Now, this was a true binge: I watched The Fall in its entirety in 24 hours. In my defense, only 11 episodes of it exist, and it’s very addictive. The suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the excellent performances keep you coming back for more. But it still might be a record, even for me, and I’m unsure if that’s something to be proud of.
What’s interesting about The Fall, a BBC series set in Ireland and available on Netflix in the US, is that despite being a crime thriller, there’s not much actual mystery regarding what is going on. You find out within the very first moments of the show that Jamie Dornan’s character, Paul Spector, is a serial killer. At least, by night—by day he is a married father of two who works (rather ironically) as a grief counselor. Gillian Anderson plays Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who is brought to Belfast, Ireland to investigate the murders committed by Spector. For most of the first season, Gibson and her team do not know Spector is the killer, or even that he exists. The audience is put in the unique position of knowing more than basically all of the characters, which is entertaining and frustrating all at once.
For two characters who have barely interacted throughout the series thus far, the cat-and-mouse game between Spector and Gibson is thrilling to watch, largely because of the fantastic performances of Anderson and Dornan. You realize pretty quickly that Stella Gibson is not your typical heroine, which is one of my favorite things about the show. She’s bisexual and unapologetically enjoys casual sex, which quickly gets her into trouble when a one-night stand ends up assassinated as part of an ongoing B-story early on in her stay in Belfast. She comes off as cold and intimidating, characteristics so often reserved for male protagonists. We know relatively little about her past, and she seems eager to keep it that way. But she has spot-on instincts (most of the time) and is very good at her job, which she happily allows to consume her entire life. It’s still rare to see a career-focused, somewhat detached, sexual woman as a protagonist, and Anderson is perfectly cast.
Dornan, meanwhile, is so terrifying and creepy as Spector that it makes Christian Grey look like Mr. Rogers. Watching him interact with his oblivious family makes your skin crawl, as does a disturbing subplot involving a 15-year-old babysitter with whom he develops a mutual infatuation. Spector is a bit more of an impulsive killer than, say, Dexter Morgan of the early seasons. He’s new at this when the series begins, never seems very meticulous in planning his kills, and frequently makes mistakes, which sometimes makes you wonder if it’s entirely plausible that he evades capture for so long. The number of shirtless scenes Dornan has also made me feel a bit uncomfortable and confused by the sexualization of a serial murderer who preys on young women, but I guess if your star’s got it (and Dornan certainly does), flaunt it.
The plot is not without its logic problems, particularly in season 2. It seems creator Allan Cubitt, who has written all 11 episodes so far and also directed all of season 2, perhaps regretted moving the plot along so quickly in the first season, and when things slow down at the expense of common sense it is a bit frustrating. Spoilers to follow— I am referring to the decision Gibson and her team make to allow Spector to remain free, even once they have definitive proof he is the serial killer they seek, in hopes he will lead them to a woman they suspect he has kidnapped who may still be alive. While this logic is understandable to a point, it quickly becomes unbelievable considering the tremendous risk they are willingly taking (and, ultimately, how spectacularly it backfires). It clearly seemed to be the result of regretting revealing Spector’s identity to the police by the end of season one, and being unsure of how to course-correct without completely changing the show from a suspenseful chase into whatever comes after that.
End spoilers. The twists and turns still come frequently enough, however, that any moments of yelling at the TV in frustration quickly pass. Many fans were exasperated with the end of the second season, calling it a cop-out. I am reserving judgement until I see how the resolution of the episode’s events is handled in the recently announced upcoming third season. Hopefully the show will embrace the fact that it can’t be about the pursuit forever and choose to rely on the strength of its unique characters to remain engaging.