The Fall s3 ep 6

Spoilers, insofar as anything happened which is worth spoiling. Your mileage may vary.

And so we’re back with one of my recurring themes, British Dramas Which Run Out Of Steam. Season 1 of The Fall was genuinely sharp and disturbing, even if its sexual politics were unashamedly informed by the philosophy of both having and eating cake. Season 2 wasn’t anything like as good, but at least met the benchmark of being a standard procedural.

Season 3, though, was remarkable for how little happened, even by the standards of UK television drama. Whole episodes blew by like driftweed, with almost nothing going on, apart from Stella whispering and Paul – a dangerous sexual predator and multiple killer, remember – being shunted around a number of remarkably low-security institutions, while the show tried to make us care about whether he was feigning amnesia. (Although at least once he was moved to that somewhat laissez-faire psychiatric facility he was no longer in the same hospital ward as his last victim.)

Even worse, The Fall made the Broadchurch mistake of critiquing the dramatic devices used in the unorthodox investigation which had been the whole point of its preceding episodes. So the scene near the end of the second season, in which Stella and Paul finally sat down together for the long-awaited interrogation, wasn’t The Fall’s money shot, but was instead a highly irregular method of coercing/seducing a confession out of a suspect. Well, yeah. That’s what TV police dramas do. They’re not documentaries. Seriously, I’m not that stupid, and I rather resent being treated as if I am.

As it happens, the very best things in season 3 – by a mile – were Richard Coyle’s delectable cameos as an ER doctor, and the very best scene was the one in this final episode in which he and Gillian Anderson fenced gently as she lay in a hospital bed. Coyle improves shows just by being in them; even he couldn’t save this, though. What we got wasn’t anything like enough to fill six episodes: possible amnesia, definite child abuse, some whispering; and, after five episodes, two outbreaks – because the first one wasn’t enough of a warning that security might need to be, uh, enhanced a bit – of Spectoresque violence. We can now all stop pretending that The Fall is exceptional TV drama. It really isn’t.

Public Service Announcement 26 of 2016: The Fall, Luke Cage

The superb Gillian Anderson returns tonight as DSI Stella Gibson in The Fall, in which serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) has so far spent a couple of seasons finding inventive ways to humiliate, terrorise, and kill women. I’m a little wary of saying too much more about that topic, because (a) privilege and (b) I’m well aware that I’m open to unanswerable accusations of hypocrisy: I’ve watched plenty of shows in the past which women are violated in imaginative and gruesome ways, I no doubt will in the future, and in all honesty for as long as that continues to be the stock-in-trade of procedurals I don’t plan to stop any time soon. I’d quite like shows to at least own it, though; and I’m still a little vexed at the furious reaction in America to Stalker – a humble network show, of course – compared to the praise lavished on this and True Detective, which are British and/or cable shows, and therefore classier, even if their sexual politics are utterly reprehensible.

Anyway, The Fall, if it ever did, is definitely no longer getting a free pass, although it might be that with Spector lying in a hospital bed after the events of the final episode of season 2 the show will need to shift focus in any event. Moreover, as that second season was generally regarded – not just on Unpopcult – as falling well short of the first, The Fall has something to prove. Planning to watch; not planning to review (tonight, BBC Two, 9pm).

Netflix’s latest Marvel adaptation, Luke Cage, will be made available tomorrow. Cage was a character in (also Netflix’s) Jessica Jones, which was apparently very good but I didn’t watch it, because I’ve decided that comic book adaptations, like reality TV, might be for a lot of people but they aren’t for me. It follows that I’m unlikely to bother with this show either, although it too is supposed to be good. The USP for Unpopcult is, of course, that Cage is played by Mike Colter, who was the beautiful but unbelievably chilling Lemond Bishop in The Good Wife (all episodes on Netflix, Friday 30 September).

The Fall s2 ep 6

A feature length episode to finish the season, but without enough material to fill it. We start with Spector’s burnt-out car, which leads the detectives to a house where Rose might be. Needless to say she’s not there, because it’s the first few minutes of the final episode, so we won’t see her until the end, alive or dead. The time when The Fall might have done something imaginative or unexpected is long past, unfortunately.

And then we’re back to the interviews. Sally Ann is, the cops eventually concede, “stupid and incurious, but innocent”. She promptly miscarries. Katie, a schoolgirl, gets to recount, in detail, her fantasy of a sexual encounter with Spector, to DS Tom Anderson, the pretty new boy hand-picked by Stella a couple of episodes ago. He’s specifically sent in to the interview by Stella because she says he looks like Spector. (We’ll return to this later.) And Spector himself, inevitably, isn’t saying anything until Stella talks to him. It’s a departure from normal practice, says Jim. “I don’t think I have a choice”, replies Stella, mindful of the ratings, but still on her game enough to be able to remind Jim that he more or less forced himself on her a couple of days ago and that the gap between himself and Spector isn’t quite as yawning as he’s like to think.

Which means that we finally arrive at the point the show has been building towards since the first episode. It’s Pacino and Bobby D in ‘Heat’; it’s Tom Cruise vs Jack Nicholson in ‘A Few Good Men’. Except it isn’t, not really, because Spector is aching to spill the beans. So instead of the master interrogator probing her suspect, we get confessions surrounded by lots more of Spector’s psychopath-baloney: I did it, “elevated aestheticism”, it was me, “it separates you from the common herd”, I’m a murderer, “state of existential shock”, yes, all of them, “I live at a level of intensity unknown to you and others of your type”, and the missing one as well, “intellectual serial killer”. And on, and on, and on.

So we’re done, right? Well, not quite. First of all Stella beds DS Tom, who’s understandably concerned that he might have been a rumpy-pumpy proxy for Spector and his “strange allure”. Stella puts him right on that, thus allowing the show to have its cake and eat it. Then Spector offers a deal: he’ll provide information on the whereabouts of Rose if he gets to see his daughter, and then go along for the trip (I think). A prisoner move. They always go well in TV drama.

Off to the mysterious forest, then, in a convoy which is so secure that only a newspaper photographer and Mad Jimmy can follow it. Jimmy’s already been round to the refuge where his wife is hiding from him, and we know him to be armed, so we can see how this is going to play out. Do they find Rose? Of course. Is she alive? Of course. (Not that it took any great prescience to anticipate it.) And is Mad Jimmy going to end the episode in a hail of bullets? Oh yes.

As far as I know, no decision has been taken yet on a third season, and although there are a few sort-of cliffhangers it’s difficult to see where the show itself could go. (Paul lives and, from behind bars, becomes Katie’s mentor and guru as she goes on a killing spree of her own?) More to the point, on artistic grounds it’s time to call a halt; the genuinely unsettling and atmospheric season 1 was left behind this time round as the show became a standard procedural, and we’ve already got plenty of them.

The Fall s2 ep 5

With six episodes in this season, including a feature-length finale next week, there were definite signs here that The Fall has more or less run out of plot. Paul is still under surveillance, and the police decide that it’s time to look into his background. So Burns speaks – at length – to the unrepentant paedophile priest who might have abused Paul as a child, in a scene which is not as profound or necessary as the writer clearly thinks it is. Meantime, idiot Katie withdraws a large cash sum from a bank, then attaches an idiotic “love lock” to a bridge, which would be enough to make me hate her in itself, even apart from the whole covering-for-a-serial-killer business.

Paul, of course, shakes the surveillance, as we knew he would, but then has a stroke of really bad luck when he runs into the husband of the woman he was counselling in the first season, has a fight with him, and is arrested. He’s consistent enough to maintain a Nietzschean disdain for the police interviewing him, and says absolutely nothing, although he’s good enough to get his shirt off again. Sally is also arrested and interviewed – another unnecessarily long scene – and admits giving Paul a false alibi. Katie – who should be flung in jail for the the padlock business alone – also has little to say.

So the show, very good in season 1, not quite so much in season 2, looks as if it’s winding down, with a couple of plot threads dangling: where’s Rose? Is she dead or alive? (My money’s still on alive.) What was Katie up to with that money? And when are we going to get the Paul-and-Stella-share-the-screen money shot? But then we reach the crucial scene of this week’s episode: in many ways the one which defines both this show and the terrified-women-on-screen genre. The phone Paul had on him at arrest is examined. Stella watches, as do we, a downloaded video from the phone, in which a frantic Rose pleads with Paul for her life, occasionally simulating pity and flirtatiousness in a vain attempt to get him to release her. After a couple of minutes of this, and it’s pretty gruelling stuff, Paul points the phone’s camera at himself and addresses the viewer, in brutally meta, Funny Games-esque terms: “Why the fuck are you watching this? You sick shit. What the fuck is wrong with you?” In fairness, it’s a good question. Why the fuck are we?

The Fall s2 ep 4

While Stella comes to terms with the fact that Paul was in her hotel room at all, never mind that he read her dream journal and witnessed her fending off the advances of ACC Jim Burns, the sad-eyed Casanova of the PSNI, the surveillance operation gathers speed. In the hope that Paul will break cover, police are watching – and narrating the movements of – his wife and his schoolgirl acolyte, although if they had eyes on Paul at this point it would be to report that he seems determined to stay topless for as much of the episode as he can.

The breakthrough, though, comes when they work out that Paul had the chutzpah to provide counselling to his last victim, who is still in hospital, and seems to be coming back to do it again. When he appears at the hospital, though, Stella decides not to arrest him, but to have him followed in the hope that he’ll lead them to Rose. I wonder whether, in real life, a serial killer would be allowed to wander off without being lifted? And whether he’ll shake his tail at some point? The operation is then extended to allow surveillance equipment to be planted in the Spectors’ house, which the police muck up quite spectacularly.

Meantime, a body has been found. Could it be Rose’s? Well, we have to go through the clichés in this situation: the people who found the body can’t identify it, so we need to wait for Stella and Kalinda to arrive at the scene; then it’s face down, so we can’t have a guess ourselves; then the writer really pushes his luck, because when the body’s flipped over her hair is covering her face, so we still don’t know. And is it Rose? Of course not. The only way the show could have surprised us is if, after all of that, it had been. I’m sticking to my view that she’s still alive, because the show wouldn’t hesitate to show us her artfully-displayed corpse.

Stella manages to get through the episode without making a pass at a colleague, although it looks as if pretty new boy DS Tom Anderson – “a useful addition to our team”, she murmurs – will be next up. It’s now clear, though, that Katie knows Paul to be the killer; talking to him via Skype, she endures some philosophical psycho-bollocks about how “other people’s pain gives me pleasure”, how terrible the world is, and that she should “embrace the darkness”. Yes, yes, yes; she’s up for some of that in the next episode, presumably meaning that she’s about to join in with Paul’s fun. Better than last week, then, by virtue of not being actively unpleasant; but still desperately ordinary, and nowhere near as good as the first season would have led you to expect.

The Fall s2 ep 3

With Paul Spector now identified as the only suspect, The Fall has to reinvent itself: can it extract anything new from a straightforward manhunt? The answer is mixed at best: lots of surveillance of places where Paul might go, yet when he does actually go to the place where he originally took Rose, no-one seems terribly interested to start with. Rose herself is still missing, but I stick to my view that if Paul had murdered her, we’d have got to see it in lingering detail. So either she’s alive, or she’s died of neglect somewhere.

In the most pointless development of the week, Stella and Reed Smith indulge in a quick makeout session in a bar; Gibson wants to take it further, but the Professor gets cold feet; partly, one assumes, because of the affair she’s seemingly having with the husband of the missing Rose. Meantime Gibson heads back to her hotel room, where in a matter of minutes she will be the recipient of aggressive sexual advances from Jim. All of which provokes two questions: do these people have any interests apart from each other? And is there nothing that TV writers can do with the obviously talented Archie Panjabi apart from get her to lez it up for the audience? Mind you, since Gibson is clearly The Fall’s Magic Sexpot, and she’s now sharing oxygen with The Good Wife’s Magic Sexpot, I suppose it’s inevitable that sparks will fly.

There’s another big question. I don’t mean the “whydunit” aspect, because yes abuse, yes troubled childhood, honestly I don’t care. Nor do I mean the police corruption thing, which I wasn’t in any way bothered about in season 1, and had more or less forgotten about until Jim resurrected it this week. No, it’s what the eff Katie the schoolgirl thinks she’s playing at, providing a false alibi for the man who half-strangled her an episode ago, then actually assisting him in his taunting of the police. Is she supposed to be in love with the thrill of it all, as well as with Paul? Really?

But where the writers want to go, of course, is to bring Paul and Stella into each others’ orbits, presumably with a view to a proper confrontation by the end of the season. And they do: Paul manages with minimal fuss to get into Stella’s hotel room, where he futzes with her computer, reads the journal she keeps of her dreams, then writes something in it, meaning that – hats off, The Fall! – the show has managed to find yet another way to violate one of its female victims. And make no mistake, in this scene Stella is indeed a victim. Worse than last week, which was until now the worst episode so far; The Fall now looks like just another police drama, with hefty side-helpings of misogyny and fear of female sexuality.

The Fall s2 ep 2

When watching the first two minutes of this problematic episode, I was reminded that Caitlin Moran once pointed out how ridiculous it was that, in music videos, women always, always have to be sexy; it’s as if men always had to be farmers or something. Anyway, we start with an obvious dream sequence, in which DSI Gibson pursues a man round the police station, then shoots him. Which, y’know, I can’t be doing with dream sequences to start with. But whether it was necessary for her to be wearing a silk dressing gown, and a nightdress which showed off acres of cleav – well, there we’re into difficult territory. Because in The Fall, Stella Gibson can’t just be a dream-sequence-killer; she has to be a sexy dream-sequence-killer.

Then we’re back to the terrorising of women, with Paul dragging Rose, his victim from nine years ago, into her car and driving her to a secluded area. Although we won’t hear from her again until the end of the episode, we can be pretty sure meantime that she’s not dead, on the basis that The Fall would undoubtedly show us her murder. If, for example, a teenage schoolgirl needs to be half-strangled, then secured to a bed with her school tie, while a serial killer calls her “a little virgin dreaming of her first fuck”, we’re certainly going to be shown that. I suppose at least she hasn’t yet been called a little hottie-tottie.

In both scenes Paul maintains that he’s not “him”: the killer, that is, although it’s not really clear whether either Rose or Katie believes him any more. Rose is presumably pondering her position on the matter in the confined space where she’s being held, and Katie might just like the thrill of it all, the temptress that she is. (I can’t begin to imagine what that business with the guy peering through her hotel room door is about.) And, because the writers perhaps don’t think that their adorably risk-taking killer is sailing quite close enough to the wind already, he starts to provide counselling to his surviving victim.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, a little actual detective work was done: a print was lifted from a possible murder weapon, and matched to Paul; Gibson now knows that he’s been interviewed as well, so presumably the net will start to tighten. Not my favourite episode.