TV Review - The Fall

Gillian Anderson arrives at crime scene in "The Fall"
Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) stars as Detective Superintendent or DSI Stella Gibson who is called from London to Belfast, Ireland, to review a recent murder case. She uncovers that the case is the work of a serial killer. Jamie Dornan (Once Upon a Time) stars as Paul Spector, a bereavement counselor, a husband and father of two children, who is secretly the serial killer in question. The five episode series, created and written by Allan Cubitt, and directed by Jakob Verbrugge, depicts the double life of Paul, as he goes after more victims, and the investigation by Stella to find and stop him.

The series premiered in Ireland on 12 May 2013. It began airing on BBC2 in the United Kingdom the next day. Two weeks later, all five episodes were made available on Netflix in the USA. It is a well-acted and well-produced series that is very creepy and quite disturbing. It's also quite methodical in its police procedure aspects.

Anderson's performance is rather methodical. She's cold and standoffish. Her performance is almost designed to keep you at bay until a very bold move that Stella makes at the end of the first episode. The way that she handles two men is so powerful and bubbling with passion that each moment feels like a juicy jaw-dropper. One man is a studly cop. The other is a stubborn reporter, and Anderson shows how strong and how in control of a woman she is by her interactions with these men and it's awe-inspiring.

Dornan's performance possesses a coldness and standoffishness to it too. Of course, he's the sexy sociopath, and like with most movies and TV shows about good guys and bad guys, the inference is that Stella and Paul are basically two sides of the same coin. The way that Paul handles people is so powerful and bubbling with a kind of passion too. Except, his fosters a rage, a dark obsession. Ironically, Dornan shows how weak and less in control Paul is, despite being very athletic and having a great physical force.

Jamie Dornan searches for next victim in "The Fall"
As with another recent, non-American TV series, Jane Campion's Top of the Lake, there is material here that is immaterial to the central story. It provides atmosphere and helps to give us a better sense of Belfast and its criminal element, as well as police entanglement, but it feels like distractions more than anything else. I suppose it's difficult to do a hour-long series for five episodes on only two characters. You would need to fill time, but I too often felt like things were being dragged out for no good reason.

For example, a woman finds her sister dead and she calls the equivalent to 911 in Ireland and in a faster paced show, we'd cut to the police already combing the crime scene. Instead, here the episode almost plays out in real time. We watch the police arrive, establish themselves, cord off the crime scene and go through all the motions. We even see the coroner taking the body out the house. We follow it step-by-step, as it's loaded into the hearse and then into the morgue. We don't need to see all of this, but this show feels the need to show it, almost indulging in the audience's presumed, morbid curiosity.

Having a cold, morbid curiosity is something that both Stella and Paul possibly share and Cubitt or Verbrugge wishes to either convey that curiosity, which is unsuccessful, or else transfer or project that curiosity onto the TV viewers. The likely reason is simply to portray a sense of reality that wants to approach reality not in a documentary way but in a way that has no art or artifice to it.

As such, the depiction of the murders is very disturbing and very horrifying. As far as we know, Paul is responsible for four killings and one attempted killing. We see him carryout three of those five crimes. When Anderson was in The X-Files, there was a good number of murders and serial killings that were gruesome, but never as brutal as here, but it did come close.

It all builds to a fantastic fifth and final episode that still has a lot of filler, but in my mind has three very interesting if not incredible moments or scenes.

Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) plays Reed Smith, a motorcycle-riding pathologist who assists Stella in the crime scenes as well as with her profile of the killer. Stella is a brilliant profiler but she's not the best people-person. When they go to a hospital to get some important information, Stella fails to get her way and it takes Reed being extremely more diplomatic to get it, and it's a great character moment for both women.

The other two incredible scenes include Paul having to answer to his wife Sally, played by Bronagh Waugh (Hollyoaks), who knows he's lying and up to something devious. The third is Paul having to hear Stella deconstruct him very accurately. It happens toward the end of the fifth episode and it's a four-minute conversation that is extremely well-written and acted by both Anderson and Dornan.

The problem is that this series comes in the wake of so many TV programs about serial killers or people who hunt serial killers. Most recently, there's The Following, Hannibal, Dexter and Criminal Minds, to name a few. The difference between those shows and The Fall is the pacing and flashiness. The Fall is slower and less sensational.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for 18 and Up.
Running Time: 300 mins (5 parts)


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