In episode two of the ongoing sixth series of Line of Duty we met a new recruit at the Central Police Force: Ryan Pilkington.
Ryan was seen replacing Farida as a member Jo Davidson’s Murder Investigation Team, and it didn’t take long for Kate Fleming to recognise him –asking if they’d worked together before.
And of course, there’s a good reason why he’s such a familiar face: Ryan has a long history in the BBC One drama, having appeared in season one when he was just a kid.
Last year, he played a key role as a member of the organised crime gang (OCG), and now that he’s an (undoubtedly corrupt) officer in the Central Police Force he looks set to play a major role in the rest of series six.
Let’s take a look back at where we have seen this character so far.
When did Ryan first appear in Line of Duty?
Young Ryan Pilkington has been a thorn in the side of AC-12 ever since the very first series.
For those who don’t remember, Ryan had a miserable home life, and had become the terror of his council estate (the Borogrove Estate in Moss Heath). Back then, his job with the balaclava gang involved delivering “burner phones” and collecting drugs while riding around on his BMX bike. For fun, he liked to terrorise an old man called Alf Butterfield. He and his mates also exploited the hospitality of a man with Down’s Syndrome, Terry Boyle, who would let them hang out in his flat (you can read our explainer of the term “cuckooing”).
At the time, the big crime boss was Tommy Hunter, and DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) had a memorable run-in with Ryan after he was kidnapped by Hunter’s gang. While Ryan has holding the phone to Steve’s ear, the police officer took the opportunity to head-butt him; in return, Ryan attempted to cut Steve’s fingers off with a pair of bolt cutters. He was thankfully unsuccessful.
After being handcuffed to a pipe by DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) for the police to find when they turned up, Ryan was arrested. At the police station, he was interviewed by then-DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), who took an unorthodox approach to the conversation – by trying to scare him with lurid details of what could happen if he was sent to a juvenile correction facility.
Ryan did admit to stealing phones for Hunter, but denied involvement in Steve’s kidnapping. He was taken home by the cops.
One of those cops was idealistic PC Simon Bannerjee (Neet Mohan), who – after coming up against Ryan several times by this point – was keen to help him turn his life around. He left his number behind, and offered to take him for a burger.
Gregory Piper’s involvement in season one did actually lead to some controversy. In 2012, the BBC got in trouble for a “serious lapse” in care, because Ofcom found that Piper was not sufficiently protected from emotional distress during filming scenes of a “highly violent and adult nature,” which also exposed him to “sexually explicit language.”
However, according to the Birmingham Mail, the BBC said programme-makers had been “in constant dialogue” with the parents “before, during and after filming every day” and that “neither episode resulted in any apparent harm, distress or anxiety to the child actor.”
As for Ryan’s starring role in season one, it seems that was just an apprenticeship for what was to come.
Is Ryan Pilkington a member of the OCG?
“I want to ask the audience a question,” Mercurio said at a screening for the first episode of season five. “Did anybody spot who one of the organised crime gang were? Did anybody spot…? The little kid from series one! The kid who was 12 or 13 riding around on that BMX bike!”
Ryan reappeared in Line of Duty series five as one of John Corbett’s ruthless balaclava gang. Alongside the likes of Lisa McQueen (Rochenda Sandall) and thug Miroslav (Tomi May), he was one of the regular faces of the OCG.
He had a particularly gruesome part to play during series five episode four: he was the person who slit John Corbett’s throat after the undercover cop fell into the trap set by the other members of the OCG.
That vicious scene made the revelation in episode five that Ryan has been sitting for exams and working towards a ‘regular’ job all the more surprising.
“I feel terrible,” Lisa McQueen told Ryan as they watched John’s body be dumped in a scrapheap. “I never asked you how your exams went?”
Ryan replies, “Great. I’ve got a date for my interview too.” The warped family scene was completed with Ryan looking out at the scene of death and saying wistfully, “I’m gonna miss all this fun.”
Is Ryan Pilkington a police officer now?
Well, it turned out that Ryan’s exams and interview were… to join the police force!
And he did a very good job in the interview, earnestly telling the recruiters: “Where I grew up, it was easy to fall in with the wrong crowd. My mum, she was off her face on drink and drugs a lot of the time. The person who made me see another way and to be a useful member of society is a police officer called PC Simon Bannerjee. He’s the reason why I wanted to become a police officer too. To help people.”
Ryan was accepted for training as a Student Police Officer, and now he’s a member of Jo Davidson’s Murder Investigation Team – where he’s presumably operating as the OCG’s man on the inside.
Line of Duty continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One. Want more Line of Duty content? Why not read our Line of Duty recap to refresh your memory on all that has taken place before season 6, or if you’re up to date, read our Line of Duty episode 2 recap. Take a look at the rest of our Drama coverage, or check out what else is on with our TV guide.