|'two of the reasons to watch the series, A-listers Anderson and Dornan, slowly reveal themselves to be generally no reason to watch at all. Dornan begins as slate-cold killer but graduates to numbing cod-philosophical bore'|
Aggressively bad in a way only a British TV series can be when it gets it wrong, The Fall: Season Three, which concluded recently on BBC One, is amongst the most plodding, ambivalently plotted, tirelessly dull televisual events in recent memory. In a sucker punch presumably designed to cause the most offence to a loyal watching audience, the season's best episode is its penultimate, followed closely by the final episode: the season's worst.
If, like me, you've sat semi-interested through all three seasons of The Fall, that final episode cannot help but raise questions. These questions will mainly be: 'what happened?', 'what was the point?', 'did I leave the kettle on?' and 'hey?'. The decisions made are amongst the most baffling, most ire-inspiring covered on TV, decisions that have been tried and tested in terrible serial killer tosh before and found consistently wanting.
Though it is largely bad, it is unfair to say the The Fall has been a failure since its 2013 debut. The opening season is a moody piece of miserabilism, directed with appropriate dourness by Jakob Verbruggen who, it is worth noting, has gone on to London Spy, House Of Cards and Black Mirror. It ends with 'Belfast Strangler' Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) uncaptured by police pursuant Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and it is all the better for it. Spector's serial killer 'hook', that he is a married father of two, succeeding at living an outwardly normal life, is played well and embellished to the right degree by Stella's personal life and the appearance of Katie (Aisling Franciosi) to shake things up. It's not revolutionary, but it is quietly played, slowly escalating Drama, with a realistically British heart.
Problems do begin to arise in Season Two, which drops the grim realism in favour of ever more outlandish plotting. During the course of the series, wanted killer Spector manages to sit in undetected on a conversation between Stella and superior Jim (John Lynch) in Stella's hotel room and pose as a doctor so that he can enter the room of one his surviving victims. It's probably a fair fictionalisation of a serial killer slowly escalating, dropping his careful planning in favour of outlandishness as his underlying need to be caught is slowly realised. Still, it feels pulpy against the previous season and it's no surprise when Spector finds himself in a cell.
Meanwhile, two of the other reasons to watch the series, A-listers Anderson and Dornan, slowly reveal themselves to be generally no reason to watch at all. Dornan begins as slate-cold killer but graduates to numbing cod-philosophical bore. As Stella correctly points out - albeit in series three - he just has an infantile need to be heard, yet has nothing worth hearing. Stella meanwhile, in Anderson's hands, operates at a pitch somewhere between a squeak and a whisper. It's a shtick that increasingly grates, graduating from performance choice to near-parodic manifestation. The first proper head-to-head between the two of them, towards the end of Season Two, which does conclude well, is not the meeting of heavyweights offered in other series of this sort.
And then Season Three hits, making terrible decision after terrible decision. After calling on that most major of writer's crutches (Spector has amnesia and has forgotten his crimes... or has he), writer/creator and, since Season Two, director, Allan Cubitt treats us to a crawl through Spector's recovery, whilst Stella investigates his past crimes in the hope of hitting on something which falls outside of his memory loss.
In fairness, the solution - to go after a potential previous crime - is clever, but that's about where the series' cleverness ends. Take the fact that we spend a fair amount of time with defence attorneys Wallace (Ruth Bradley) and Healy (Aidan McArdle), including an apparently important conversation late in the final episode about their moral position. Quite why we watch that, given that Spector offs himself at the close, is anyone's guess, something you can level at the method of Spector exit itself. It clearly denies everyone - from the audience to Stella - a level of closure, which perhaps suggests that, perversely, the demise of one of the two major characters is intended to set up a Season Four.
If that does come to pass, and if it retains many of Season Three's tropes and features, then it will not be a welcome return. The six episodes of the third season see Stella's whispering reach an insufferable peak, whilst more and more cliches are piled in. Anonymously European psychiatrist? Check. Increasing amount of Mummy/Daddy issues made explicit? Check. Cop with an alcohol problem ('have you been drinking?')? Check.
British television, television in general, is supposedly in a golden age. The Fall, Season Three in particular, is the type of show that makes you wonder if the gold is reaching exactly the right sort of productions.
|The Fall: Season One|
|The Fall: Season Two|
|The Fall: Season Three|
The Fall was streaming on Amazon Instant Video and BBC iPlayer.