The Fall “Walk the Line” Review
Well, it’s time to start locking your doors at night again. The Fall is back. The BBC drama now entering its second season had a lot to live up to. While crime dramas are a dime a dozen, Allan Cubitt’s series has added emotional and story complexity to create a refreshing and sophisticated show—and by only having six episodes a season, adopts a novelistic approach to the storytelling.
Only a few weeks have passed since season 1, and Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is still searching for the rapist/murderer that has been plaguing Belfast. The rapist, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), has kept his identity a secret from the police, but has left a wake of problems. His wife has his suspicions and his babysitter has hers—but is more interested in him sexually, and refuses all common sense by not going to the police. After going underground briefly, he’s back to tie up loose ends.
The way Spector manages his life is even more horrifying this season. An ex-girlfriend of his, Rose Stagg (Valene Kane) has begun aiding the police, so he breaks into her house at night to abduct her. It doesn’t exactly go well. Stagg’s daughter sees him and he decides to spend time with her. Spector has young daughters around this girl’s age and is—as he put it—protective of children. Creepily he identifies himself as the Pied Piper and explains that he’s a friend of the family. He teaches her a tongue twister before putting the girl to bed, and sneaking in to Stagg’s bedroom, pretending to be her husband and taking her from the house. The series has never been one to shy away from brutal scenes—yet this one was so quiet, so calm that it was easily one of the most unsettling The Fall has given us.
However, it’s the emotion of the show that makes it quality programming. One of Spector’s victim’s last season, Anne Brawley (Karen Hassan) is now in the main cast, and a fair amount of time is devoted to her attempting to deal with the psychological impact of her attack. The thin divide between sex and power is a main theme of the series, and by having Brawley’s life examined after the rape is an important one. Also, in one of the series’ darkest moments, Spector visits Brawley again in the hospital—but she doesn’t remember him. Instead, he’s here not only to make sure she doesn’t remember but is here in an official capacity as a trauma counselor. Watching Spector give her advice and comfort is horrifying not only because of what we know but that we see Spector getting off on it. The scene would be more at home in an episode of Hannibal (where Gillian Anderson is also a cast member) but The Fall works it out well here, almost perfectly, and succeeds in making us every bit as uncomfortable as intended, while also making it clear that Spector has escalated substantially.
The game between Gibson and Spector is also rife with a certain sexual tension. Spector dominates women sexually and mentally, and Gibson is a force of nature herself. She is unafraid and unimpressed and weighted with insight and experience. Anderson is known for playing through her eyes and her calm, hypnotic voice. Her strength is in direct contention of Spector’s. Sexually speaking, they are both clearly dominant people. Spector has stalked her before, watched her change; Gibson painted her nails a certain color for a press conference because she knew it would affect him. Their obsessions in life have crisscrossed into the other’s, and will likely result only in death.
On the other side of this, there is also the consensual side of the sexual politics of men and women. Gibson is a woman in control of her sexuality and has to deal with the ramifications of it. Last season, she had an affair with a married police officer who ended up dead. This season, as the media leaks the facts of the affair, she has to deal with increased scrutiny which is making her pursuit of the rapist case difficult. There is a subtle exploration of the double standard at play here—as well as the ridiculous nature of the media which is now more interested and outraged at a consensual act rather than, you know, the multiple rapes and murders.
There’s also Rose Stagg. Stagg was reluctant in telling her story to the police for clear reasons. She had been in a relationship in college with Spector (who was under an assumed name at the time). One night he bound her and beat and strangled her in an attempt to explore their sexuality. While she had fear that by coming out with this now it would make her a target, what she was actually afraid of was her husband Tom (Jonjo O’Neill). By telling the story she would have to reveal the fact that she had cheated on him while they were college sweethearts. The effect is deeply unfortunate. He gets drunk and passes out on the couch. That night, Spector comes and abducts her. When the abduction is revealed, Tom is inconsolable.
At home, Spector’s life is also falling apart. He’s separated from his pregnant wife and trying to maintain a relationship with his daughters. As is urges become more complex and daring, his night actions have bled into his normal life. As a creep, Spector had taken to binding dolls in a BDSM way as a reminder to himself of his conquests; they’re his daughter’s dolls and she misses them so he unties them and breaks into his former house at night to replace them. As the people in his life begin to suspect him, and as his acting out intensifies and escalates, Gibson slowly starts coming around to the name of Paul Spector.
If the first season was about decision and action, this season is clearly about consequences and the emotional baggage that reverberates through seemingly minor acts. In that way, Anderson’s Gibson ends up revealing The Fall’s motto, “It’s not procedural, it’s personal.”
It admittedly took this episode time to get to the point. It was slow going as the series needed to remind its viewers what happened last year and set up the new status quo. The corrupt cop case in season 1 was shoehorned in and unfortunately the fallout from it is still going on into season 2. Whereas last season every episode was titled, this season has done away with that, instead just going by “Episode 6” and whatnot. While it does add to the novelistic flair of The Fall’s structure, it’s a strange concept to sudden adopt.
Even given the limited run of episodes a season, there is a question of sustainability to the series. With Gibson learning Spector’s name and launching a full investigation, it seems unlikely (and somewhat ridiculous) for The Fall to continue Spector’s plot into a presumptive third season. Call it the quality of the show, but until those last few seconds of every episode there’s always a question of how long this can really go on before Cubitt starts spinning his wheels. At the same time, he hasn’t let us down yet, and having screened up to “Episode 3” of this season, it’s clear that Cubitt knows what he’s doing and that this is going to be a much darker and arguably even more gut-wrenching season.
The Fall airs Thursdays on BBC Two and Sundays on BBC Ireland; 9PM