Tuesday 10 December 2019

'The Fall' returns with an atmosphere of calculated, slow-burning menace

Terrifyingly good: Jamie Dornan in The Fall.
Terrifyingly good: Jamie Dornan in The Fall.
The Fall
Gillian Anderson in The Fall
Gillian Anderson in The Fall
Jamie Dornan in The Fall.

Pat Stacey

You could never accuse The Fall’s writer — and for this second season also its director — Allan Cubitt of rushing things along.

It was the atmosphere of calculated, slow-burning menace as much as the startling incidences of sexual violence and murder that made the series such a compelling, if sometimes uncomfortable, watch last year.

The opening episode of the new run is suffused with a familiar feeling of clammy dread. It’s been 18 months since we saw serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) decamp from Belfast to Scotland with his wife and two children, his parting shot to Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), the detective superintendent who was drafted in from the London Met to help the PSNI crack the case, being a taunting phone call to tell her “it’s over”.

In television time, however, just 10 days have passed. The shot at a new life hasn’t worked; Spector’s estranged wife (Bronagh Waugh) has returned to the city with their kids, leaving him alone in Scotland, glugging down whisky and indulging in much staring into space.

But the spectre of Spector is soon back in Belfast to make Stella’s life even more difficult than it already is. Time and money for the investigation are running out, while her “affair”, which was really just a one-night stand, with a young detective who wound up dead is making the wrong sort of headlines.

The only one of Spector’s victims to survive an attack, Annie Brawley (Karen Hassan), has regained consciousness but can’t remember much about the night Spector attacked her and murdered her brother.

So this is where The Fall is at: not so much a new beginning as a continuation. It’s not an entirely seamless one. The abandonment of Spector’s Scottish excursion so early into the episode feels a little clunky and reflects the fact that Cubitt didn’t know if a second season would be commissioned.

Some commentators last year accused The Fall of being misogynistic (not a view I share), which is perhaps why there’s a slight change of emphasis this time out. It’s as if Cubitt is more interested in exploring the psychopathy of Spector, who appears not to be as coolly in control as we initially thought.

In one tense scene set on a train, he practically identifies himself as the killer to a young blonde woman (who looks uncannily like a younger version of Stella, even down to the white blouse she’s wearing) by drawing a beard on the photofit picture of him in the newspaper. Is he being cocky or does he secretly want to be caught and punished?

“If we didn’t know it then we surely know now that he’s driven by huge amounts of rage,” Stella tells her colleagues, after a bit of Silence of the Lambs-style visualising at a crime scene.

Nor is Stella herself completely in charge any more. Her back is against the wall and the lurid revelations about her private life have knocked her confidence.

When PSNI assistant chief and old flame Jim Burns (John Lynch) asks her why she’s worn her Met uniform to a press conference, she says: “I thought it might be a good idea to look as unfeminine as possible.”

This is not to say The Fall has cut back on the creep-out stuff. There’s something almost obscenely disturbing about the moment when Spector trusses up one of his daughter’s naked dolls with string, as though it were one of his victims, and lays it on the bed beside him. In all, a chilling return.

READ: The Fall returns for a second season - and it's not so sexist this time

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