The Fall on Netflix (originally for the BBC) is the perfect show to binge-watch. There are only 6 episodes in season 2 (11 episodes total) and they are all complex and completely engrossing. It’s the perfect length to spread out a full view over the course of the weekend and still get in some actual activity. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need a little break from the tension every once in a while. If you haven’t seen the first season, go watch it now. Then watch the second season. Then come back here and read the rest of my commentary.
The Fall is the story of a serial killer, Paul Spector, (played by Jamie Dornan) in Belfast and the detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) assigned to find him. In the first season, Gibson discovers the existence of a serial killer and Spector starts to taunt her with his crimes, but the police had yet to narrow in on him as a suspect. The second season is about finding out Spector is the killer and the manhunt to capture him. But, of course, it’s not just about the case. It’s about sexuality, sexual politics, men, women, youth, age, personal, professional and all the other boundaries that come into play in our day-to-day lives.
In general, I think I preferred the cat-and-mouse aspects of the second season to the first season’s more procedural elements. There was a level of tension in every episode that drew me deeper and deeper into this story. Will Gibson and her team of investigators find enough evidence to arrest Spector? Will Spector continue find a way to thwart their efforts at every turn? Will he kill again before they catch him? Will she be able to hide her surveillance of him? Will someone finally pay attention to Katie (more on that later)?
The ticking clock of the search for Rose Stagg – whom Spector abducted for reporting on their prior relationship to the police – permeated every episode (sometimes almost literally through the music which was excellent throughout). On top of that search and tracking Spector’s every move, the threat of violence by Jimmy Tyler (a former therapy patient of Spector’s who suspected he slept with his wife) hung over each episode as this unpredictable burst of energy. And yet, throughout it all was silence. Images of the banality of every day life going on despite the existence of a killer on the loose – Stella swimming or changing her clothes or having a drink while checking her email. It was an interesting choice, adding these utterly mundane moments in the middle of a stressful investigation and it kept me on the edge of my seat.
Anderson’s Superintendent Stella Gibson is a total enigma to me, even after these 11 episodes, and that’s not really a bad thing. She is this tough as nails investigator, determined to get her man but at the same time she has these soft emotional reactions to the killer’s female victims and the children touched by his crimes (none of the crimes are directly against children, but there are still children involved). Anderson is impeccable in her performance throughout the series making Gibson tightly wound, aware of every tick, every turn of her head, every breath in and out. But more than just being self-aware, Gibson is aware of what she’s up against.
In the third episode, Jim Burns (played with a stuttering foolishness by John Lynch), Stella’s supervising officer and former lover, attempts to get her back in bed and she punches him in the process of trying to stop him. As she is cleaning up his bleeding nose he asks her: “Why are women emotionally and spiritually so much stronger than men?” She responds: “Because the basic human form is female. Maleness is. . . a kind of birth defect.” This is not a woman often afraid of men. And yet, when she realizes that the Spector had been hiding in her hotel room closet and had not only read her personal diary but had written his own entry, the fear she feels is palpable.
I simultaneously loved and hated the way Spector manipulated the young babysitter, Katie (played with smug contempt by Aisling Franciosi). It was probably the conversation in the fourth episode when he asks her if she was “ready to embrace the darkness”. In general, I just kind of hated Katie. Hated the smirk she always had on her face, the way she thought she was so ready to handle whatever sexual perversion or deviant behavior Spector threw at her, hated that there was no one there to protect her from her own made up need for rebellion. However, the distinction between her need to impress this father-figure/object of lust – with both her willingness to perform on a sexual level and her ability to protect him by lying to the police – and his more studied, practiced “rationality” for what he’s done and what he’s asking her to do kept me interested. As he says, it’s not about sex. “Happiness in others is an affront to our own pain and misery, Katie. If other people’s happiness pains us, then why not reduce that happiness? Nurture your envy, Katie, your anger. It’s the way forward.” It was a little weird, but I suppose that’s how we should view a serial killer’s justification of their actions.
The fact that I find Jamie Dornan to be ridiculously attractive made this whole scene, and whole series really, all the more disturbing. I was repulsed by his crimes and never wanted him to get away with his murders, but man, did I want to run into him at a bar and flirt for a minute. And every time I felt that impulse, I would cringe. That’s a creepy conundrum in television that you don’t often find in life (although, it has happened). Spector is further humanized by his daughter’s devotion and love of him, the fact that he has a career in grief counseling and Stella’s constant insistence that he’s not a monster – he’s a man with all of man’s faults and failings.
It seems the writers of The Fall were aware of this dichotomy as they addressed it head on after Gibson sleeps with D.S. Tom Anderson (played by Colin Morgan). He asks her if she maybe slept with him because he reminded her of Spector and she replies: “A woman, I forget who, once asked a male friend why men felt threatened by women. He replied that they were afraid that women might laugh at them. When she asked a group of women why women felt threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid they might kill us.” He [Spector] might fascinate you. I despise him with every fiber of my being.” I was really struck by the overt feminism in many of Stella’s conversations with her colleagues and superiors throughout this second season. Not because it was unexpected or unwarranted, just because it was so bare and plainspoken.
I could definitely write more about this show, but I don’t want to go on too much longer. I do want to point out my favorite moment of the show and the one that I think really encapsulates so much that it does well. In episode 5, after Gibson has arrested Spector and the investigators are going through his things, they discover a video of Rose (played by Valene Kane) that Spector took while holding her captive. The range of emotions on display is something to behold. I would even argue that it’s humanity summed up in a 2 minute clip. She starts out begging him to let her go, asking him for water, trying to apologize for going to the police about him. She tries to seduce him, referencing their past love affair. She screams at him, calling him a monster. She tries to sympathize with the horrible childhood he must have had in order to be able to do this to her.
On and on, until finally, she hits him where it really hurts: “Hurt me, do whatever you want to me. Go ahead, do your worst. Nothing you can do will ever take away how much I love my husband, how much I love my children. Nothing you can do can make me devalue my life in any way. I will celebrate life. I love and I am loved, and nothing that you can do can take that away!” She is loved and she loves. It’s what he hates most and what hurts him deepest because he can neither love nor be loved. I know it’s sentimental of me to hone in on this moment out of all the others in this series, but I always look for the gem of good to hold onto. Throughout this season of The Fall that gem of good was the hope that Gibson might not only catch Spector, but find Rose Stagg alive. Thank goodness for small favors.