BBC Two’s Northern Irish crime drama, The Fall is now two weeks deep into the second season. When we last left Belfast, Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson had failed to catch the woman killer, Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan. Spector himself had made some mistakes, having failed to kill one of his victims. That and a former girlfriend who knew him under a pseudonym gave the police an accurate and detailed description. Under those circumstances, what would you do? Spector runs to Scotland. That doesn’t quite seem far enough but, as the second season begins, he’s on his way back to Belfast.
Returning to the scene of the crime, or in this case the country of the crime, is always the stupidest move a killer can make. On the one hand, it is easy to understand why. Spector returns to wrap up loose ends, such as the ex-girlfriend, and deal with a teenaged admirer. That and he had a daughter whom he cares about. While the series creator believes that Spector is incapable of love, Dornan disagrees and the argument could go either way. In general, he seems to have a soft spot for children to point where he will pal around with the kids of his victims, even at the sacrifice of his own survival. To the surprise of no one, the child tells the police.
The series seems to be clearly winding towards Spector’s capture or death. They’re on his trail and closer than ever, it is just a matter of whether or not he is willing to go quietly. I would guess not but I was surprised that Spector evaded capture in the first season. What bothers me is that Stella will probably get the credit for his capture when Spector’s own actions have really led to his defeat. I get that calling the police with the kidnapped woman’s phone is a display of power, a psychological presentation of his control over the situation, but expecting the kidnapped woman’s daughter to kindly keep her mouth shut is just sloppy.
I still haven’t warmed to DCI Stella Gibson’s character yet. The character is not quite as sexually active as she was in the first season, although that might have something to do with her one night stand buddy being dead, but she still strikes me as boring. Between Stella and Spector, there’s no real emotion to story, outside of grieving victims and their families. Stella is just as cold to the world as Spector, and even he has the characteristic of being nice to kids. Even when Stella was being promiscuous, she approached it with the same systematic mentality that she does police work. She is depicted at times as more sociopathic that the killer. If the show came to an end and she tore off her face to reveal a robot underneath I would not be surprised in the least.
Some people will say that DCI Stella Gibson is just a strong female character. That’s fine but they really don’t need to try so hard. Trying too hard is generally better than not trying hard enough. At least when trying too hard there is a visible display of effort. But when it comes to storytelling, focusing too much on one area can cause other aspects to suffer. It is a common criticism of fan fiction, where fans either write their favourite characters or original creations in a way that makes them look superior to characters that the writer does like. This is not simply a case of a character being written as more competent. Areas in which a character was skilled are taken away and the fan favourites are written to be more talented, better looking and a superior person in very well.
This tends to happen less in published works of fiction and television shows because those writers have matured enough to know how to balance characters. Every character is a person, with all the inherent flaws and shortcomings that come with that but they’re also talented in their own way too. Yet, it still happens but more so in the way that Stella is portrayed in The Fall. The writers are directing all of their focus on to making a character appear to be a certain way that it actually makes them less of a person. They become a caricature of what they were intended to represent.
In fiction nowadays there seems to be an ideal of what a strong woman is and it’s just as limiting to gender equality as the false perception of women as weak willed and docile from years past. Consider Friends. Friends and The Fall have very little in common but Friends had three very clear, strong women characters all with their own strengths and weaknesses. No one could ever have called them emotionless and yet they had careers, Sometimes they were silly, sometimes they were serious, sometimes they were the butt of the joke and sometimes they were creating the laughs. They were equal to the male characters but beyond that they were strong, well rounded characters. Strong, well rounded characters that just so happened to be female.
There is a difference between displaying emotions and being a slave to your emotions. Women were once considered to be the latter by society but The Fall displays a turn to the opposite extreme. The only female characters who display emotion in the show are the female victims. The main female characters are much more reserved and restrained with their feelings. It isn’t an accurate portrait of real life and results in rather flat, two dimensional characters. It has some similarities to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In it, a female sociopath aided in the capture of a sadistic woman killer. The difference is that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had Mikhail Blomkvist who acted as the emotional centre of the novel and films.
There’s still a level of depth that is missing. Stella is dull, as mentioned above, while Spector’s actions are basically explained by way of him wanting control. But that’s not a very informative answer. Despite watching seven episodes of police tracking this killer I still feel like I don’t know any more than I knew from the first episode. I mean, other than that he has a family and likes tying women up and strangling them in his spare time. It might be good practice for Fifty Shades of Grey but it makes for very shallow viewing. It’s dark for the sake of darkness. The Fall is one of the better original dramas on British television but it is still a far throw from greatness.