‘You just don’t get it, do you boy?’, croaks bent bobby Sergeant Foley (David Schofield) as he finally receives the kicking he’s richly deserved since the opening scene of Episode 1. ‘It’s knowing that gets you killed.’ Yet a complete and unexpurgated knowledge of the truth is what DI Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the viewers who have followed his exploits through every twist and bloodstained turn of this expansive, intricately-plotted thriller deserve; and happily, it’s precisely what they get.
Did we say happily? Happiness doesn’t come into this bleak, blurry tale. Although all the required resolution unfolds with the final hour of The Shadow Line, the violence and the unexpected – two of the serial’s principal tenements – are not wound down. They are maintained right to the end. The seeming ceaseless flow of blood will be of no surprise to anyone; however, the identity of the last person to die will be – and we’d be willing to bet a case of stolen, marked banknotes that the name of the person pulling the trigger will be an even bigger shock.
Closure comes, but the wheels of the story keep on rolling even beyond the closing credits and the final blast of Emily Barker’s wonderfully-sung theme tune. Gabriel has learned the identity of the man who killed Harvey Wratten and established the truth behind Counterpoint, the money-laundering, drug-trafficking, all-singing, all-dancing operation that has had almost everyone ensnared in its grasp.
Joseph Bede (Christopher Eccleston) – surely the UK’s most straightforward and likeable drugs baron – has completed his massive heroin deal and left the world of criminality behind for good. Yet despite departures, arrivals, arrests, promotions and many more deaths, the essential edicts of this murky world remain; everything has changed and nothing has. As Gatehouse (Stephen Rea) explains to Jay Wratten (Rafe Spall) and Ratallack (Freddie Fox), things will always stay the same provided they remember one important rule: ‘You’re the threads,’ he says as they look to a lucrative future, ‘but I’m the rope.’
The moral we’re left with at the end of the programme – such as it is – is that we don’t live in a world of black and white where things are either good or evil. We all teeter along the line between the two as best we can and only hope we can maintain our balance. Acts of virtue can be punished as easily as bad deeds can be rewarded; love is only as important as loyalty; and neither – indeed nothing – matters as much as being in control.
With this rather bleak notion in mind, we must bid a final and mostly fond farewell to The Shadow Line. Yes, it had a theatrical flamboyance that took it perilously close to pomposity. Yes, it struggled at times to keep its footing under the weight of its multiple plot strands and the number of bodies it managed to rack up along the way. But in the final analysis, it was worth watching from beginning to end and lost neither its charm nor its compulsion along the way.
If another British drama series this good slinks out of the shadows and into the light this year, we’ll be very surprised. Delighted, but very surprised.
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 16th June 2011 on BBC Two.