maybe she’s not his daughter (her age doesn’t appear to tally with that theory), but possibly some kind of blood relative. Could she even be on a revenge mission. Ah, but what about that infamous misspelling “indefinately”, which swings heavily in favour of Ted being ‘H’ after all? Honestly, you could spin your head until it falls off and still not successfully second guess Jed Mercurio.
That said, I’m prepared to bet my best shirt that the interview Ryan (Gregory Piper) was talking about last week is for the police force. He’s the next generation of bent coppers, ready to step into the blood-stained shoes of ‘Dot’ Cottan (Craig Parkinson).
Of this I am absolutely sure… I think.
The season 5 finale of Line of Duty of is on BBC1 on Sunday at 9pm. Seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix
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