On paper, new British drama, The Fall appears to have found a desperately wanting audience. It boasts the best ratings of a BBC Two drama in recent memory, stars award winning actors from around the globe, including Gillian Anderson and manages to be set in Belfast without being ostentatiously about the Troubles. And, in many ways, The Fall does live up to the hype because no one take anything that has just been mentioned away the studio or the programme and they should be very proud of what they have accomplished in their first run. However, in many other ways, the show falls flat.
Gillian Anderson, as good an actress as she might be, is playing an extremely boring character. Her two main characteristics seem to be that she knows how to catch killers and that she’s a strong woman. That strong woman characteristic comes up time and time again, with her staring down superiors, calming out other superiors in the face of violence and having casual sex. The writers seem to enjoy having her character, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, rub her promiscuity in the faces of others. Not literally, because that would be weird, but she actually does say to one officer that if she was a man that she would be applauded. It is at that point which the show crosses from strong woman into something more like a feminist tract.
Perhaps the writer or director has personal grievances with this issue, and while it’s true that in the year 2013 not all gender politics are entirely equal, but the existence of feminism in the show doesn’t actually elevate the character or the storyline. The character is in no way stronger for having casual sex and it has little bearing on the main story of catching the killer. In the real police force there are many women in the service, and many that hold high level positions and they are strong women without necessarily being casually active sexually. It is disappointing that they had the opportunity to create a truly strong female character and opted instead to make her a walking feminist protest, shaming any viewer who disagrees. I don’t think this is Gillian Anderson’s fault either. She was certainly better in The X-Files where she was equally as strong without being half as brazen about it. Perhaps it helped for her to have another character like David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder to bounce off of but in this series that might be considered weak.
Rather than invest time in a characteristic that does little to progress the story, more time should have been devoted to her history of catching another killer. So far it seems to have come up twice; once when she is introduced and a second time when she is asked about interviewing the killer, at which point she admits that she didn’t actually sit in on the interviews. Compare Stella Gibson with Ryan Hardy, Kevin Bacon’s character from U.S. crime drama The Following. The Following had its own fair share of flaws but if nothing else it did a superb job of establishing that Hardy knew what he was talking about. He had written a book about the capture, he demanded to be in interviews, he had a drinking and heart problem because of the job and even though he was no longer FBI, he was brought in simply to consult because they needed his expertise. Conversely, Gibson is brought in to review the case file of a victim and the superior officer immediately shoots her down. Uh, what is the point of bringing her in and then not listening to her? That would have been the perfect moment to demonstrate that she is a strong female character and develop her back story by having her persuade him because of something that happened from her last case. Instead, she goes off and has casual sex with another officer.
She isn’t the only character that disappoints though. The lesbian police officer and the pathologist both feel as though they are only there to support Gibson but Jamie Dornan’s Paul Spector fails to be an interesting killer. This is no criticism of Doran, because his performance is sufficiently creepy and intense but rather the story treats him as an elusive killer but shows us evidence to the contrary instead. Aside from being handsome, there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes him different. Gibson gives a generic profile of a killer based off the three current murder cases that somehow manages to be spot on. That scene didn’t help either Gibson or Spector because it seems like she pulled that profile out of her ass and he is made less special by it. Furthermore, his history is barely referred to either. I understand that Gibson shouldn’t know his motivations but part of the reason for showing the killer’s perspective is to allow the viewer to get into his head. It isn’t meant to be a fun way of showing the viewer all the dark and strange things he does. If the killer isn’t going to be developed in some way because of what the audience sees then they may as well not show the killer’s point of view at all.
Aside from the main plot of the killer, there are a few sub plots, one regarding a drug and prostitution ring and the other concerning the death of the man Gibson slept with. Neither of these two storylines appears to have much relevance beyond padding out episodes and showing that the police do have other things to take care of besides catching serial murderers. Maybe the drug and prostitution gig will have more importance in the second season but neither looks like it will have much influence on the main storyline. Another missed opportunity, as Gibson could have been suspended for her actions, creating more tension for the finale as she hunts the killer without the support of the police force.
Deeply dark and horrifyingly intense at times, The Fall has shaken off all comparisons to Broadchurch and The Killing within the first four episodes. With only one episode left in its current run, The Fall seems satisfied to tell the story that it wants to tell, regardless of entertaining it is or how difficult the viewer finds the subject matter. And yet, while it is good, there is something missing; something which will keep it from being as pervasive as The Killing was. However, with a little poise and control and a tighter script, the second season could be great.