The final of SoHo's superb Line of Duty, Tuesday, proved how much more satisfying it can be to root for a flawed, venal character than a genuinely good and innocent one.
The would-be punishers of wrongdoing can be way less attractive and honourable than the wrongdoers. This is the topsy-turvy appeal of Britain's new hit crime drama, which has more than earned a second season for next year.
The hero is ostensibly Arnett, a police complaints investigator who has been stalking - with no great satisfaction - Gates, a high-flying inspector suspected of fudging his crime stats.
Gates is actually guilty of something else entirely. His mistress, Jacqui, turns out to be in up to her neck with a murdering, laundering drug gang. She murders her accountant to cover this up, Gates finds out and helps her cover that up, but then she is murdered by the gang and he realises he's now chin-deep in schtuck and has to cover that up too.
The cleverness of the plot is that though rationally you know he has crossed too many lines to be redeemed, his detractors are so loathsome, you become increasingly agnostic about the whole morality seesaw. The police chief, played with malicious chippiness by Adrian Dunbar, resents Gates' race, youth and fast-track preferential treatment, having suffered discrimination as a Northern Irishman in his own rise through the ranks.
Even less likeable is Kate, a detective who at the chief's behest ingratiates herself with Gates, all the while amassing dirt on him.
Gates' squad members are loyal to him, but they're so cynical and unmotivated, it only increases sympathy for the miscreant.
Arnett, too, is humourless, but his backstory - demoted for refusing to lie to save his boss's reputation - reassures us he's at least honourable. Just to round out the charmlessness, the gang has an unrelievedly horrible small boy as their invaluable snout and lure.
It's all a very horrible soup where the goodies are amoral, the baddies are psychotic, and we end up having to be content with the ends justifying the means. After an escalating roil of violence and horror, Gates gets away with it all but kills himself.
The only righteously satisfying result is when one of Gates' squad, a gloriously shabby Neil Morrissey, punches the odious Kate in the snoot.
Even though you'd dread being stuck on a long-haul flight next to any of the characters, Line of Duty has been a riveting meditation on the elusiveness of true justice.
ONE TO WATCH
Shut Up, Little Man!, 8.30pm, Rialto
Unlikely though it may seem, tape recordings of two argumentative violent drunks made in the late 1980s have become an enduring cult hit CD. Both men are long dead of alcoholism-related disease, but their surreal barnies live on. This film documents how their mesmerically awful little world came to so fascinate a global audience.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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