Episode two of The Fall opens with a tough cop assaulting a prisoner, being taken off the case, and receiving a suspension without pay pending an investigation. Oh no, wait, this is TV, where badass cops can break the rules, so instead he gets away with it no problem and leaves for a hotel, where he has sex with detective Stella Gibson, despite the fact that they’ve only ever had one 20 second conversation.
The sex scene is contrasted with serial killer Paul Spector’s ritualised washing and posing of his victim. Presumably, the writer is making a point about the similarities between Stella and Paul; and contrasting the coldness of both. This is The Fall’s main theme, the similarities between the police officer and the killer. I’m not sure there’s any worth in it though.
Take, for instance, Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed The Killing Joke comic, which does the same thing as The Fall, pointing out the negative similarities between good guy and bad guy, in this case Batman and The Joker. Moore later criticised his own work, though.
“The ‘profundity’ in The Killing Joke is that Batman and The Joker are pretty similar. But they are not real. It does you as the audience no good to have it pointed out that Batman and The Joker are a bit similar, because they are both preposterous characters.”
The characters in The Fall are more realistic, but they are still imaginary. Is their any artistic worth in creating a psychotic serial killer and a maverick cop and then pointing out that they are similar? They are only similar because the writer made them similar.
After her sexy times with her colleague, Stella heads to the flat where Paul’s victim is found. The bulk of the episode involves the opening of the serial killer investigation, a parallel plot about political corruption and a shooting, and Paul the killer’s moody exploits at home, stalking his next victim.
That last scene – Paul and his teenage victim – and many others in the episode, bordered on the gratuitous and manipulative. There are two ways to look at the very specific and uncomfortable detail in the show; either it’s exploring all aspects of a crime and how it affects people, or it is gratuitously exploiting sexual crime for entertainment. I think it does a bit of both.
First, there’s the detailed examining of the consequences of crime. This is probably influenced by The Killing, the Danish show which did the same thing and which has had a huge impact on UK television drama. In The Fall, the police constable has to deal with the fact that she missed an opportunity to save the victim, and it’s interesting to see this side of police work. It’s also interesting to see how a serial killer’s actions impact his family life, or how a 999 operator deals with a distressing call.
On the other hand, there were a lot of gratuitous and unnecessary details in episode two. There were the many, many shots of the naked dead victim; the long, lingering shots of a 15-year-old’s wet, writhing body with a serial killer watching on; and, near the start of the episode, the scene where the victim’s sister discovered the dead body and dropped her baby down on the bed next to the corpse. That last one is something the show does over and over again; using children to evoke emotional reactions. In this episode, in addition to the scene with the baby and the one with the teenager, we had the cop getting killed in front of his son, and the serial killer hanging his victim’s necklace around his daughter’s neck.
Yes, okay, the show might be making a point about how violence impacts others, and other generations in particular. And, yes, Northern Ireland can be a violent place, and I’m sure children there have witnessed many terrible things. But I still feel that the very detailed violence in this show, and its use of children, is gratuitous, and used to manipulate the viewer; to get a reaction – whether that’s one of horror or disgust or just a general uncomfortable feeling.
There’s also a problem with the characters not ringing true. Stella sexually propositions strangers, there’s a badass cop with a six pack who doesn’t play by the rules and there’s a sexy motorcycle-riding forensic pathologist who shows up in this episode. Only Paul’s side of the story seems in any way rooted in reality, and Paul is a serial killer who masturbates over photos of people he murdered. If that’s your standard of realism then your show is flawed.
Some of the plotting is equally ridiculous, and I’m a little worried about the political corruption story because it seems to be a wandering and distracting tangent. It has the potential to be interesting, and I hope it develops well, but right now it seems like the plot from a different show entirely.
I do like the acting, especially from Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, playing the detective and the killer respectively, and the directing is interesting, but I’m struggling to see The Fall as anything more than a standard serial killer drama, with all the exploitative and unnecessary violence that usually comes with them. There is some depth to the writing – this episode for instance made a lot of contrasts, between killer and cop but also, to give one example, between a father wanting to touch his dead daughter and a mother wanting to do the same with her new baby – but there’s also a lot of clichés and borderline preposterous characterisation and plotting.
- Stella keeps her bra on during the mild sex scene but we get plenty of naked tits from the victim’s corpse. It makes me a little uncomfortable that the stark nudity in the show is only from murdered young women and not from characters having sex.
- A lot of the scene with the top police officers’ meeting was pointless and added nothing.
- I do quite like the way the police constable’s story has developed, feeling guilt over what she could have prevented.
- Paul’s wife, Sally-Ann, seems quite realistic a character and I like the acting from Bronagh Waugh, who plays her.
- The scene at the end where the police sergeant was killed was a pretty ballsy move from the show – to kill a developing character off in episode two – and I didn’t see it coming. There are promising elements in the show, despite its flaws.