The Fall review – Episode Five – BBC2

The Fall Episode FiveThe final episode of The Fall was unsatisfying and failed to provide the resolution expected of a show in which a serial killer faces off against a detective. The series over all was very problematic, and while I enjoyed it at times and felt it was thought provoking in places, I think the show’s flaws outnumbered its positives.

Episode five finally brought some excitement as Paul made his escape from last week’s crime scene and for the first time faced a real threat of arrest and exposure. The show has been very slow throughout, and it could have used some of this pace in earlier episodes.

Much of this increased tempo came from Stella’s investigation closing in. At one point, she tells her pathologist friend what she’s discovered about the killer; that they both use ‘doubling,’ the separation of aspects of their lives. This was one of the main themes in the show; the contrast between killer and cop, life and death, control and chaos, and it all set in Belfast, a city of division in a country of sectarianism.

I wrote in my episode two review that this doesn’t have much profundity when applied to two imaginary characters deliberately created to be similar, but now the series is finished I’m a little more fond of the technique, as used with various aspects of the completed season.

Paul and his daughter showed up on CCTV footage of the park in which he stalked his victim. After a police appeal, he attended an interview at the station. It was an oddly comprehensive interview for someone who was only in a park with the victim the previous week with presumably loads of other people. Were they doing these interviews with everyone in the park? Taking their DNA, checking their alibis?

In any case, he passed the interview no problem, thanks to his wife providing the false alibi. Paul’s wife demanded to know why she had to lie. ‘I have something terrible to confess,’ Paul said, before covering by saying he was having an affair with the teenage babysitter. It was a tense and enjoyable scene, with good acting from Jamie Dornan and Bronagh Waugh. There was a nice mix of relief and pain conveyed by Dornan as his wife left heartbroken, but at least unaware of his true activities.

The FallStella meanwhile got some breaks in the case. Paul’s letter to the police had the outline of his daughter’s drawing on it, which I liked because it emerged naturally and was a call-back to an earlier episode. Another break, an E-FIT of Paul composed by his ex-girlfriend who the pathologist just happened to know, was ridiculous and contrived though.

And then Stella received a phone call from Paul himself. Having reconciled with his wife, Paul is off to Scotland, with the intention of leaving his serial killing behind. It was good to finally see the antagonist and protagonist come together, and I enjoyed the scene. But there was some stupid dialogue. Paul said that both he and Stella are controlling and obsessive. That informs the show’s theme but, hold on, how the fuck does Paul know this? He’s never met Stella and has only seen her from a distance.

Stella points out to Paul just how badly he has damaged his child’s future, and realising she’s right, he hangs up angrily. And then he leaves Belfast, and the series ends completely unresolved, with a supposed cliffhanger of Paul’s victim regaining consciousness.

But it’s not a cliffhanger, because Paul is obviously fucked. He’s just given the police a recording of his voice, plus his fingerprints are on record, and his DNA, and his handwriting from the note. Having Paul make that phone call without altering his voice is poor writing. The police could just release it publicly.

The Fall

And then there’s the ending itself. It’s not legitimate to drag this into another series. If Paul dies or is arrested right at the start of series two then the cliffhanger is just a cheap trick to keep people watching. If he never shows up again then it would have been far preferable to provide an actual satisfying resolution to his character arc this episode. And if the whole of series two is about Paul again then, Jesus, that is a terrible idea that would completely strain plausibility. The ending was, as others have pointed out, really disappointing.

The show had many such problems. The most consistent was its use of gratuitous and exploitative content. The Fall’s writer Allan Cubitt addressed this in an article for The Guardian. ‘My aim in writing The Fall was to explore some aspects of this phenomenon of violence against the female body,’ he wrote. ‘I think it would be hard for anyone… to argue that it would be somehow more palatable if the victims were young gay men or small boys.’

The problem with that is that we don’t have an issue in society of the fetishisation of violence against gay men. We do have that problem with women. In any case, the gratuity wasn’t entirely confined to the gender of the victims; it was the length, detail and presentation of violence in the show.

There really is, though, a strange duality (appropriately enough) with this show, in that it clearly wants to be attacking a misogynistic culture and yet at times seemed to revel in its display of violence towards women. ‘I was at pains from the start to make sure that there was nothing gratuitous or exploitative in the drama,’ Cubitt writes. That jars so much with what I watched. I wonder if maybe a lot of the problem was not with the writing but with the directing and editing. It’s hard to be sure without knowing exactly who is responsible for how the murder scenes – and other scenes – were shown.

The Fall

Stacked up against this are The Fall’s positives -and there are a good few. As irrelevant as the police corruption plot turned out, we did meet some interesting characters – like the DCI and the elder Monroe – which will be interesting to explore in series two. I also liked the examination of Paul’s character in great depth, which meant that by the show’s end I was partially rooting for a terrible serial killer to escape. And the illustration of how Paul’s actions affected his daughter was interesting, as was Paul’s realisation of this at the end, meaning he can’t completely escape his crimes.

The Fall is also one of the few shows to be set in Northern Ireland not to deal with terrorism or sectarianism, and it should be applauded for making use of the setting appropriately. The directing, gratuity aside, was stunning and the acting very good throughout.

Still, I thought The Fall had many problems. I’m sticking to my view that it was manipulative and exploitative at times, and it had a tendency for ridiculous plot contrivances and characterisation. I think there is a lot of work to be done to make the second series worthwhile.

Random notes:

  • That is one long review but I wanted to address the article Allan Cubitt wrote. Congratulations for reading so far. Your reward is this acknowledgment. You’re welcome.
  • It really is a testament to the complexity in Paul’s portrayal that I kind of want him and his wife to drive happily of into the sunset. It’s good to have a villain that well shaded.
  • The show would really have benefited from another edit of the script. Probably would have been useful to lose all the police corruption stuff and the patients Paul was counselling. Neither storylines really added much.
  • This photo was used heavily to promote the show, as was the trailer where Stella walks behind Paul. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this never happened at any point, right?

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

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

  1. The scenes where Paul stalks and kills his victims were deliberately shot in a voyeuristic style. I assumed this was done to give us an insight into Paul’s psychology – he is after all a voyeur first and foremost – and to make the audience feel some complicity in these crimes and identify with Paul a little bit. After all, why does anybody watch a TV show about this kind of stuff except to indulge a voyeuristic instinct? Allan Cubitt touched on this in his article, but he really irritated by trying to make Stella out as some kind of role model for strong women. He suggests she is acutely aware of society being patriarchal, sexist and misogynistic, and steadfastly refuses to conform to male expectations of her, but it all seems so token and cheap – like her glib mentioning of a matriarchal tribe with no word for rape. She’s basically just a robot – the clichéd powerful woman who can only succeed by aping male predatory behaviours. Cubitt’s justifications in that article seem like afterthoughts.

    Overall, I’d share many of your misgivings about this series. The many strands of the police corruption plot ended up having nothing to do with the main storyline about the serial killer. Paul’s liaisions with the bereaved couple I thought were interesting in presenting a caring side to him – he’s okay with women once they are the victims already, he only targeted professional, confident, “powerful” women – but again this was not resolved satisfactorily. What was the point of loyalists confronting him? Killer vs killer? This was rather glib.

    The whole technique of juxtaposing Paul’s movements with Stella’s was over-used to the point of parody. It seemed at least two occasions each episode this clichéd convention was rolled out, in some supposed effort to lend some poignancy to routine procedures.

    It wasn’t a bad show, but painstaking slow and very self-aware of how deep it thought it was. It seems once something seems to be popular with audiences these days the newspapers join in with the hype machine.

    • Agreed on most of that. I never picked up on the ‘Paul being okay with women who are already victims’ thing; it’s a good point and I was struggling to understand the relevance of that storyline all series.

      The hype for this show started in parts of the media before episode one even aired. I think if you frame and pitch a show in the right way you can get the right publicity before the first episode has even ran. It has been incredibly popular though, with audiences and critics and reviewers and people commenting underneath those reviews. Thanks for the comment.

  2. A great review and great blog.
    It is a difficult viewing which is scary rather than repelling. An overhang of violence or implicit threat has not been achieved by gore and blood but situating evil in boring sedate reality. This ordinariness of the evil is compounded as camera refuses to turn away from ‘really’ uncomfortable issues.
    I tried a review after second episode at http://modernartists.blogspot.in/2013/05/normal-pathology-of-fall.html

      • Interesting read. Brings to mind a true-life case here in canada, where the series is now playing. The case involved col. Russell williams, an air force base commander, who broke into dozens of houses to steal women’s underwear, which he subsequently modelled and photographed himself wearing. His crime escalated to murder, when he killed two women after breaking into their homes, recording much of the attacks. All the whle he was commander of canadian forces base trenton, in ontario. Had even flown the jet which took the queen to canada on a royal visit. If you wrote it up ospec for a movie, it would be rejected as unbelieveable. Sadly, it’s true.

      • Cheers, thanks for the comment. Don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Allan Cubitt, The Fall‘s writer, wrote an article for The Guardian where he mentions that Russell Williams case, although he says he had already created his character beforehand.

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