There was a telling moment in Sunday’s Line of Duty that showed the downside of being the biggest show on British TV.
During a very long and often maddening interrogation with AC-12, Kelly Macdonald’s Jo Davidson was told the shocking news that her uncle (former OCG kingpin and all-round nasty piece of work) Tommy Hunter was also her father.
In the five dizzyingly good series that preceded this one, the plot twist would have landed a knockout blow.
This time, though, everyone except Jo already knew what was coming.
What was supposed to be the biggest moment of the episode fell flat – all because viewers had pre-empted it days before.
How did they know? With a show as big as Line of Duty, every microscopic detail is pored over by fans and their findings are posted on Twitter and Reddit within minutes of the episode going out.
The best theories and clues then get shared, copied and proliferated around the most curious corners of the internet until even the most casual viewer flicking through social media is aware of them.
Fans worked out the incestuous connection between Jo and Tommy the week before last after spotting a note on AC-12’s wall that read she was both ‘his niece and daughter’ – a whole seven days before the reveal on Sunday – and the scene didn’t achieve the emotional gut-punch it deserved as a result.
Line Of Duty creator Jed recently said a seventh series of the drama is not yet guaranteed. If this is an indicator of how the show will continue to be consumed by fans, series six feels like the right time for the drama to end on a high.
The flopped reveal capped off one of the weakest instalments for some time. When a show sets itself high standards and usually follows them to the letter of the law a flat episode like last Sunday’s really sticks out. The longest interrogation scene in the programme’s history often felt like padding before the finale this Sunday.
One so-so episode isn’t the issue, but when viewers have become better detectives than the bobbies in AC-12, the show’s got a real problem.
Line of Duty earned its badge as the best show on TV with five of the most forensically plotted and thrillingly performed series of procedural drama the UK has ever seen.
A few years ago, viewer-generated spoilers weren’t a problem show bosses had to deal with so much. When Line of Duty was establishing itself as the best show on the box on BBC Two back in series two and three, a moment like Jo’s reveal would have landed with all the impact creator Jed intended.
The drama used to get 4million viewers on a good day back then. But in 2021, with a staggering 11million Line of Duty fans investigating with the kind of determination that would give Steve and Kate a run for their money, secrets get out of the bag very quickly and take away from the viewing experience.
The audience constantly second-guessing in this way also exposes the flaws with the traditional linear format. While having episodes arriving every week is great for building tension and giving us stuff to chat about over Slack in the virtual office, it means fans have more time to work things out and spoil the twists and turns of the series.
If anything, though, it’s made us appreciate what came before – and Mother of God, what a ride it’s been.
Line of Duty has become more than just a series. It’s pushed the limits of what a procedural drama can be on mainstream television.
For the first time, though, it feels like its limit might finally have been reached.
Line of Duty series six concludes on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
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