The 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.
This 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 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.
- ‘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.