'The Fall' Is an Audacious Police Procedural

Programs like BBC Two’s The Fall should be commended for doing everything “wrong” in terms of pleasing the demands of commercial television.

The Fall

Distributor: Acorn
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, John Lynch, Ben Peel
Network: BBC Two
Release date: 2013-10-15

Police procedurals are a dime a dozen and throughout the years have become one of the most popular television genres. But for every great one there are at least a dozen others that come and go, leaving no mark behind. In recent years, standalone police procedurals like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spawns have become an easy ploy unleashed by studios that relish audiences’ attention deficit disorders (who has time to follow plotlines across several episodes?) but have little to contribute in terms of creativity or value outside of entertainment. Therefore, programs like BBC Two’s The Fall should be commended for doing everything “wrong” in terms of pleasing the demands of commercial television.

Set in Northern Ireland, the series follows the case of several connected murders being investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland who, when unable to solve the case, recur to the assistance of London’s Metropolitan Police who send Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) to the rescue. In a different show, the issues of gender and country would’ve been the most important matters at play, but in The Fall they are treated in a much more subtle way seeing how Gibson is quite the force to be reckoned with. Seemingly unable to feel or to show any emotion (other than determination) Stella faces a murderer who might just have more in common with her than she ever thought.

Almost immediately, the series gives away who the killer is and in this case it’s Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) an athletic family man who works as a counsellor and murders young professional women by night. We follow his ritualistic behavior as he exercises, then dresses as if going on an expedition, and then stages complex murder scenes which sometimes have him wash the corpse and paint their fingernails. He seems to be playing dolls with the women he kills, and the show is spooky because we have no way of determining how this man also seems to care about similar people in his professional life (Paul is even threatened by the husband of one of his clients). Like the woman trying to catch him, Paul is able to compartmentalize emotions in a disturbing manner which often allows him to display signs of humanity we aren’t used to associating with murderers.

It’s this dichotomy between good and evil and right and wrong, that makes The Fall so addictive to watch (the first season is only five episodes long). Instead of relying on plot twists, writer Allan Cubitt worried about creating characters that would be fascinating to watch even if they weren’t police detectives and murderers. With every line of dialogue thought out to complete a piece of the puzzle in revealing who these people are, Cubitt and director Jakob Verbruggen build a moody piece in which after a while we don’t really worry too much about whether will the case be solved or not (something that haunted recent show The Killing in the opposite way).

Anderson is a pleasure to watch, turning in perhaps her best performance to date. She plays Stella like the ultimate pragmatic, a woman so practical and emotionless we feel almost afraid to want to get to know her. Her character deals with gender issues in ways police procedurals rarely do, “man fucks woman: subject man, verb fucks, object woman” she explains, before turning the table on one of her male colleagues “woman fucks man, woman subject, man object, that’s not so comfortable for you is it?” she asks defiantly.

Stella isn't worried about teaching through example, she has established an equal role for herself without asking for anyone’s permission. Because we aren't sure of her motivations (is she striving to build a strong career, does she get pleasure out of her steely behavior?) we see how like the murderer she is. “Do you have any idea of the effect you have on men” asks Assistant Chief Jim Burns (John Lynch) and the truth is she knows, she just doesn't care.

The Fall also does something extraordinary in the way it depicts Paul. The camera seems obsessed with capturing his beauty, the muscular Dornan (a model who will becomes even more sexualized now that he’s been cast as the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey) works out in front of us and has more shirtless scenes than you can count. When Stella gets a first glimpse of a sketch of someone who looks like Paul she says “Even a multiple murderer can have his share of good qualities or a pretty face."

While Clarice Starling fell for Dr. Lecter, we know she wasn’t in it for the sex appeal. The Fall’s intention of revealing the dangerous connection between sex and death isn’t only audacious, but also endlessly seductive.

The only extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.