By: Michael Hogan
“For those of you who for whatever inexplicable reason don’t know, I’m Detective Superintendent Patricia Carmichael.” Oh Patronising Pat, in your black polo neck of power, how we love to loathe thee.
The head of rival anti-corruption unit AC-3, brilliantly played by Anna Maxwell Martin, is a different kind of Line Of Duty villain. DCS Carmichael isn’t a thuggish gangster, weaselly politician or bent copper™ (well, as far as we know). She doesn’t kill with a knife or a workshopped gun. She kills with sharp words and a withering smile. She’s every bad boss, unbearable colleague or pass-agg “frenemy” you’ve ever had.
And boy, does she get us shouting at our TVs – never more so than during episode six‘s interrogation of Acting DSU Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald). While AC-12 tried to unravel the corrupt conspiracy at the heart of Central Police force, their new commander Carmichael was more concerned with damage limitation and backside-covering. You wanted to reach into the screen, pluck her from that glass interview room and let the grown-ups get on with the job.
We first met cunning Carmichael when she was brought in to investigate Supt Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) at the end of series five. Mercilessly grilling the gaffer about his unlicensed undercover op, his suspicious laptop disposal and that stash of cash found in his hotel room, she was on a mission to unmask the AC-12 chief as criminal mastermind “H”.
Thankfully, loyal colleagues DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) came to his rescue. They uncovered evidence that Ted’s lawyer-cum-lover Gill Biggeloe (Polly Walker) had been framing him all along. For once, the formidable Carmichael was foiled. And she didn’t like it one bit.
Her triumphant return in season six was a barnstorming scene – the sort of panto entrance which elicits boos and hisses from sofas nationwide. We knew she was coming back because we’d spotted Maxwell Martin’s name on the opening titles and emitted an involuntary squeak, and because the BBC had even thrown aside the usual secrecy about Line of Duty and put out a press release. Writer Jed Mercurio, ever the tease, still made viewers wait. Carmichael didn’t appear until 10 minutes from the end. She wasted no time in throwing AC-12’s investigation into chaos.
Teacher’s pet Carmichael was the choice of Chief Constable Philip Osborne (Owen Teale) to lead his new professional standards department, merging AC-3, AC-9 and AC-12 into a slimmed-down, budget-slashed single unit.
Yet rather than waiting until the end of the month for Ted to tell his team and take enforced retirement, as agreed, Osborne brought her appointment forward out of spite (or perhaps more nefarious motives). Carmichael was installed as Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) into Operation Lighthouse with immediate effect. No wonder she was so smug. No wonder Ted was so flinty and furious.
Sporting a double-breasted blazer and slicked-down hair, catty Carmichael strutted into AC-12 HQ, flanked by cronies, to coldly announce that she was taking control. She gleefully lorded it over Hastings, belittling him straight away. “I don’t mind ma’am or boss,” she pointedly told her new underlings. “But I’m not a big fan of guv’nor or gaffer. Talk of the devil…”
Summoning the diesel-sucking Ulsterman to a separate office, she told him they were dropping proceedings against DSU Ian Buckells (Nigel Boyle) and cancelling the costly surveillance on Davidson, PC Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper) and stooge-cum-suspect Terry Boyle (Tommy Jessop).
When Ted protested that Terry needed protection, she shot back: “What needs protecting is the anti-corruption budget, which you are going through like there’s no tomorrow – which in your case actually does apply.” Give me strength, how very dare she?
She was even more insufferable in season six’s penultimate episode. Patricia Carmichael barely batted an eyelid when Ted blamed her for withdrawing surveillance and enabling the stand-off in which Pilkington died (cue world’s smallest violin). “Issue an order for the arrest of Jo Davidson and Kate Fleming,” she snapped instead. “Consider them armed and dangerous.” “Mother of God,” muttered Ted, as standard.
When the fugitive pair were cornered, even Carmichael’s announcements down the loudhailer were irritatingly condescending. Back at HQ, she looked on gloatingly after ordering DC Chloe Bishop (Shalom Brune-Franklin) to “update the evidence boards”. Translation: remove the mugshot of Osborne and shred it.
Then came that epic 29-minute interview scene. Every time Arnott or Hastings came close to getting answers about “H”, aka “the Fourth Man”, Carmichael shut them down. She sighed, eye-rolled and tapped her pen impatiently. She greeted testimony with sceptical “hmms”, “rights” or “I sees”. Sorry, Patricia, are we holding you up? Only we’ve got police work to do.
When Ted mentioned a clandestine network of corruption officers, she corrected him: “*Hypothetical* network.” She changed the subject with lines like “We’re here to examine DCI Davidson’s offending, nobody else’s,” and “I’d prefer to confine ourselves to the set parameters of the anti-corruption inquiry in front of us”.
Meanwhile, she seemed over-eager to clear bumbling Buckells of any wrong-doing. She was focused on finding just one rotten apple, which she’d decided was Davidson, not a whole barrel. Carmichael knew full well it was Fleming who’d really shot Ryan but she couldn’t prove it, so let it slide. “I’m not gullible, Kate, but I am pragmatic,” she said, flashing another smile that never reached her eyes.
It might be a teeth-gnashingly annoying performance but it’s a terrifically well-realised one by double BAFTA-winner Maxwell Martin. She conjures up Carmichael’s highly-strung, supercilious nature with tight smirks and controlled mannerisms. While Hastings rants and raves, she speaks in such soft tones, it’s almost a whisper. She’s like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Hannibal Lecter.
Having been fast-tracked through promotions, Carmichael is more than a decade younger than warhorse Ted but she still puts the fear of God into him. There’s something intimidatingly alpha about her. She’s big on “As you were” when entering a room and “Dismissed” when she wants someone to leave it.
The result is Line Of Duty’s most fascinating female character since DI Lindsay Denton (“Steely Keeley” Hawes) back in series two and three – for many fans, the franchise’s high-water mark.
What is Carmichael’s motivation? Is she merely an ambitious jobsworth, desperate to climb the career ladder by doing the boss’s bidding? Is she deliberately hushing up the corruption of senior officers? Is it a personal vendetta against Ted and his dream team? Or could she even be “H” herself, the fourth woman, a she-wolf in anti-corruption clothing?
Some fans certainly think so. As evidence, they cite the misspelling “definately” (an “H” trademark) being used faux-casually by Maxwell Martin in an Instagram post last month. Two episodes ago, dodgy lawyer Jimmy Lakewell (Patrick Baladi) also cryptically told Arnott: “Look beyond the race claim to find H.” As one viewer triumphantly tweeted: “Take the letters of ‘race claim’ from the letters of ‘Carmichael’. What do you get? ‘H’. Solved it!”
Whichever way, we move onto next Sunday’s grand finale with the godawful Carmichael still in charge. The clock is running down for both Hastings (whose reluctant retirement looms) and Arnott (who’s about to get his long overdue telling-off from Occupational Health for his painkiller addiction).
Besides, Maxwell Martin needs to crack on with the new series of BBC stablemate Motherland, which starts in May. Poor Kevin can’t be sarky to himself at the school gates.
In the meantime, let’s savour the sheer awfulness of DCS Patricia Carmichael while we can. As Mercurio’s plotting become ever more labyrinthine, it’s almost a relief to have a character so straightforwardly vile. We might not be sure who to trust amid Line Of Duty’s moral murk – but we know we can’t stand Carmichael. Dismissed.