Serial killers, and every aspect that surrounds them, have been explored in film and TV shows from pretty much every available angle. There are a thousand and one gratuitous such films, and plenty of arty psychological ones, from Psycho through the Hannibal Lecter movies and the multi-award winning Se7en and Zodiac. That doesn’t mean that the genre should be automatically off-limits, but any new film needs to be bringing something new to the table. The Fall’s apparent uniqueness is that it explores the killer’s normality and family life, and contrasts him with the lead detective. But that has been done many times before. As a result, the show felt incredibly familiar and even clichéd at times. There are some interesting elements in the show, and it’s quite tension filled, but I found it kind of underwhelming after seeing a lot of the pre-show hype.
Episode one introduced us to Paul Spector, budding serial killer with just the one kill under his belt so far. Gillian Anderson is London detective Stella Gibson, brought to Belfast to investigate the killer’s first victim, the daughter-in-law of a politician. She quickly realises there’s a serial killer on the loose, though her bosses are sceptical.
I was really looking forward to The Fall as it got some great pre-broadcast press. I’m quite disappointed though. That Guardian article I linked to stresses the show’s ‘differentness’, but I don’t agree with that at all. The set up – a show about a serial killer – is well-worn, obviously, and the contrasting of the killer with the detective has been done before; Insomnia is one example, a film which is very similar in many aspects – both in plot and in tone – to this show.
Some aspects are so commonplace they border on cliché; the unconventional cop (Stella approaches a sergeant out of the blue and sexually propositions him), the superiors who won’t listen to the detective’s insightful theory until it’s too late, the slimy journalist who will probably turn out useful in the end, and the victim who the police won’t listen to and instead dismiss her concerns as unjustified. We’ve seen all these things many times before.
The scenes exploring the serial killer are reasonably interesting though. There’s a complexity to his character, and the acting from Jamie Dornan is nice and understated, his character often coming across as a perfectly normal person. The directing is interesting, and there are some nice shots in the episode; lots of reflections and one overhead tracking shot moving from room to room. In terms of depth in the writing, there are little bits and pieces; the immediate comparison between Paul’s lusting after a young girl’s music performance and his daughters own dancing, and Sean’s profession as a therapist and how it feeds his voyeuristic impulses.
Then there’s the setting, in Northern Ireland, a location which has been underutilised in British drama, beyond shows about terrorism. Presumably, TV channels were a little intimated and frightened by the political situation, and worried about being seen to be exploiting it. But it is a pretty unique location, with a lot of history and tension, and it could be put to great use to strengthen a narrative and a show’s themes.
Despite these positives, the first episode was poor overall in my view. It moved incredibly slowly, which is a problem for a first episode of a drama. Slow things down later in the series, sure, but you need a bit of pace when the audience are deciding whether or not to watch a show. And there was some awkward writing in places, like the disbelieving police officers in the beginning, being hostile to a break-in victim, and dismissing obvious evidence of a crime as the work of the cat or the drunken homeowner.
There are five episodes of this and I’m not sure that I want to watch five hours of a mentally disturbed character stalking and killing young women. The scene at the end of this episode, where Paul has his hand over his victim’s mouth as she screams for help, was uncomfortable to watch. Such scenes can be justified in TV or film, but I’m not sure that’s the case with The Fall, as almost everything in the show so far can be found elsewhere. It wasn’t a particularly promising episode, but maybe it’ll improve. Right now though, it feels like another run-of-the-mill serial killer procedural, but with moody directing.
- The scene where Stella stops the police car, gets out, and aggressively flirts with a police sergeant was weird and kind of awkward.
- ‘No one knows what’s going on in someone’s mind, and life would be intolerable if we did.’ It’s a little unsubtle but I quite like that line.
- The guy in therapy doesn’t like thinking about his son’s heart being in ‘some taig’s chest.’ Uh, oh. Maybe this show should just stay away from sectarianism if it’s going to be as shoehorned-in as that.
- Paul’s son was really suspicious when his father came home late, asking lots of questions. Maybe he should take over the case; he couldn’t be much worse than those police officers at the beginning.