Oct 9, 2014

[TV] The Fall: Series 1

The 2013 season for US network television was a little underwhelming for me and the few shows that I was starting to enjoy (like Almost Human) naturally got cancelled due to poor ratings. More and more I feel that I should be investing more time in the stuff showing in other countries other than the US since the quality tends to be pretty impressive.

Case in point, take the Irish-British crime drama The Fall, which features the one and only Gillian Anderson. As much as it has been quite the delight to catch her limited participation in shows like Hannibal, it was nice to have her as lead again. And man, this show really played to many of her strengths.

It still amazes me how focused television narratives are over there. I mean on the one hand you have US networks creating these large-scale stories that can go as far as 24 episodes and then some. But then here you have 3-6 episode stories that just have so much more meat in them and in the end the results kind of blow you away.

And that's what this show did for me - it totally blew me away.

Synopsis: The Fall is an Irish-British crime dramas as produced by Artists Studio with Jakob Verbruggen directing. The screenplay was written by Allan Cubitt and it aired on RTÉ One in Ireland and BBC Two in the UK.

We first follow around an unknown figure (Jamie Dornan) who appears to be breaking into a whole. Over time it is revealed that this is our target - a serial killer operating in a Northern Island town. Beyond that, he's actually a therapist by day and one who focuses on couple's counseling - perhaps as a way to meet his potential victims. And a good part of the show involves following him around and seeing his side of the story.

On the flip side we have Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) of the Metropolitan Police being called in to aid the Police Service of Northern Ireland in their investigation of a series of murders. There's a natural aversion to start calling them serial killings and Stella will determine if there is indeed a connection between the deaths. And under her guidance, the local police detectives will need to work together to find the killer before it's too late.

This is definitely a "slow burn" sort of narrative experience, which almost seem strange given the fact the series is limited to 5 episodes. But it doesn't feel like that they had to stretch out the story or anything like that. If anything there was a very deliberate pace to things that gives the show a more measured build-up. So another way of putting things is that they chose to set up more plot elements before everything starts moving forward more aggressively. And man, things escalate quickly enough.

In a similar fashion, it takes a while before Gillian Anderson's character really warms up - but not in an emotional sense. She's a rather stoic individual who sees the world in very clear terms. And she's presented to us as being very assured in herself and confident in her own sexuality. Thus we see her getting into a one-night stand of her own choosing instead of being "picked up" by a guy. But as the mystery unfold we realize that she has been focused on gathering more and more evidence before jumping to a conclusion. And once she has the pieces she needs, the way that she assembles the profile of their killer feels practically like magic.

But the real stand out star of this production is actually the "villain" - at least from my perspective. Dornan's character, Paul Spector. If this were a US production, we'd probably indulge in how he kills his victims and show as much of the crimes as possible. Instead we get a lot more of Paul with his family, interacting with his children and handling patients at his day job. And as much as we are also shown how he prepares for some of his crimes or how he stalks his victims, we don't show a heck of a lot of how the crimes actually unfold. And thus we continue to rely on the police to unravel the mystery for us as Gibson tries to get into his head only using the limited clues that he leaves behind.

The director had a clear vision for what he wanted to do and his aesthetic is rather strong. He does get get a little heavy-handed with juxtaposition moments as we keep comparing and contrasting so many events. It was interesting to see the first time around but as it happened again and again throughout the series, it felt a little bit too much. But that's just one minor issue - the rest of the series is pretty compelling with later events nicely foreshadowed, but not obviously so.

The Fall was one of the best pieces of new television to come out of 2013 and I'm glad that it has been confirmed for a second series. The show does end on a bit of a painful note that tends to have people going "That's it?" - but then it sort of makes sense over time. Thus the show gets 4 disturbing juxtapositions of light and dark moments out of a possible 5.


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