At the starts of Season Two of The Fall (all six episodes written and directed by Allan Cubitt), it is tricky to gauge how close the cats are to catching this one mouse. Having bodged up his latest attempt at murder, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, 50 Shades of Grey), as season one left us, has fled to Scotland though his wife and kids have since left him to it and returned to Belfast. Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson, The X-Files) is interviewing Annie Brawley (Karen Hassan), his latest victim who got away but lost her brother who was stabbed to death with decorating scissors by Spector. Annie is struggling to remember what happened, and Stella is determined to help her come out of the shock.
There is little time to settle your nerves once again. When Olivia rings her dad wanting her dolls, Spector later retrieves them from the bath only to tie their hands and feet. There’s an extraordinary scene too on a train (Spector returning to Belfast) with a blonde woman. Her newspaper has the police sketch of the potential killer on the front. Spector asks frankly if she thinks it looks like him (he then draws facial hair on it and asks again). When the blonde confesses she was a brunette before the killings, his eyes light up like a pinball machine. He seems fearless. The whole thing has a recurring way of making your stomach turn (remember that the medallion he hung around his daughter’s neck belonged to a woman he killed).
Strands of the plot are predominantly about Rose Stagg (a terrific Valene Kane) whom Stella interviewed in the first season. She knows Spector as Peter, but her dilemma is she was girlfriend to her now husband at the time of her contact with the killer (some nine years ago) and is reluctant to open that can of worms officially. Spector kidnaps Rose, and in a chilling scene her little girl meets him casually walking up the stairs in their home. It’s a terrifying image, and you are emotionally invested in Rose’s safety. The longer she is not found (dead or alive) the more you worry.
Feeling responsible for making Rose’s business public, Stella now has Rose’s potential blood on her hands as the kidnapping crime becomes integral to the case. It still seems Assistant Chief Constable Burns (John Lynch) insists on being two steps behind which means valuable time lost. In fact, Burns is borderline losing his shit when he continues to be incompetent with his police work as well as drunkenly declares his lust for Stella. He gets a hand palm to the nose for his troubles.
The police investigation does move forward. Police divers find the scissors used to stab Annie’s brother. Stella and company soon know the killer by name, face, and childhood history, but there is still a long way to go. We even may believe former babysitter Katie (Aisling Franciosi) has put two and two together and is onto Spector. When he gives her the key to his hotel, she makes a copy – you ask yourself is this a shrewd girl or a careless killer? It’s neither. He later ties her to the bed – not for a sexual fantasy but cold, scary reality. And you are somehow feeling no closer to a conclusion when Spector and Katie are brought in for questioning.
Spector is sly, and what you might call brave in his demonic state. He soon lands the recovering victim Annie as a counselling patient which doesn’t appear as narratively convenient as much as it grabs you by the throat. In a later episode, he sneaks into Stella’s hotel room, changes her desktop background, and makes sure she knows he has read her private journal. He is right under their nose but is almost invisible. The detective part of my brain kicked into gear a few times when, for instance, we see Stella logging into a laptop. I assumed subconsciously she would get hacked sooner or later. Your fears are realized.
Stella is exposed in Season Two, and although she comes across more vulnerable here, her ruthlessness remains intact. Gillian Anderson carries these emotions magnificently (you don’t see The X-Files’ Dana Scully once). Her distraught face almost breaks your heart when the reality that her personal thoughts have been seen by the killer. Anderson is better, still, in a particularly harrowing moment when she watches the video of kidnapped Rose begging for her life, telling Spector that nothing he does will take away the love she has for and from her family. Stella’s face is frozen, and the only movements are her glistened eyes and the tears rolling slowly down her anguished face.
Jamie Dornan, too, is eerily excellent throughout. Spector seems so placid, it is only fuels his psychotic instability – that a killer of women, while destroying his family, could appear so laid back. When his wife Sally Ann (Bronagh Waugh) confronts him about Katie – that she thinks he sexually assaulted her – Spector, like the many times he has been up against it, still seems unfazed. Dornan reminds us, not too often though, that Spector is human too, meaning he remains an interesting screen presence even with his murderous tendencies.
The Fall continues to play with your insecurities and anxieties and has certainly raised the bar in that sense from a riveting Season One. Early on, the traumatized Annie says that people will say she looks the same as before, but that she is not the same. Right. The thugs that look out for grieving father and wife-beater Jimmy (Brian Milligan) are still sniffing around. They try to intimidate Stella at one point, but she stands her ground. When Jimmy does catch up with Spector (as the police are right on his tail) there is a horrific gunfight, right bang there in broad daylight. It is the sort of moment you would gasp at were you to hear about it on the TV news.
There are unforgettable moments, matching the atmosphere of great movies. One such haunting scene occurs when Burns seeks out the imprisoned priest (I don’t need to tell you why) who knew Spector when he was a child. He is delusional of his morals and sins. His gaunt, white-haired appearance makes you think of the serial killer in Manhunter, and the bargaining between the two characters is reminiscent of the “Quid Pro Quo” of The Silence Of The Lambs. There is a touch of Heat with the prospect of Stellar and Spector coming face to face.
“Sending someone who looks like Anna Browley is pretty feeble, Stella. You can do better than that,” says Spector up to the camera as he is interviewed by the police. He might be a killer, but he is right. When he agrees to only speak to Stella, the confession comes quite naturally. As Spector explains his sickness of getting over the first murder, he is framed looking pretty much directly at us a la Tak Fujimoto’s work on Philadelphia or, again, The Silence of the Lambs. These scenes are framed so tight it is almost like being strangled.
Even the regular surveillance updates, various voices and locations (Spector is being visually tagged for a hefty amount of the season), seems odd at first but soon acts as a ticking clock or perhaps exciting sports commentary – keeping the heartbeat of those watching above normal. The finale is drawn out and nerve jangling (a ninety minute episode), and even the somewhat abrupt ending keeps in line with the high-tension tone of the entire series. When you do catch your breath as the end titles roll, you wonder when the last time was that you saw something this compelling.