TV Review: The Fall

the fall tv review The Fall proved to be one of the most successful British crime-dramas in many years. It attracted huge viewing figures and left UK viewers feeling just that little bit proud of themselves. You could almost hear the nation sigh in relief, €˜We did it. Finally. A clever, psychological thriller without a Scandinavian woolly jumper or a HBO sticker in sight€™. The Fall certainly was compelling. The series is set in Northern Ireland and follows an investigation into a spate of recent murders involving young professional women. With the case stalling, outsider Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame) is called in for help. She makes various breakthroughs but can not prevent Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), the psychopathic villain of The Fall, from killing again. The series finishes with Spector and Gibson finally making contact with each other, albeit only via an untraceable phone call. Spector assures Gibson that he will not kill again and that he€™s gotten away with it. Gibson assures him of the reverse. The mouse is leaving town. The cat continues to prowl. The Fall has certainly earned its plaudits. At times captivating, it was rarely less than atmospheric, intense, and dark. It was generally well-acted, and, refreshingly, there was a certain plausibility to the nature of and motives behind the killings. But couldn€™t The Fall have been so much more? Take, for instance, the €˜cliffhanger€™ ending. There are so many unanswered questions at the end of Series One that I feel short-changed rather than hungry with anticipation for the next series. What€™s more, the open-ended conclusion feels like the result of the script€™s shortcomings; an expedient, rather than dramatic, break between series. For those who don€™t know (spoiler alert!), The Fall concluded with news that Spector€™s latest victim had recovered from a coma. Presumably her testimony will be used against Spector in Series 2. You may be asking why exactly this is a cliffhanger? I agree, it€™s not. The key to a great cliffhanger is dramatic tension. The stakes should be at their highest and the pace furious. It should have us gasping for air. They are almost always based upon the protagonist€™s and antagonist€™s own actions. They are at the summit of conflict and they thrust the story into a new direction. Not so here. The botched killing, the telephone call between cop and killer, the escaping Spector- it all feels much more like a mid-series turning point than a climax, even less a cliffhanger. But then again, with The Fall, everything feels a bit passive; whimsical even. For example, we do not see the waking up of the victim. Rather it is reported to Superintendent Gibson and we only glimpse her reactions to the news (typically calm and icy). Remember, we have been building up all series to this first conversation of cat and mouse; killer and cop. This is it, it€™s finally arrived, and it€™s€..anti-climactic. A few threats thrown about and a strange procession of accusations from Gibson about Spector€™s make-up. And this lack of dramatic nourishment at The Fall€™s conclusion leads me to criticism number two; why only 5 episodes? There simply wasn€™t enough air time for this slow-paced, psychological thriller to fully mature. At no point did it feel as though the net had truly closed around Spector until the final episode-which still left plenty of leeway for Spector€™s escape. The pacing of The Fall was reminiscent of The Killing, but unlike the 20 episodes we got with the Swedish masterpiece, 5 just wasn€™t enough to develop the juices in The Fall. And this is where my real beef with The Fall begins; criticism number three. What are those pathetic subplots all about? If 5 episodes feels on the short side to sustain a whole series of this calibre, why would you waste precious time on a subplot which goes nowhere? And make no mistake, the chief subplots in The Fall were utterly wasted. For, aside from the excellent archplot of the serial murders, there lay an entirely purposeless parallel story of drugs and police conspiracy. These distracting sideshows were largely revealed through Detective Olson€™s death and his widow€™s alleged adultery, as well as the slightly-less-dull triangle of the Monroe/Olson/Breedlove corruption subplot. Quite simply, these were cul-de-sacs that had no place in this otherwise excellent police drama. The only thing these subplots achieved is that they showed (or rather told of ) a Northern Irish police force dominated by men and money. If this was meant to add to the story of Gibson€™s courage and poise in walking into this hardened world, it did not. Was that it€™s purpose? To show that Gibson worked within a hostile, corrupt environment? If so, Gibson had an almost free hand to tackle the Spector case anyway and the news of Olson€™s death didn€™t really impact on her capacity to chase Spector. As well as over-complicating the simplicity of the cat-and-mouse archplot, these subplots stole airtime. They detract from the psychological profiling of both Gibson and Spector, who really deserved all the screen time. There were only two reasons we watched The Fall. Number one; Anderson€™s portrayal of Gibson as the frosty, sexual and successful women and Dornan as the irrepressible, demonic Spector. The Fall€™s true atmosphere is all in the early morning swimming pool laps and the balaclavas unwrapped before a gagging victim. Why, then, was there a rich German businessman who gave a prostitute a bloody nose all for the sake of showing a bit more blood? No, the subplots in the Fall were entirely wasted and prevents the Fall from become a hallowed crime series in the mould of The Killing.
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David Hynes is a freelance writer, working in print, online, on stage and for screen. A film and book enthusiast, he has just finished his first novel.