The identity of The Fourth Man

Content warning: This post contains lots and lots and lots of Line of Duty spoilers, and mentions of CSA. Also, I couldn’t always be fucked to look up the spellings of names or even what characters were called, so there’s that.

Let me start by saying this: you’re wrong about the Line of Duty finale. It was good. So there. See, the thing is, we all need to go back to the premise of the investigation: Dot’s dying declaration.

Dot’s dying declaration led the AC-12 team down an incorrect investigative corridor: the identity of H, the mastermind behind all of this. They then pottered off down another corridor when it turned out they were up to their tits in naughty policemen called H, which was that in fact Dot was tapping out “four Dots”, meaning there were four like him.

Both of these conclusions, in my view, are catastrophically wrong, and I sat through several goddamn seasons of the show going “what the fuck what the fuck how can they possibly come to that conclusion what the fuck.”

Four Dots

First, the four Dots. This was, as the team said many times, four embedded police officers, including Dot. Their little list, based on the very very sinful rozzers they’d encountered so far, was Dot, Hilton, ????? and Gill fucking Bigelow.

Gill? Are you actually fucking with me? Gill? The lawyer who just joined the police? Don’t get me wrong, she was bent as a three bob note, but part of the embedded police conspiracy? Come the fuck on. It’s definitely not her.

There are three officers one can definitely think of as “Dots”: lifers with the OCG who have been strategically nudged into the police and embedded themselves, working there for a career rather than just rocking up there as a lawyer. Dot is one, of course. The second is Jo Davidson, who very helpfully didn’t die, so she could tell us all about the Caddy career, from recruitment at a young age through to entry to the police service through to doing things. We also see this arc in Ryan Pilkington, but he’s obviously not someone Dot was referring to, because he was probably failing his SATS around the time Dot gave the world’s most unhelpful evidence – ultimately, what Season 6 gives us is a bit of context for what the life of one of four Dots looks like.

And I am sorry, but a third officer who very much fits the Caddy career and could be considered a Dot, and Dot was almost certainly aware of, having worked closely with him in the past was…

Detective Superintendent Ian Buttons Buckles Buckells. I have no idea how old the hapless lad is, but he’s definitely younger than many, and even if he was only recruited around the Lawrence Christopher cover up, he’d have been young enough to be a Caddy.

So who’s the fourth Dot? It could be anyone. There’s an argument to be made that it was indeed Hilton, but we don’t really know enough about Hilton to draw this conclusion. We don’t, in fact, know enough about the early lives and careers of any characters to draw this conclusion. So I’m going to go ahead and just say it could have been Kate.

Kate is the only person smart enough to have identified that this “Four Dots” line of enquiry wasn’t even barking up the wrong tree; it was so wrong it was meowing at a deckchair. For goodness sake, a man tapping his hand while trying to stay conscious isn’t evidence. Ted is interested in one thing and one thing only, his hard-on for Reg-15s, and Steve is a Jack Russell in a waistcoat, so they’re not going to figure it out, but Kate would have. That she didn’t go “hey, lads, this is silly” reflects poorly on her character.

But, of course, the Four Dots investigation was built on such a flawed premise that Kate couldn’t have been the fourth Dot because there was no fourth Dot.

Who is H?

I feel like at this juncture, we should look at the question Dot was answering when he gave up four dots and the letter H: he was asked about the name of the individual senior police officer from whom he was taking orders.

This is a very direct question.

Now, I’m not currently bleeding my lungs out of my nose, so I’m going to be honest with you, maybe I would have tried to communicate that there were in fact four individuals that I was aware of who were involved in a criminal cabal of naughty policemen by blinking at the letter H and tapping out a wee bit of Morse code. However, I feel like there’s far less oblique ways of passing on this information when unable to speak but able to move eyes and a hand. Like, I don’t know, putting up four fingers and looking wildly at my hand to draw attention to it. Or just coughing out an internal organ to indicate the invalidity of the question.

What I’m saying is, Dot was probably giving a direct answer to a direct question. He was asked about a senior police officer, and he answered. It was Hilton.

He wasn’t asked about co-conspirators at any other levels, or the names of other mischievous bobbies. Kate asked him a specific question. Which he answered.

And yeah, maybe Kate was doing a subtly bad thing by asking such a specific question because she’s bent. But probably not. I just respect her intelligence too much to think she’s like the rest of AC-12, just glomming onto any old bit of information and assuming a criminal mastermind behind everything, based on the answer to a very, very narrow question.

In short, based on the H question, Dot gave up a name. He didn’t give up a mastermind. AC-12 just kind of assumed that one.

Dot’s lying

Let’s really take a moment here and wonder what on earth possessed AC-12 to put such credence in the testimony of a man who, less than an hour ago, had shot his way out of a police interview where they were planning on asking him these exact same questions.

Dot may be a bent copper, a liar, a gangster, a murderer and a bit of a shit, but he’s a loyal guy. Had it never occurred to anyone in AC-12 that this cheeky chappie might not have been telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Dot had a somewhat fluid attitude towards loyalty with regards to people he didn’t particularly like, such as Steve, but was ride-or-die for those he liked. Despite their disagreements, he never chucked Morton under the bus. And he took a few bullets for Kate, for goodness sake!

Yes, he gave them Fairbank, which was useful information, but I suspect the reason he was so willing to give up some, but not all of Naughty Policemen Club was fuck that mutton-chopped nonce. Personal theory: Fairbank definitely abused Dot, who would have been a child when they met. Hunter, too, probably. And those were ones Dot was willing to burn.

But not mates. Like Morton. Or Kate. Gosh, her name really is coming up a lot, isn’t it?

Maybe the real fourth man was the friends we made along the way

Ultimately, what I have been attempting to articulate throughout is AC-12’s investigation based on Dot’s dying declaration was a house built on the sand; a mire of flawed assumptions. It was never a valid investigation to begin with.

Ted bought into it because he’s a stubborn and old fuck. Steve bought into it because Ted did, and Steve’s a bit of a himbo. Maybe Kate did or didn’t, fuck knows what her deal was.

But, ultimately, they could never find the fourth man, because there never was a fourth man.

At best, what they had to go on was Dot, one of the many, many bent coppers that went across AC-12’s desk, reckoned there were between one and four others that he knew of. And that could have been anyone. In the course of the show, we saw a lot of cops groomed from birth to be tithead saboteurs. We saw others, previously “good” ones, turned – Maneet, Denton, Gates, to name but a few. And we saw some who were just kind of shitty by incuriosity, such as DSu Sourpuss Carmichael or the elected PCC.

But AC-12 got it into their heads that there was a grand conspiracy involving numerous embedded officers, and there was some sort of mastermind. Which was just, based on all available evidence, plain wrong. And besides, even if there was a grand conspiracy involving numerous embedded officers and a mastermind, this was only pertinent to one specific crime operation. Which is kind of a bad use of resources, to be honest.

Ted was interested in one thing and one thing only: catching one particular naughty policeman associated with one particular criminal group. He was obsessed, as were his subordinates.

But ultimately, the identity of the fourth man didn’t matter, and never mattered because, as the show keeps telling us, over and again, the entire force is corrupt. The problem isn’t and could have never been one, or four individuals. How can one break institutionalised corruption by catching this one guy? What would getting this one man achieve in terms of enacting change or cleaning house? It doesn’t matter. All the cops were all bad, because the police is bad.

Even our pals Ted, Kate and Steve, are shown to be low-key bent. Ted with his envelope of crisp fifties, Steve with his drug problem, and Kate with whatever the heck is going on with her inscrutable deal. And furthermore, they all displayed the same characteristics of the brass with whom they were frustrated: incuriosity, single-mindedness, and bad investigation tactics. We were treated to an unsatisfactory conclusion throwing up more unanswered questions than it addressed because we were shown six seasons of a bad investigation.

All coppers are bent coppers is the moral of the story. And that’s also the moral of real life. There’s no such thing as a good cop.

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