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Ask Not What You Should Binge Watch While You're Waiting For "Broadchurch" or "Breaking Bad": It's "The Fall"

By Cindy Davis | TV Reviews | June 26, 2013 | Comments ()


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There's a certain thought process that seems to allow a connection between the minds of exceptional law enforcement hunters and the serial killers they chase. It's a psychology television and film love to explore; a cop with the ability to think like a killer puts himself into a certain frame of mind, sees through the suspect's eyes and catches on to some small fragment others have missed. Bryan Fuller's "Hannibal" takes this idea to the extreme with FBI Agent Will Graham's empathetic, almost psychic ability to experience crimes as if he himself were the killer. In Allan Cubitt's ("The Runaway, Prime Suspect 2") excellent five-part series, Gillian Anderson (who also appears in "Hannibal") stars as Detective Superintendant Stella Gibson, the supremely interesting lead investigator brought in from London to review a Belfast murder case gone cold. Set atop a pyramid of boys--headed up by Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns (John Lynch)--Stella is all silky button-down shirts, and pencil skirts plopped into the gruff, male-dominated PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland). Her appearance is a stark visual contrast, but Stella has more in common with the men who surround her than they'd care to accept, and she takes great pleasure in pointing out their incongruous, sexist attitudes. She quickly submerges herself into the murder case, meticulously reviewing evidence and interviewing officers, setting aside their worries she's there to point out their mistakes with her intense focus on the killer. She instinctively knows something more is going on than an isolated murder, and even as Stella takes note of certain details that set off her alarms, we are simultaneously introduced to the next victim and the killer himself.

As the audience, we are privy to all the puzzle pieces before the players, so for us there is no mystery--we're just heartbreakingly useless witnesses to events as they occur. And though we may have watched these sorts of cat and mouse games before, it's the skillful way they're played out by this group of excellent actors that takes us on a different, terrifying journey. We feel as helpless as the victim and the police officers--who are barely a half step behind when the next attack takes place. We are unhinged by our knowledge of the killer. As with "Broadchurch," it's not problematic for readers to know they're going into a serial murder case; the series makes no secret of its premise and from the outset, there's no mystery as to who is committing the crimes. We're meant to travel side by side with killer and cop, to compare and contrast their methods and though history (both fiction and non) may lean to one side, we still feel unsure what will happen in the end. (If you really want no further information, stop reading here.)

As I've said, we know who the murderer is almost immediately, but the way we're introduced to him is what's so unsettling. Paul Spector ("Once Upon a Time's" Jamie Dornan) is a bereavement counselor and family man--with two young children. His outward demeanor is relatively mild-mannered and quiet, his home life slightly chaotic as he and wife and neo-natal nurse Sally-Ann (Bronagh Waugh) juggle their schedules and tend to the kids. In the midst of cereal, school meetings and flying his giggling daughter through the living room air, Paul slips into a woman's home, goes through her things and lays out her underwear on the bed--a disturbing precursor to terrible things. The series cuts back and forth between Paul and Stella's worlds, like two sides of the same flipped coin. Cop and killer are both methodic and driven; both keep notebooks and pay close attention to the people they encounter. In each, we see something hard, cold, no-nonsense, and at the same time, vulnerable. Each character goes for exactly what she/he wants without reserve; each gets it and shows no remorse for decisions or effects. Still, nothing prepares you for the contrast between Paul's demeanor at home and his unflinching brute force and precision in carrying out an attack--nor is anything so curious as his tenderness and care in the aftermath, save Stella's own disconnected attitude, even in regard to her most personal affairs. The more we see of these two people, the more we want to know about them.

Anderson provides a strong lead, while Dornan gives a breakout performance. The supporting cast are all stellar, especially sad-faced Lynch, whose Chief Burns has a personal connection to Stella that allows her to make quick work of his judgmental attitude toward the victims and herself, and Niamh McGrady as Danielle Ferrington, a constable with sharp instincts who Stella brings onto her team. Archie Panjabi is quite good as the PSNI pathologist with whom Stella works closely and trusts. There are a few sideshow happenings, but they serve more to cement Stella's competence and position than to distract from the main event.

Where "Broadchurch" was achingly sad, "The Fall" is a tense character study that may leave you feeling anxious and terrified, but still wanting more. Thankfully, a second series has been ordered. Series one is currently available on Netflix instant.


Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson and John Lynch as Chief Constable Jim Burns

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Niamh McGrady as Constable Danielle Ferrington

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Emmett Scanlan as Detective Constable Glen Martin

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Ben Peel as Detective Sergeant James Olson

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Archie Panjabi as Pathologist Tanya Reed Smith

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Michael McElhatton ("Game of Thrones'" Roose Bolton) as Belfast Chief of Police, Rob Breedlove

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Simon Delaney as Jerry McIlroy and Frank McCusker as Garrett Brink

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Bronagh Waugh as Sally Ann Spector

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Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector

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Cindy Davis, (Twitter) has rediscovered her Gillian Anderson crush and thanks to SCOTUS, can act on it.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • SpaceAge Paige

    Thank you, thank you for calling attention!! I watched the whole damn thing the day it popped up on Netflix. (No, I don't have a life other than fiction writer and lifer.) I immediately had to watch Dornan in other things to get the stink off, and to revel in him. Wow.
    Gillian delivers nothing but excellence as always, and I wait, baited, for Season 2.

  • Spyro

    Spoiler !

    By the end a lot of plot is left hanging and i thought it was actually pretty disappointing based on what had come before.

  • I think the creator wanted to leave it ambiguous whether Paul would get caught one day or not. But hey, series 2 has been commissioned so there's the series could redeem itself for you.

  • Spyro

    I don't mind a bit of ambiguity but too much else was left hanging. For instance, Paul sets his car on fire and the wife doesn't think to ask ' hey paul, where's your car ? '.

  • Good point! All I could think is it was a secret car? Because they drove off in a different car later...

  • Homestar

    I don't know how I feel about this yet. It's a pretty good procedural (in terms of storytelling), and the actor playing the serial killer is mesmerizing.

    Gillian Anderson is ridiculously beautiful, but there's something about her character I don't quite buy. Maybe it's because I just watched all of Prime Suspect, but the way Anderson's character reacts to men asking about her sex life seems false. In Prime Suspect, I believed that the character wasn't interested in a relationship. I believed that she was fighting routine sexism for a large part of her career. In The Fall, though, Anderson seems to overreact to normal inquiries. I feel like she's anticipating the sexism more than actually experiencing it. I also didn't get that entire plot line with the buff detective.

    Still, it's worth watching if you like British procedurals.

  • Reverse Sexist

    As a woman who, unashamedly has picked up men, there is NOTHING false in her assignations or assumptions, be they true or perceived.
    And also, as a beautiful woman, after a few years, you learn to ANTICIPATE sexism. Is it always there? Probably not. But humans are creatures of habit, whether we admit it or not.
    Am I All of the above? IMO. Yes. Would you agree? Dunno. Am I an asshole? Maybe. Hell, probably. But like the creatures in this show, I don't necessarily often care what others think or want.
    Will I lie on my deathbed, ashamed of my life?
    Does it matter?
    Will I become a victim of a man like Paul?
    Nature is a furious beast.
    And like this show, consequences be damned sometimes - but what a ride!

  • Vi

    I certainly enjoyed it, but I don't think it's nearly as skilled as Luther is at making me hide behind the couch in terror.

  • Sirilicious

    I watched the pilot and didn't want to know more about them.

  • TS

    This is one of the best things the BBC have made in a while - it was the highest rated new drama on BBC2 for a number of years (I think). It is however extremely creepy and disturbing, especially if you're female and live alone! I consoled myself with the fact that I don't live in Northern Ireland or have brown hair as I went round checking everything was locked.....

  • emmalita

    Yes! I watched it when I was house sitting and jumped at every strange noise.

  • AndersonInABra - GoodMorning!

    I describe it as slow and deliberate.

    Gillian Anderson, who I could watch do just about anything - including stroll through scenes with that quiet cool controlled dignity - is certainly the glue.

    But Jamie Dornan's Spector is an excellent portrayal of a serial killer on the edge who is pushing his boundaries to fill his need.

    Here's hoping Series 2 ups the game a little more.

    Oh, and if they could just get John Lynch to talk to himself in the mirror ;)

  • TheOriginalMRod

    You had me at Gillian Anderson.

  • ceebee_eebee

    I thought the series was mediocre at best, but I'll still be watching S2. Not sure how helpful that is to people deciding whether The Fall is worth their viewing time, but there it is .

  • Fearganainm

    Its on Netflix. It's awful...

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Netflix is awful?

  • Brady

    Between this and Hannibal, Gillian Anderson must have a thing these days for dark crime dramas. But I'm definitely not complaining.

  • AnnaKendrick'sLoveMuffin

    No surprise considering the lighting on most episodes of The X-Files...

  • Kate at June

    No one should ever complain about more Gillian Anderson on their screens.

    Her character in Hannibal is so intriguing. I'll have to give this one a shot as well.

  • lovezoid

    I've been watching all the old X Files concurrently with Hannibal and it is so awesome watching her work in each role - there is hardly a trace of either in the other. She is smouldering in Hannibal, I'm also greatly intrigued by that character and wonder how she will be used next season.

  • Kate at June

    I squealed the first time I was watching Hannibal and "Quantico, Virginia" scrolled across the bottom of the screen in that typewriter font.

    She's a gifted actress. Her voice and speech patterns change with the roles, in addition to her mannerisms and acting choices. I'm really hoping the character doesn't end up on a plate next season.

  • lovezoid

    Ha yes! I didn't squeal, far too manly for that, but there was definitely a big delighted grin dressing my face at that moment. As a 'guest' character on the show I don't like her chances of remaining not-food somehow...but hell, I'm still just over the moon we will get another delicious course of Hannibal.

  • Brady

    I burned through all five episodes in two sittings. The British know how to do crime drama really well.

  • John W

    I hope it becomes available on DVD.

  • GAftly8524

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    This is one of the best things
    the BBC have made in a while - it was the highest rated new drama on
    BBC2 for a number of years (I think). It is however extremely creepy
    and disturbing, especially if you're female and live alone! I consoled
    myself with the fact that I don't live in Northern Ireland or have brown
    hair as I went round checking everything was locked.....

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