Never underestimate the women of Line of Duty

Let's celebrate Lindsay Denton and Kate Fleming – competent, career-driven coppers instrumental in bringing down the bad guys

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If I said the phrase “gender equality”, two places I can guarantee wouldn’t spring to mind are the police force and television. Line of Duty fuses together the two – and so it should come as no surprise that the fictional AC-12 of Jed Mercurio’s cop drama is dominated by men in high-ranking roles.

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This is well-researched drama, after all, praised for its procedural details and accurate representation of the workplace. And so the likes of Supt Ted Hastings and retired Chief Supt Patrick Fairbank are found at the top of the pile.

As for gender representation on telly, I could spend all day digging into that debate –  “there aren’t enough women on TV, they’re sidekicks, mere eye candy, lacking depth” – but you’ve heard it all before. 

So instead I want to praise tonight’s series finale of Line of Duty and the women it championed. The competent, career-driven, damn good coppers who steered the story of this third series and solved cases that left their male counterparts scratching their heads.

First up, Lindsay Denton who, even in death, continued to haunt us. The fact remains, it was Denton who cracked Sandsview. Not the tenacious DS Steve Arnott nor the upstanding Hastings but Denton – the ex-copper stuck in a half-way house scraping together a living by mopping supermarket floors. A better policewoman than anyone assigned to the case.

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But with Keeley Hawes’ character silenced for good by corrupt Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan, the narrative hurtled in the direction of another wrongful conviction. This time it was Arnott sitting across the interview table, facing a mountain of incriminating evidence and cajoled by the seemingly implacable Dot.

With Denton out of the picture, it was left to DC Kate Fleming to clear up the mess. Hastings may have been rapt with Dot but the sight of Kate scribbling sly notes gave us hope that after three series, somebody – please somebody – might see through Dot’s dissipating smokescreen.

With Steve back in his cell and Hastings on the brink of charging him, Kate spoke up. The dots (sorry) were finally beginning to connect.

And the biggest mistake of the men of this series? Underestimating her. Fairbanks tried to hush her with threats while Dot thought he could buy her loyalty with leftover chilli and a bunch of limp flowers. Give over, guys.

If there was a turning point in tonight’s episode, it was the glimpse of Kate hovering on the balcony of AC-12 watching Dot walk in to face some particularly awkward questions. She was stood up high, he was below – it was one of those unspoken, visual exchanges Line of Duty does so well. A mini air punch sort of moment. 

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This series of Line of Duty has given us a double whammy of compelling female cops gazumping their male colleagues – and in the case of Kate, sprinting through the streets to take out the bad guy. It’s not unique – Sally Wainwright has led the charge with the likes of Happy Valley and Scott & Bailey – but it’s rare to watch a complex yet competent woman succeed where men have failed.

Now, before you mention Gill Bigelow, I know, but she only serves to make the impressive women more impressive. Key to that redacted file on Ronan Murphy landing on Ted’s desk and hesitant to blow open the paedophile ring around Sandsview, she was rightly dressed down by the Superintendent once he’d had his eyes opened to Dot’s devious ways. Fingers crossed she took his advice and penned her “nice letter of resignation” – I’m not expecting Polly Walker to do a Keeley Hawes and reappear in series four (yes, of course there’s going to be a series four).

But this storyline hasn’t been about Gill. It’s been about Lindsay and Kate and justice for the boys of Sandsview – justice that wouldn’t have been served without the two female investigators.

We learned in the end credits that Kate received a commendation and promotion to Detective Sergeant for her efforts to apprehend Dot and secure his dying confession. It’s high time she was on a level playing field with Steve – we regularly forget she isn’t – and the award neatly appeased the one wrongfully handed out to Cottan earlier in the series.

So as we mark another terrific series from Mercurio, let’s also celebrate the women he created. Two coppers – past and present – both fearless, both peerless in their police work and both instrumental in taking down Line of Duty’s bad guys. And in the case of both, never to be underestimated.

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Line of Duty will return for a fourth series which begins filming this August