TV

The Fall – Series Review

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Belfast-based series The Fall gives the Scandi crime genre a run for its money, writes Sarah Gilmartin.

You know how it goes. You head out after work on Friday evening for a few drinks, some laughs, a chance to wind down with colleagues. And if you’re a professional, single woman in your late twenties or early thirties, you leave when you know that last drink has gone to your head. You leave before the next round, the one that will lead to carnage. You leave before the sweaty suit dancing and drunken scores and battered burgers at three in the morning. You chat coherently, if a little profusely, to the taxi driver on your way home and as you say goodnight to him and walk (in a straight line) up the dimly lit pathway to your front door, you congratulate yourself on how much you’ve matured. It is possible, you smile as you put the key in the door, to have a few drinks and still avoid the killer Saturday hangover. Don’t see a great night ruined. And it isn’t, not until you spot the open drawer, underwear and vibrator laid out on your bed, or the coiled orange peel on the kitchen counter that you certainly didn’t leave there this morning. Or did you? It’s not like you’re completely sober. That’s what the judgemental female cop will imply when she drops by to investigate your break-in suspicions.

Of course, you didn’t leave it there. But by the end of the first episode of BBC’s recent serial-killer drama The Fall, it was too late for beautiful, raven-haired solicitor Sarah Kay (Laura Donnelly) whose stifled screams were all the more chilling as the same cop – realising she had messed up – knocked again on Sarah’s door but walked away when the house remained in darkness, oblivious to the horrors going on inside.

The subsequent four episodes saw the horrors multiply and spiral out of killer Paul Spector’s control as DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is brought to Belfast to catch him. With the identity of the killer clear from the beginning, The Fall is unusual for its genre, a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit, with the suspense effect no worse off as we grip our seats to see if he will be apprehended, and how many victims will die before this happens.

Jamie Dorgan is excellent as the detached and taciturn killer, nailing the ambiguity required to double up as a loving father and husband, a skilled bereavement counsellor on the one-hand, while remaining utterly credible as the ruthless individual who stalks and then strangles his young, female victims. Spector goes about his daily life tending to the needs of his clients and children. But you can see something big is amiss in his quiet creep around Belfast’s roughest areas, in the fact that he doesn’t flinch when cornered by a mob on the Shankill, or through the ease with which he dooms his eight-year-old daughter to a life of psychological torture by hiding his scrapbook of death in her bedroom above a rainbow mobile.

It’s that kind of sickening detail that makes The Fall so disturbing. The Belfast setting – with south of the border characters such as Simon Delaney also part of the cast – makes it spookier still, in an era where most quality crime drama comes from bleak and distant Scandinavian shores. And like Sarah Lund and Saga Norén, creator Alan Cubitt has given us a unique and convincing lead detective in Stella Gibson. Intelligent, sexy, controlled and obsessive – she paints her nails in the same varnish the killer uses on his victims – the parallels between Anderson’s character and Spector blur the conceived lines between good and evil. This mirroring continues with the victims themselves, each of them strong, professional women just like Stella. Each of them defenceless once Spector pounces.

As the cat and mouse game ramps up with every episode, Spector starts to lose his cool, culminating in a nail-biting finale that could see him caught out in numerous ways. The Fall’s refusal to neatly tie up its plots and subplots is one of its strengths, adding to the drama’s unsettling realism by allowing viewers to imagine their own ending. The consternation online as a result of this ending is reminiscent of The Killing Season 1, which caused an outcry in Denmark when it finished on a cliff-hanger after 10 episodes in 2007.

Not everything in The Fall works so successfully. The subplots of corrupt cops Breedlove and Olsen tend to distract from the main event (except when Stella orders Olsen back to her hotel room), as does the age-old coke and hookers storyline of police chairman Morgan Monroe and his whining son. The jet black drama is at its most compelling, buoyed along by strong undertones of sex, when focused on Spector or Gibson. Particularly good are Spector’s scenes with teenage provocateur Katie (Aisling Franciosi), or his complex relationship with wife Sally-Ann (Bronagh Waugh), a preoccupied neonatal nurse, and the slow build as he potters around their artificially lit house preparing breakfast for his children, and then – after dropping them to school – the intricacies of his next kill.

Anderson is the other star of the show. Quietly but definitively assertive – from the icy ‘fuck off’ to journalist Ned Callan (Nick Lee) in episode one to her rebuke of underling Jerry McIlroy (Delaney) for judging a victim’s promiscuity – Stella Gibson points out time and again the dangers of stereotyping women as victims or vamps. But as much as she belies gender norms by sleeping with who she wants, releasing her emotions only in the swimming pool, choosing a gay policewoman as her second in command, the cleverness of the script is such that no character gets away with deciding things for themselves, not even those like Stella who think they’re in control.

‘Have you any idea of the effect you have on men?” In the final episode, former lover and Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI Jim Burns puts this question to Stella, whose arctic blue stare and poker expression falter, just for a second, as she considers her answer.

The Fall Season 1 finished on BBC and RTE earlier this month and has been renewed for a second series in 2014.

Categories: TV

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