Is there really anything on television that is more excruciatingly tense, chilling and just down-right exciting as BBC Two’s crime thriller The Fall?
DS Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) pursues misogynistic serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), but this is no regular whodunit. Right from the off, the audience know who the killer is. Cue some of the most utterly compelling, chilling and thrilling television to be seen on the BBC for some time.
The Fall sizzles and crackles with a dark, moody atmosphere. There are no laughs, or even smiles, to be had. The setting of Belfast is like a character itself; brooding, mysterious and dangerous. Its sombre and sober colour palette, along with its excellent minimal soundtrack, mirrors the (to understate) unsavoury behaviour that is explored in the drama.
It’s also quite nice to see a BBC drama set outside mainland UK, where there are some fine performances from regional actors. Anderson is mesmerising and quite brilliant in her role as DS Gibson, who exudes-sexual confidence (as we see from the ‘policeman one night stand’ scene) and a certain coldness which makes her quite the enigma.
But the casting of former Calvin Klein underwear model Jamie Dornan as a serial killer has clearly been a decision of genius. Dornan can play both menacing and loving father at the same time, his performance gnawing and gnashing up every last morsel of the screen. The Fall allows scenes dedicated to showing Spector (Dornan) playing with his children and dealing with routine family tasks, such as preparing a packed lunch. Only then The Fall “lays the smackdown” and has Spector stalk and then strangle a young woman to death IN THE SAME EPISODE. The shocking contrast between these two worlds Spector lives in is grindingly unnerving.
But here is that magic of The Fall: although his crimes are graphic and wrong, I don’t find myself taking a dislike to Spector, and this unnerves me. After the drama closes, I find myself in burning turmoil questioning “WHY DON’T I HATE HIM? WHY?” That’s not to say I like him, but I believe The Fall purposefully makes him not wholly dislikeable on purpose. For example, writer Allan Cubitt throws in sub-plots such as when Spector saves a woman from her abusive husband, perhaps to show Spector in some perverse ‘grey-area’.
Still even more chilling are the bold comparisons the drama makes between Spector and Gibson. Both are ruthless, controlling, dominating and very sexual characters. This comparison was boldly drawn during the tense telephone call the pair share in the final episode. When Spector sees Gibson on television, and later in person, he seems enthralled by her. This posed an interesting premise: could the pair eventually fall into bed together? After all, Gibson doesn’t know what Spector really looks like. Could Gibson’s sexual appetite lead to her downfall as another of Spector’s victims? Who knows. A second season has been commissioned, and we will all just have to find something else to do on a Monday night until then. The wait for The Fall’s return will be a long one.