Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Firstly, it has to be said that Jed Mercurio's credentials as a writer and producer are not being called into question. Line of Duty is a cleverly conceived idea underpinned by strong writing, excellent casting and quality production values, not to mention locations which are second to none (particularly when shooting relocated to Northern Ireland, though I may be biased on that score).
For me, as a fan from the get-go, like millions of others I was very much looking forward to the season finale and ultimately, the unmasking of H / The Fourth Man. Though like many others, including Martin Compston (Steve Arnott), I was worried that the ending may not deliver an outcome worthy of what had led to it. As it turned out I was right to be worried. At first I wondered if it was just me who had been left underwhelmed, though my wife (also a fan) was equally disappointed. Then came the messages from family and friends and the barrage of social media alerts that began as a trickle and ended in a flood, all castigating the finale and drawing my attention to the fact that the word "disappointing" was trending on Twitter in relation to it ,and that virtually all social media platforms were clogged with protestations and frustration. Now as I write this, reports of fans complaining to the BBC are rife.
So, where did it all go wrong?
Ultimately, it came down to the identification of the Fourth Man as being Ian Buckells. Whilst it could be argued that Buckells was there, under the noses of AC-12 from very early on in the story, and that there were suitable little nuggets of information dropped into the plot that pointed us in the right direction, fans were not happy that he was a worthy H.
In my view, this came down to a poor judgement call in the plotting. Yes, it could be argued that Mercurio was providing a pithy socio-political commentary on institutional corruption as relative to the guise of incompetence being used to facilitate acts of deceit or subversion. If so, I feel that this was ill-judged. I think as an audience, we are quite capable of looking towards the benches of Westminster and the devolved seats of Government and reaching our own conclusion. That said, I do feel that writers have a certain responsibility to reflect the context in which they live.
For me though, I feel that fans disappointment comes through the fact that so much of the writing was geared towards emotional investment in particular characters, both the heroes and villains (as good writing should), that we all had our ideas as to who H was, based on the profile of certain characters being raised (of which Buckells would not have been included for most of us). Of course there would always have been a bit of a furore at whoever H turned out to be, but I doubt that the programme makers would have expected fans to be so united in their disappointment. Then there's the fact that many would have felt that characters such as Patricia Carmichael didn't get the level of comeuppance that they deserved.
In my opinion, the identity of H was not the only issue. The failure of the finale to live up to expectation also came through the overhyping of it (the show being a victim of its own success), the failure to completely resolve all plot strands and the leaving of AC-12 in a far from positive state.
I also felt that the casting of James Nesbitt as Marcus Thurwell (though he only appeared in a series of pictures) was a fatal error. I felt it was tipping a wink to the Mercurio produced, Bloodlands in which Nesbitt is the central character and the premise is set around finding an allusive, evil character, in this case, named Goliath. Although not penned by Mercurio, Bloodlands despite being commissioned for a second season, was not particularly well received by critics and viewers alike, many (myself included) citing the writing and Nesbitt's portrayal of the central character as flawed.
With many Line of Duty fans hoping for a new season, or at least an extra episode, to right the wrongs of last night's airing, current indications are that neither are set to happen. I suspect that despite the disappointment, leaving things as they are would probably be the best option. After all, the disappointment will fade, our esteem for Kate, Steve and most definately (see what I did there) Ted, will not.