Netflix’s The Fall returns for a third season? Does the acclaimed drama match its intense first two seasons?
We open the third season of the so-far acclaimed, but somehow still under the radar, British drama The Fall with serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) driving and then crashing. Hasn’t he been through enough? Nah, fuck that, he’s a killer of women – and a man – and a generally awful person. We closed Season 2 with Paul laying bleeding to death in the arms of his hunter, police superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson). So the driving / crashing sequence was a mind mirage, a thought process of the semi-conscious Spector. It’s an odd choice as the first two outings offered no fantasy scenes or at least sequences that delve directly into the thoughts of the characters for its audience to see. A later scene with Spector in a dark tunnel hearing his the voice of his mother, and then his daughter, kind of confirms this dream-like notion. The dynamic shift is a little distracting in all, but does not carve a huge dent in your attention span. Some of the out-of-reality scenes don’t quite fit here, given the down to Earth, gritty realism of the first two seasons. Perhaps it would have been a worse thing to simply draw the story out, omitting such fallacies. Perhaps not.
Once the initial dust has settled, the hospital, Belfast General I believe, becomes the main setting. Spector and Anderson – another detective who was cuffed to the killer at the time – both were shot. And Rose Stagg, the poor woman captured and tormented by Spector, is also in hospital following her ordeal. Stella’s concern for Spector is alarming at this point, considering a fellow member of the police force, Anderson (who she fucked I might add), was also shot, and Rose lies out elsewhere in the hospital. Anderson later asks why Stella ran to Spector after the shocking shooting, and he has a point. There’s hardly a lot of empathy with this in mind when Stella’s role in the investigation is put into jeopardy. So much attention given to Spector’s revival (I mean, he is not the Prime Minister) is somewhat diverted by the head surgeon’s over the top, know-it-all commentary. The same character later appears a hard-working family man. Did I misjudge or did the writers cool it on the elaborateness?
So Spector, then. He is having memory problems it seems, questions asked to him, and his answers, suggest his head is a few years behind. Maybe six. It is not clarified. When his legal representatives explain the police charges to him, the murders of women, Spector is either playing one of the strongest poker faces ever seen on TV or he is discovering he is in actual fact a monster via his amnesia. We can’t read him, what is going on in his head, what he intends to do, or how he feels. And this is a credit to the character of Spector, more than we can praise the performance of Dornan.
There appears to be a gender behavioral distinction too here, as well as the emergence of marginal characters and sudden back-stories. As Stella often plays the woman card or claims to know what a man would do in this scenario or how a woman would act in that scenario. Gillian Anderson is playing the clearly wounded woman much more sedate as her voice is low and soft, often a little hoarse, practically whispering at times. It is still a stellar performance from Anderson. Stella is picked and poked at by colleagues and the like for her apparent negative influence on the whole affair, which means her character appears and acts worn down and often nonchalant – an effective persona for a deep-thinking, smart detective, but we know there is more to her than that.
There are many nooks and crannies either pasted over or left too open. As a huge fan of the first two seasons, I don’t want to be negative critically. Many of these what’s and why’s are merely observations on the third season’s ever-so-slight experimenting with dramatic dynamics when it could have just left well alone. It is glaringly obvious that the night nurse by Spector’s bedside is a brunette, very much his type of victim – a spitting image of Rose too. But this is not addressed further than the audience perhaps noticing that. And the psychiatrist-type flown in to evaluate Spector is a so-called expert, and the Scandinavian accent just feels synonymous with clinical healers stereotypes. There’s more. New evidence in the forms of journals suggesting there could be nine other murders by Spector seems like a back-track. A confession from Rose later also feels like a history rewrite. Much of the back-story heads the drama a little in the rear direction rather than moving things forward.
There is also hefty attention given to the discovery of another killer, Alvarez, who attended the same school as Spector and seems to follow the same patterns. When Anderson receives a call from the assistant chief constable Burns (who is well on his way to losing his own shit), it is made apparent that the institute that held Spector and Alvarez when they were boys subjected them to acts of masturbation and other such sex crime horrors. As information for the viewer, and the characters of the story, it feels just a little too much. The Fall has gradually lost much of its subtlety and composure, but you can’t forget that this is still a solid drama in its own right.
And what of Katie, the teenage girl with whom Spector had sexual relations? When Katie finds out about Spector’s shooting she flips out, a much more understandable reaction of concern (than, say, Stella’s). Her involvement is far more subtle, a teenager with a poetic, crushingly unhealthy love for Spector having pushed aside her friends and family for the idea of this man. Her final appearance as Stella gives her a life lesson in self-harm and wounds of the heart and is sweet enough but gives no closure whatsoever to Katie. She may be a big fool for love, but she deserves much more credit and respect than that.
While some of the dialogue is following a crime genre formula, there are some truly captivating moments on show here. For instance, Stella’s reassuring monologue to Tom, Rose’s husband, is a great moment both for acting and writing. And there are several of these. This is certainly not a dull affair. Generally good performances right across the board, but Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan are handed a huge majority of the expectation to deliver high tension and maintain the grounded and compelling nature of the drama built in the first two seasons. And they do so. The problems are not with the performances or much of the execution, but rather the method in which the third season tries to change the colors of the pallet a little to keep the momentum.
The Fall‘s final episode sees the shaken can open and the fizz of violence and broken emotion spray all around. Not enough that perhaps the slow-paced first five episodes worked up to this, but he had to come or else the whole season would come away looking flat and uninspired. Such a shame that following some unexpected violence, the show concludes with a whimper rather than a bang. Stella didn’t want Spector dead because that would be too easy. He was meant to suffer for what he had done while he was alive. It is slightly unfortunate that neither Stella nor us, the viewing audience, got the justice we deserved.