The Fall episode 1 review: Dark Descent

Review Louisa Mellor 13 May 2013 - 22:00

Has BBC2 crime drama The Fall starring Gillian Anderson reinvigorated the serial killer genre? Er, no. Here's Louisa's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Dark Descent

What kind of psychology can maintain a successful existence in the ordinary world and a secret life as a woman strangler? Five-part crime drama The Fall wants to tell us, which is a pity because judging by its first episode, it doesn’t have the first effing clue.

Jamie Dornan plays Paul Spector, loving father, husband, and grief counsellor by day; murderous knicker-sniffing bastard by night. The Fall is proud as punch of the irony therein. Here’s Spector kissing his sweet daughter good night, now here he is strangling a woman to death. Do you see? He’s both of those things. A loving dad/psycho killer/fond hubby/pervert predator. How’s that for complex characterisation?

It’s the same logic that must think The Fall’s misogyny slate (sexy, naked, female corpses abound in episode one) has been wiped clean by sticking Gillian Anderson in a suit and having her boss everyone about. By now, you’ve probably read as many columns complaining about crime TV’s fetish approach to hot dead girls as you’ve seen nude victims arrayed like odalisques at murder scenes, but we’ll stop writing ‘em when telly stops making eyes at the cadavers. The Fall’s camera - and it’s by no means the only culprit of this - travels over its pics of previous murder victims like a poor-taste Vogue fashion shoot. Gagged, throttled, and stuffed in a cupboard; it’s the new Derelicte.

The twist of showing Spector loping between night-time stalking liaisons and Kids Say The Funniest Things-style encounters with his rugrats isn’t quite as fascinating or menacing as The Fall would have you believe. Chiefly because whether at home, at work, or with his hands wrapped around the neck of a victim, The Fall's villain just isn't that interesting. TV serial killers can be a number of things: disgusting, charismatic, genius, seductive even… but rarely dull. Paul Spector though? Talk about the banality of evil.

If episodes two to five go on to expand on Spector’s pathology in subtle, illuminating ways that unfurl past this week’s Fisher Price grasp of dramatic irony, then I’ll gladly print out this review and swallow it. If his character evolves beyond being the hair-twirling tween of serial killers, doodling dreamy pictures of his victims in a special scrapbook and scribbling ‘I heart strangling ladies’ around the margins of his homework, I’ll print and eat it twice.

Anderson, incidentally, is great as the cougar-y DSI Stella Gibson, and by far the best thing about The Fall so far. Eating burgers the size of a toddler’s face, drinking goldfish bowls of wine, and telling nosy-parker journos to fuck off… she’s a delight. The shame is that her character is surrounded by morons, from her immediate superior, to her underlings, to her Strangle-Dad antagonist. Why fly a Detective Superintendent over to perform a 28-day review then ignore her first lead only to - in the inimitable words of The Fall’s script – “let linkage blindness let the killer kill again”? Crime in Belfast is politicised, we’re told early on. Not this one it isn’t, unless Gibson’s poised to uncover a tangled cop conspiracy that goes all the way to the… apologies, I dozed off for a moment there.

The script’s levity also feels poorly judged in a drama about a murderer who stalks and kills women. Gallows humour is one thing, but tacky LOL moments about sex toys, cats, and concealing hand-drawn titty cartoons of Spector’s counselling patients from their thuggish husbands are quite another. Perhaps it wasn’t the same in your living room, but at the screening I attended there were splutters of laughter throughout. Ha! That peppy babysitter is all but running at that strangler neck-first, they seemed to say. Just wait until she finds out what he really is! Ditto the crass combination of the comedy police tag-team lightly shrugging off the absence of a stalkee at her home address when she's really upstairs having the life squeezed out of her.

Much of the script shares the same shallow delight in its trick. Aside from the inelegance of the likes of “I’ve done things, bad things, in the past, really bad things” and unlikelihood of a boozy chat between colleagues taking in a treatise on desire, need, and the gender politics of remote Chinese tribespeople, there’s the brick-subtle irony of Spector’s wife playfully calling him a horrible man (he is one!), and him telling a pal caught out visiting a lap dancing club that he “should have destroyed the evidence” (like he does! With his murders!). At one point Spector thuddingly remarks, “No one knows what’s going on in someone else’s mind, and life would be intolerable if they did”. It’d be a damned sight more tolerable than this, for a start.

Credit where it’s due, the direction had a good few tricks up its sleeve, not least a stylish, fluent overhead shot travelling omnisciently over the Spectors' first floor. Anderson’s character too, despite swimming being her major personality trait at this early stage, has a ton of potential. Appreciating we’re only a fifth of the way through, the pity is that The Fall thinks by revealing its killer from the off, it’s reinvigorating the genre, when all it’s done is undo the valves and let the tension guff out.

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God it was awful - banal, boring, and shockingly badly acted - Ms Anderson couldn't act her way out of a paper bag - gave up before the end it was sooooo boring and annoying

It was great, cant wait for next week

Totally disagree with this review. One of the best things I've seen on tv. This is episode one of five so lets not overly slice and dice so early in the game. So we don't see everyone's back story up front.... Thank god.... It's no the X factor. The "laugh out moment" you're referring to simply did not exist. There was a genuine creepiness about the whole setting which was brilliantly paced. Maybe a pace that goes over some people's head who are more interested in having everything shoved in heir face which is disappointing if so but plenty there to enjoy for the rest of us.

Couldn't disagree more. Tense, slow burning, gripping, and genuinely creepy. Also fantastic to see drama set in Belfast without religious division and terrorism at its core.

Brilliant, dark, creepy and moody, well paced and acted.

Totally disagree with this review. Were you even watching the same drama? it was compelling, twisted and disturbing and offered a fresh approach to the genre. Liked how the lives of Stella and Paul were interwoven throughout and all the cast gave first rate performances. From what I've read of other reviews from some of the national press, your reviewer is in the minority.

I couldn't possibly disagree more even if I wanted to. In my humble opinion, the first episode of the Fall was exceptional. The characters were very interesting and expertly portrayed. Jamie Dornan draws you into the character's psychosis and makes you need to know, what is it that makes him so perverse? Gillian Anderson is simply scintillating. What fascinated me most about her performance was how you could understand all the thoughts that raced through her character's mind by her expressions alone, amazing. What else could a viewer need? I am already starving for more :)

Couldn't act her way out of a paper bag? Someone didn't watch the episode, did they? Nor must you have watched Great Expectations; what with her giving the best portrayal of Ms Havisham that I've ever seen.

'strangle-dad antagonist'? I might be missing something here but isn't the whole point of portraying both main characters side by side meant to blur the line between antagonism and protagonism? Especially when both character's begin to share the same traits (eg. both compulsively adding notes to their journals in insomnia).

I don't know when I'll be able to see this, but I'm looking forward to it because of Gillian Anderson.

So I hope you're mostly wrong in this tastily written review. Though it still may be watchable for my beloved Agent Scully in what sounds very much like "Bad Scully" mode.

Wasn't there another recent British mystery in which the perpetrator was, if not formally revealed, essentially spotlit very early on?

Is this some new approach to the genre?

I'm curious as to how showing corpses of naked women is misogyny? If corpses of naked men were depicted, would that be misandry?

The only thing that slightly annoyed me about the episode, because I do totally disagree with this review, was when Gillian Anderson's character asks the bumbling pair of lower rank officers (who did have me screaming at the TV at how inept they were - I was a copper once), to stop at a crime scene where she went to speak to a DS and told him what hotel she was in and what room number etc....I would certainly think she had more pressing issues.

Also, she was brought over on the request of senior PSNI officers, the guy who was in In The Name of the Father, is her senior officer so she could tell him anything and he doesn't have to take it. However, you only bring an officer from an outside force in, if all leads had dried up and you need a fresh pair of eyes on the case, so he should have given her more time to justify her findings rather than having her there squeezing her own wrist, like that would ever stand up in Court

You missed the point about *how* they were displayed.

I really can't disagree with you more generally (though I agree Anderson was the best thing about the show).
Doesn't feel like we were watching the same show. Good slow build, slight twisted and disturb. Good BBC drama - nice to see a lack of rushing through the story to please the ADHD generation.
Really enjoyable.

It's a sexually motivated serial killer. The bodies are displayed in post how dead bodies would be examined, There is no difference here to any other show of the genre. However going by pretty much every other review of the show everywhere no one agrees with this review.

Oh dear me... DoG is losing it's touch. You had the bunting up for the 'realism' of Broadchurch but are found begging for your serial killer to be a bit more of a nutbar... or some American Psycho cut-out.

You can keep your soggy, sloppy-scripted seaside murder and give me The Fall any day. This is as much a 'Serial Killer procedural' as it is a cop show. Breath in... know what that is? It's fresh air...

To be fair to the reviewer, I heartily agree. As a male, I am tired of the repeated 'violence against women as entertainment' trope. The arty direction and cinematography cannot cover this up, as hard as it may try. I am left depending on Gillian Anderson's judgement of a script for the remainder...

Not to mention Bleak House, House of Mirth, and of course the X-Files (she's waaay better than Duchovny)

I don't know what show this reviewer watched. The one I watched was a tense, compelling thriller.
I love the idea of knowing who the killer is and seeing his life because usually it's relatively easy to guess who the killer is and who the red herrings are.

Solid performances with a good script and imaginative direction and camera work.

I fell in love with Anderson's character when she had that little chat with the journalist in the hotel bar. The show left me dying to know what happens next week. More please!

To be brutally honest I agree with most of this review, I found the first episode really quite boring, I'll give ep 2 a try simply because I like Gillian Anderson but I really don't hold out much hope of it being anywhere near as good as Broadchurch, after all where is the Drama, we know who the murderer is....

Why-dunnits vs. Who-dunnits.

As a Belfast-man its good to see the city on TV and refreshing to see the balaclava on a psycho rather than a terrorist... we really must be at peace now that we're getting the same villans as everyone else.

Thought the writing was a bit schlocky in places and the PSNI being portrayed as inept was chucklesome but its slightly irritating for the program to have to use the plot-device of an English detective being sent over here to sort out our problems. We've had quite enough of that in the past with varying levels of success. You have to understand that a lot of the normal (not mental) people over here are still very insulted about the whole Team GB and not Team UK thing during the olympics - as if using UK would have in some way diluted the Englishness of the team.

Will give the show one more episode.

Fascinating cultural dynamics.

just managed to watch this, I completely disagree with the reviewer and will be watching all the episodes..I also realised where half the cast of Hollyoakes have gone !!!!

It is misogony because they're trying to make murder look sexy -see episode 2 where they even cross-cut between the murder happening and GA having sex- I totally agree with the reviewer. This series is crossing the line...

er ... no that's not what they were trying to do, if that's what you think then you kinda missed the point - it was a narrative counterbeat that's been part of visual story telling for decades. And if you think this series is crossing a line given how tame it is, I'd really avoid any crime fiction or even factual accounts of serial killers and serial killings.

Oddly I found it difficult to fault this review's points and yet 'enjoyed' (if that is the right word?) The Fall. Having spent a minute thinking about this I concluded that it was probably because I am a mysogonystic caveman.

I turned off soon after watching the lead protagonist, an experienced female officer brought into a politically-charged (and still largely sexist) work environment, openly pick up a fellow officer, a complete stranger, for a one-night stand without any thought of consequence. Not that women aren't free to be as sexually promiscuous as men, but realistically a woman in Gibson's position would know better than to do that. It felt so much like the writer had written the character as a male and just found/replaced all the pronouns in the script.

Who in their right mind would call Gillian Anderson a "delight" in this role?

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