Terror, Awe, and Disappointment, Thy Name is The Fall

WTF is The Fall?

The Fall is an Irish detective show that just wrapped up its second season (so far, there have been eleven episodes total). The series follows a serial killer named Paul Spector and the detective trying to catch him, Agent Scully Stella Gibson. In his own mind, Spector is a dark, fascinating student of human psychology, who’s playing a cat and mouse game with the police. In everyone else’s mind – or almost everyone else’s mind – he’s a loser who hates women, and the police figure out who he is pretty fast after they start looking.
Half of the show is about watching Spector do terrifying and realistic murders which he then conceals from his family – a wife and two young children. The other half of the show is about watching Gibson track him down, be awesome at everything, and pathologically sleep with every single person she works with, male or female, while wearing amazing silk shirts.

Why is it terrifying/awesome?

The Fallis consciously inverting the usual serial killer paradigm in a feminist way. If I’m telling you the truth, there is a little bitof the show that focuses on how interesting Paul Spector is and how clever his schemes are – and there’s more than a little bit that focuses on the idea that serial killers can be regular people with families and jobs, like, oh my god, I didn’t know that – but mostof the show is focused on a) how what he is doing is awful, and b) how the awful thing he’s doing is reflective of a culture in which women are treated as objects to be disposed of, people have messed-up ideas about sex, and we have somehow romanticized the idea of dark, tortured men who choke women to death because they “can’t control themselves.”
Like, everyone who wanted to marry Dexter, fuck you, basically.
The terrifying aspect comes from the fact that the show – far more than other shows in this genre – invites us to empathize with Spector’s victims more than it invites us to empathize with him. They’re not just disposable nobodies who die to prove the threat is real. The series’ first episode ends with a murder so unbelievably horrifying to watch that, as a woman who could potentially get murdered one day, I could not sleep after I watched it. The second season features a side-story where the police find a tape of one of Spector’s victims speaking into a camera before he kills her – racing through the range of emotions that someone would feel in that situation, telling herself all things you would think; whiplashing back and forth between rage, and defiance, and fear, and compassion; trying to manipulate him, trying to bargain with him, telling him to go to hell – it’s very hard to watch, and intentionally so. It makes her a person rather than a body, and that simultaneously makes the show more horrifying and more compassionate to women.
Gibson the Awesome is also the Voice of Reason on the show, and she’s maybe a little bit tooamazing at everything – or, more accurately, the dynamic of the show is maybe tilted a little too much in the direction of Gibson being the only one who’s smart and good at stuff – but it’s clear that the point of Gibson is to show us what it looks like when a woman doesn’t buy into all the sexist bullshit in her culture. Symbolically, she therefore makes the perfect adversary for a guy who represents a bunch of sexist bullshit.
Gibson spends a lot of time schooling the audience on how notto talk about female murder victims, and how notto talk about murders – like, don’t frame it as though it’s only sad because this woman was a saintly virgin or something, and don’t frame it like the most important thing about her is that this dude choked her to death. She also spends a lot of time schooling the audience about how to talk about women in general – as in, don’t slut-shame women for having sex, etc, etc.
It’s didactic, and sometimes heavy-handed to the point that it becomes annoying, but wowis it refreshing to watch a show about women getting murdered that seems to actually be aboutwomen getting murdered, and the gender politics involved in that.
The Fallbasically removes everything that’s annoying about regular serial killer dramas and replaces it with new annoying stuff instead. That’s still awesome, though, because at least the new annoying stuff doesn’t hate my whole gender.

Why is it disappointing?

It’s really fucking determined to draw this out.
Even though The Fallcan be quite twisty and suspenseful, the story moves at a glacial pace. In story time, this investigation has only been going on for a few weeks, but, in real time, we’re two seasons in. Even so, Paul should really have been in jail at the end of season one, and the end of season two should have closed the entire story.
Part of the pleasureof The Fall– part of what’s best about it – is that Paul is a shitty criminal, and the police are able to catch him quite easily. They identify him, they patiently and rigorously collect the evidence against him, they arrest him, they arrest his accomplices, they get confessions… and yet the story isn’t over. I won’t spoil the twist at the end of season two that keeps things going, but it’s dumb.
The finale of the first season was not a lot better – it ended with one of Paul’s victims, whom he didn’t quite manage to kill, regaining consciousness and possibly being able to identify him, while he meanwhile left town with his family. The entirety of season two felt like a pointless drawing out of what should have been a very straight-forward arrest. Paul suddenly has a wacky plan involving a teenage sidekick! They have to wait to arrest him because he has a kidnapping victim stashed somewhere! The thing that happens in the season finale!
The Falldoesn’t know when to end, and the longer it drags this out, the less powerful and the more melodramatic it becomes.
After beginning with terrifying, tightly-written episodes, it’s spun out into an obvious game of How Can We Keep This Going? that no one but the producers wants to play. The pointof The Fallis that serial killers aren’t epic – they’re tedious and hateful, and belong inside a jail. The longer this stretches out, the more of the good stuff we lose.

My greatest wish for The Fall

…is that it climbs inside a time machine and adds a sixth episode to the first season that wraps everything up, thereby allowing it to become one of the greatest mini-series ever to air on television. My second greatest wish, if time travel costs too much money, is that The Fallspits out a two-hour special next year that ends the whole story for good.
In the meantime, though, I really like her shirts.
Image: The Fall; BBC | December 26, 2014