The Fall review – Episode Three – BBC2

The FallThe reviews for The Fall have been almost uniformly excellent. The Guardian called the series ‘one of the best BBC dramas in years’, The Independent thinks the second episode was without any weak passage, and the audience reviews have been equally praiseworthy. I disagree with those views so strongly that I’m starting to feel quite isolated. I don’t hate The Fall or anything; I just don’t think it’s much better than the routine serial killer shows we’ve seen a thousand times before, but with the affected tone of a weighty drama.

I don’t want to just rag on the show though so I’m going to try to back that criticism up. Episode three could be spilt into three storylines; serial killer Paul, the police operation headed up by Stella Gibson, and the subplots involving the politicians and the drugs investigation. The first of those storylines is, as many people have pointed out, genuinely disturbing at times, and very tense.

Paul starts the episode writing some teenage-Goth poetry that presumably gives the show its name: ‘Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow,’ and ‘is it the murder or the shadow of murder that causes the greatest pleasure, the greatest pain?’ The Fall is interested in how a murder – or any death, as is the case with Paul’s patients who lost their son – impacts people. Some dodgy poetry is not the most subtle way of conveying this but it’s an interesting theme to explore.

One person impacted by Paul’s mental state and nocturnal activities is his daughter. She’s discovered her father’s secret killer diary in the attack, and Paul takes her to an abandoned building he finds, where he later sets up a female mannequin with a wig. ‘Where did he get a fucking mannequin?’ some people might ask. But never mind that, here’s an arty shot that makes you feel uncomfortable.

The Fall Episode ThreeThis is what I mean by the ‘affected’ nature of the show. The captivating, moody directing I think covers up the fact that The Fall is not much different from most mediocre serial killer shows. Some of the writing pulls the same trick (more on that later).

In last week’s review I argued that the show was gratuitous and used children inappropriately. This episode, we had Paul angrily ripping up his killer diary after finding out his victim was pregnant. We also had the scenes with his daughter, and some more shots of naked, abused woman, and some of Paul creeping on his next victim taking a piss. I can only assume at this point that this is being done on purpose.

The children thing is probably making a point about the impact of a violent society on children. I’m not sure though what the justification for the show’s abundance of dead or abused naked woman is, or for the manipulative scenes where women have their privacy invaded. A mediocre serial killer show would do this to make the audience feel uncomfortable, but this is a complex psychological drama, obviously, so there must be a legitimate reason. Even if that exists, The Fall is still having its cake and eating it too; ‘Here’s your sensationalist, gratuitous content, but, er, it’s okay, because we’re making a point or something.’

Paul’s daughter tells her mother that ‘there’s a naked woman above’ her room. People tend to dismiss the strange tales of children, but considering there is a trapdoor to the attic above the girl’s bedroom, I assume any parent would realistically check it. Hopefully this happens next week. Paul meanwhile closes out his storyline this episode by stalking his next target, who is another visitor to the bar that links the victims (I think that’s what connects them anyway, correct me if I’m wrong).

Stella Gibson meanwhile is heading up the serial killer investigation, Operation Musicman; which is a fucking absurd name no police force would ever use because it would be obvious headline bait – ‘The Musicman kills again’ or whatever. Stella briefs her officers on the investigation, and we’re introduced to a new policeman, who is ridiculously contrived; slovenly, walking in late to a meeting while chewing food, his ringtone playing 50 Cent, but somehow still endearing himself to every other character. People like that don’t exist, but it’s a colourful character so the writer puts him in the show all the same, realism be damned.

The Fall Episode Three

The police pathologist at one point asks Stella to come see something she ‘might be interested in,’ which turns out to be photos and scans of the dead police sergeant she slept with. There was no reason whatsoever for the pathologist to ask Stella to view those photos. It’s not believable, and the only reason the scene is included is so there can be a little character moment as Stella is shown to be icy cold, not letting anything hurt her. The writer has a habit of using absurd plotting to make points; about a character’s development in this case, and later about sexism.

In that scene, the DCI investigating the police sergeant’s shooting asks Stella about their night together. Stella says that what really bothers the DCI is the one night stand, and gives a little speech about sexism. But Stella didn’t have a one-night stand; she slept with a complete stranger she’d had one 20 second conversation with, after approaching him in the middle of the street. That’s not believable or typical behaviour, so the DCI is right to find it strange, and we the audience are now siding against the show’s protagonist. It’s fumbled and disorganized writing.

The police investigation doesn’t advance at all really, and neither does the sub-plot about the criminals and the politician’s son. The partner of the sergeant who got shot is working for said politician’s son and his presumably gangster friends. This part of the show is going nowhere, and there are only two episodes left. At this point, there’s only one connection between these scenes and the show’s main plot – the first victim being the daughter-in-law of the politician – so it can’t help but feel irrelevant.

I’m going to stick with this show until the end, but I suspect it won’t improve much. I think the serial killer genre is tired, and it takes something special to add anything new to it. I don’t think this show has managed to do that. Not yet anyway.

Random notes:

  • ‘The devil, ladies and gentleman, quite literally is in the detail.’ No, it isn’t. Not unless the twist ending is that Paul is the spawn of Satan.
  • I like the character of DCI Matthew Eastwood, who is investigating the sergeant’s shooting. I kind of want to go watch that show instead, where the normal police officer who is not some ice queen or six pack hero, unravels police corruption.
  • The new slovenly detective is a bit like Brad Pitt’s character in Se7en.
  • The Fall’s writer seems to really hate the media. There is so much dialogue in which they are made out to be 2D villains. Maybe Hugh Grant wrote it.
  • Pedantry Corner: When Paul is supposed to be searching Google for info on his next victim, he actually searches the computer’s documents.

The Fall Reviews: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Four, Episode Five

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6 thoughts on “The Fall review – Episode Three – BBC2

  1. Agree nearly completely with your assessment, beginning to feel that ‘am i the one who….’ feeling. The entire set up is pretty ludicrous – most married working people with two young children that i know of are flat out and exhausted nearly every waking minute of their lives, no way would they have the time and energy to be stakling, investigating, reconnoitring, plotting and mudering women and then spending hours cleaning up and photographing the bodies. Not to mention finding and transporting mannequins to remote abandoned shacks to dress them up. How many hours a week does Paul do his councelling work – three? may be he lives in an alternaitve universe where each day has 72 hours.
    The constable sent to fetch stuff in Stella’s hotel room – why would she be rummaging in the bin in the bathroom? She’s not the maid cleaning up, just getting essentials – maybe medication, or contact lens, makeup etc. would she expect to find them in the rubbish bin (which has a lid)? And even if she did find the condoms by accident, why should she dispose of them – it’s not against the law to use condoms, even in northern ireland?? pure plot contrivance.
    Stella’s tryst with the detective – has any woman ever made love for over 2 hours with some one (that’s how long she said he was there) without removing her bra?

    Yes, perhaps an above average policier, diverting enough but nothing like the best thing since sliced bread that it’s been claimed to be. those critics need to have their annual eye tests.

    • Thanks for the comment, it’s good to know other people have similar criticisms considering there is so much praise for the show. I agree about the stuff with the constable; just bizarre, unrealistic behaviour. I think she was supposed to be cleaning up in case some journalist came digging around but it just doesn’t really make any sense, and then she decides to tell Stella what she’s done for some inexplicable reason.

  2. I think that maybe you two have too much time on your hands to dissect a tv programme in so much detail!! Can you not just watch and enjoy?? It’s a show, for entertainment!

    • Carole, it’s not really about having time or dissecting anything, rather it is more like drving on a bumpy road with lots of potholes – you feel the jolts instantaneously – no dissecting necessary. Surely ‘good’ entertainment should avoid such jarring discruptions to the suspension of disbelief?

  3. I agree with you that the show is solid so far, but that perhaps all the effusive praise its received thus far isn’t really earned. It does rely on a lot of stock contrivances to the genre and so far, hasn’t really stood out to me as anything new…but still, I admit to enjoying it and will continue to follow it. Something I think you missed: that ‘teenage goth poetry’ you refer to is actually a quote taken directly from T.S. Elliot’s master poem ‘the Wasteland’ and its themes and how they translate to this show are what have me the most interested thus far. There also the themes of the ‘virgin/whore’ split that is the way some men view women, all the sins of the father stuff, and the show makes numerous reference to the works of Nietzsche…I am hoping they develop these things more and not just throw them in to dress up the place. Also Stella, while played by the brilliant Gillian Anderson, is interesting, they have given us next to nothing about her in terms of back story and motivation and made her very difficult to relate to in all her cold calculating aloofness. We need a hint of human vulnerability or flaw please, otherwise she is too much an abstraction.

    • Yeah, missed that T.S Elliot reference. The ‘virgin/whore’ feminism stuff though I found to be a little 2D and incongruous with the constant and almost fetishised violence towards women in the show.

      And I agree about Stella; she is way too cold and hard to relate too. Thanks for the comment!

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