There’s murder afoot in rainy old Belfast.
Someone’s killed a woman in her home. The police find her strangled and stripped naked on her bed. They’re baffled and they have no suspects and no motive. There’s a man responsible for this horrible crime out there somewhere, but they have no idea where he is or who he could be.
Good thing they’ve brought Gillian Anderson in to catch him, then.
Detective Inspector Stella Gibson is not so much a person as a force of nature. A walking glacier, she slides into frame in a long white dress, pale skin, bleached-blonde hair, with a cold, blank face and a hard, icy glare that makes it very clear that she is not someone to be messed with.
She seems unshakeable, speaking in a calm monotone and reacting to most bad news with little more than a barely-noticeable raise of an eyebrow, or not reacting at all.
Stella has the unenviable task of solving a murder and catching a killer with a police force made up of a few good officers and a lot of corruption. To make matters worse, she finds that the killer has probably killed before, and there’s nothing stopping him from doing it again.
Meanwhile in a Belfast suburb, unassuming, friendly family man Paul Spector goes about his business. His hobbies include photography, spending time with his kids, murder, DIY, sniffing lingerie, interior design, stalking, breaking and entering, strangulation and babysitting.
Nice bloke. Good with his hands.
Because he looks like he should be on the cover of Esquire, no one even thinks about thinking about making him a suspect. His wife doesn’t know about his nasty night-time crimes and his daughter sleeps soundly in her room, not knowing that his killer kit is stashed in the attic above her head.
But we know. We know everything. The Fall scraps the typical whodunnit mystery in favour of something far more interesting. It puts us in the uncomfortable voyeuristic position of watching Spector plan his crime, stalk his victim, break into their house, kill them, take a few souvenirs, go home, hug his kids and make small talk with his wife. It’s tense and skin-crawlingly creepy. It forces us to get inside of the mind of someone we’d rather run far, far away from.
It presents us with a nice, charming guy with a good job and a caring family who has, to put it mildly, a bit of a twisted, perverse dark side that he expertly hides from everyone else.
The ‘who’ in whodunnit is replaced with a ‘why’. Much of the mystery comes from finding out what Spector’s like, why he does what he does, and wondering if he’ll ever be found out.
Meanwhile, Stella very slowly puts two and two together and makes progress in the case, always a couple of steps behind.
The Fall is quite slow-paced. Actually, that sounds like an insult. A better word would be deliberately-paced. It’s difficult to imagine an episode of The Fall ending in a high-speed, sirens-blaring chase through the city streets. We just watch as the days tick by and see Paul and Stella at home and at work, or indulging in one of their hobbies.
Progress is made and the investigation continues, but the case work is just part of the drama. What these characters do during their down-time speaks volumes about them. It’s where we see the nice side of a serial killer and, yes, the darker side of a detective.
That old ‘We’re not so different, you and I’ cliche is put under the microscope and carefully examined over the course of the series. Cracks appear in Gibson’s glacier and we see a softer side of Spector.
So, it’s part character study, part police drama, part tense mystery, and all the parts come together to make something that’s dark and dour and gripping. It’s a bit of a difficult watch, but it’s worth it.
Series two is airing on Thursday nights at 9pm on BBC2. All episodes of The Fall so far are on BBC iPlayer.