“I’m trying not to take The Fall personally.”

Guardian TV critic Stuart Heritage with a nail on head review of the “dead dog of a show” that The Fall became.  From the Guardian review

Even by most recent standards, The Fall was dire this year. Now that it’s done, and Paul Spector is dead and Stella Gibson is back enigmatically muttering like a woman who lost her keys, it’s hard to fathom why anyone was ever excited about this dreary puddle of a show in the first place.

I think I remember. In its first series, The Fall was a taut game of cat and mouse. It was a horror story, about a normal family man with a monstrous secret, tracked by a mysterious police officer who couldn’t explain her attraction to the case. Every episode, as Spector’s murders grew more brutal and the circle closed in around him, was even more unbearably tense than the last. It was a proper, grownup, sexy, scary thriller.

And then it wasn’t.

Like anyone else who watched it, I can pinpoint the exact moment The Fall fell apart. It was the very last scene of the first series. Gibson was finally supposed to come face-to-face with Spector, allowing us to see all the violence and chemistry that had long been promised. Except that didn’t happen. What happened was Gibson phoned Spector, muttered something noncommittal about being on to him, then a title card popped up telling us to wait until next year.

It was a painful anti-climax that stank of commercial forces. It felt like a tight, compact one-series show had been blasted wide open so that BBC Two could brag about having Gillian Anderson on its books for the longterm. Which would have been fine, had the second series retained the quality of the first. But it did not. Finally exposed as a murderer, Spector suddenly gained the superpower of route-one exposition, eroding his mystique with one tedious monologue about his motivations after another. And then he was shot dead. And then he came back to life, because everyone is stupid and nobody learns anything.

At which point I can be incredibly smug and note that I stopped watching The Fall after the first series mostly because of that scene in particular.

Let’s just hope that it is finally over… because everyone is stupid and nobody learns anything.


  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And consistent with everyone being stupid and not learning anything (Northern ireland anyone?) there’s also making it up as you go along. Persistence can pay but only when the goal will be satisfactory and instead the return here was a whimper. At least that reflects something relevant about the series’ location.
    What frustrated me most was the banality of much of the dialogue, given that it was about a corrupted individual operating in a tolerably corrupted place facing his nemesis from an avenging angel with her human frailties on a steep learning curve. The first series successfully embodied the intended ‘banality of evil’ but series 2 missed a lot of opportunities, not least all the uniquely Northern Irish loose ends: obstacles created by political, paramilitary, business, policing and associated corruption. Banality in a script could have been fine if balanced with our city’s unique history and tolerance of and co-operation with brutal criminality when brutality was on our side. Making Belfast a character with its unique personality had a lot of mileage but the narrative never fully developed the impact of Spector’s killing spree on the city, its population, its political leaders and the unfortunate tightrope walkers: the PSNI. Might it take a non political serial killer on the loose (Lenny Murphy without the gang and the sectarianism) to force those corrupted by power and/or identity anxiety to examine how vendettas against anonymous ‘others’ affect us and overlook our contrived tribal differences in the face of common fear? Or couldn’t we have seen instead how our irresponsible powerful could have made everything worse by some knee jerk reaction (predictably sectarian or not) to look relevant? The point of locating this series here could have reflected our ugliness back to ourselves but instead shied away from bravely grappling the corruptibility of this place.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’d disagree there was not a plot to the third season, The Fall certainly wasn’t unstructured, there are so many worse dramas that are. However, going from a detective thriller to a legal/medical even psychological melodrama, while ultimately organic and plot driven … is a very tough, but not impossible to pull off.

    There’s no reason why Season 3 had to repeat Season 1, the first Act, even if it did, say go down a sort of “copy cat” at large route it could be accused of being boring.

    For a Third Series/Third Act I don’t think the plot was as bad, it was a workable idea, you can do decent court case drama, decent medical drama, decent psychological drama and bring it all together but I think the biggest issue is you never felt the characters really had much of a character driven plot to carry.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Wasn’t the original set up that Belfast was the backdrop? The writer threw in paedophilia in a religiously run institution after initially introducing many other features of life that are pertinent to here but there was an unsatisfactory sense of follow through with any of that apart from the emasculated John Lynch’s descent into work provoked alcoholism. There was a sense that the series wasn’t sure where it wanted to go except for being increasingly character and gender driven. The tension between the female investigating officer becoming pre-occupied with and even consumed by the male serial killer with a destructive phallocratic obsession was well enough handled and there were many matching characteristics between the two (confident, non-conformist & impervious to judgment). However, I’d like to have seen Belfast emerge more as a powerful character to have given this drama something really original and a stronger sense of place.

  • Brian Walker

    Pity to review something you haven’t seen through, Pete. The real fascination for me was in depicting the dark ambiguities of sexual attraction, its relationship to power and the nature of victimhood. Stella the virtuous one and Spector the incarnation of evil have more in common than is entirely comfortable. But for me the denouement rather let the series down. Goaded by Stella, Spector jumps up and attacks her physically in the interrogation suite. But after he’s returned to the psychiatric unit, he’s allowed to associate freely with fellow inmates. That would never have happened. He seizes the opportunity to commit a last murder and then to commit suicide. But overall gripping, brilliantly paced and acted. To be commended for avoiding most of the clichés of the genre. Despite the Troubles references, It could have been staged in any urban setting – although I enjoyed identifying most of the locations. .

  • Korhomme

    I have the impression that Series I might have been all there was; but viewing figures persuaded the beeb to go for a second series. Thus some rather odd bits at the start of Series II. Likewise, until it was seen as a viewer winner, Series II might have been the end. So SI and SII either had to end on a cliffhanger as a prelude to the next series, or just be an ending. There were announcements, were there not, towards the end of both SI and SII that The Fall would be returning, as if the decision to continue was made during the screening—and that decision influenced by focus groups.

    This isn’t the way to write or produce a series. Homeland is an example of what I’m getting at. OTOH, The Killing and The Bridge didn’t fall into this trap. Successive series were ‘self-contained’ rather than continuations.

  • Spoilers, Brian. 😉

    It’s Stuart Heritage’s review, btw. You are, of course, free to disagree.

    But my point was that I saw enough of it in the first series to recognise that it was going wrong.

    In particular, but not exclusively, in the scene mentioned in the original post.

    That would never have happened. And that was enough to break the suspension of disbelief for me. Because if they were prepared to allow that scene to stand, then they had stopped caring about [the characters and] the story.

  • hgreen

    For me the wardrobe scene in the Merchant in season 2 was when it jumped the shark.

    A US production company would have handled it differently by throwing more writers at it for the second season, giving it a chance of turning into something long running like Homeland.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well setting seemed to go as well, but characterization at its strongest is about personal change to environment and I think the focus may’ve slipped in the last episode or act.

    There was characterization but you never felt that it was the personality driving the plot, or the plot driving the characters in the last season. This is true particularly with Gibson (who became a pseudosecondary character to Spector), who seemed to facilitate other characters, particularly the other female characters who arguably were better connected to the plot.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think there was an avenue for referencing a lot of the mistakes of the police investigation as botches that a defense team could profit from. You perhaps are right with the creative licence of the psychiatric ward, having the main character shot with chloropromazine and stuck in a straight jacket could’ve worked only if they shifted the plot focus somewhere else like the underdeveloped deuteragonist Stella instead.

    However doing that would’ve meant a Third Act where a murder murders no one else, and the loss of a the murder thriller gimic. In other words it was a commercialized ending.

  • Korhomme

    ((An aside; suicide is no longer illegal. Organisations dealing with suicide and its prevention advise that the term “commit “, which implies criminality, is stigmatising and inappropriate today.))

  • John Claudius

    To be honest the missus had recorded the final episode and we both watched it last night. This was the only episode I’ve seen and it wasn’t great. But look, if it gives a few actors a living then fair play.

  • tmitch57

    I’m watching Series 3 on Netflix now and find it very disappointing compared to the first two seasons. Series 2 wasn’t quite up to the standard of Series 1 but the second season at least had some action and suspense. The third season seems to be totally devoid of both. And except for the Belfast accents the series could easily take place anywhere in the UK as far as the third season is concerned. I also wonder why they chose to make the psychiatrist at the mental hospital a Scandinavian as opposed to either British or Irish.

  • Jim M

    Straight jackets aren’t used any more. I think it’s more likely he would just have been taken to prison at that point, at least temporarily…

  • Jim M

    Yeah I agree re the lost sense of direction. Re gender: although Gibson seemed from the start to have strong ideas in this area, I have a suspicion that the direction the series took was a response to the (IMO unfounded) media accusations of misogyny.

  • Jim M

    Spoilers, obviously:

    The child abuse backstory annoyed me. Not only did it perpetuate the ‘victims become abusers’ trope, but it also moved away from the interesting suggestions in S1 that Spector was pretty ‘ordinary’ and that his deviancy wasn’t that different from many men’s sexual thoughts and behaviour. Also, how come he ended up at a home in Dundalk? Makes no sense.

    I really didn’t like how nurses (both the general nurse and the mental health nurse) were portrayed as grossly unprofessional. Lastly, I thought the suicide scene was really irresponsible (both upsetting for bereaved people, and with the potential to inspire copycat behaviour).

  • Kevin Breslin

    Even in series there was high security locked rooms, denying the association between prisoners was possible.

  • Jim M

    I think the unfortunate Daly (that was his name right?) was locked in his own room. Last time I heard, Shannon clinic (the RW equivalent of Foyle) didn’t use seclusion rooms (I don’t think they would lock someone in their room either, but they would have lots of staff restraining them and would likely sedate them). But yeah, it makes no sense that he would be back on the ward with nothing changed after displaying a capacity for extreme violence. I think the portrayal of nurses in S3 was disgraceful – I trained as a mental health nurse and everyone would know that behaviour like that could get you struck off (potentially in the female nurse’s case, for definite in the case of the male nurse).

  • Kevin Breslin

    Apart from Surgeons and News Reporters pretty much everyone was incompetent. I know it’s drama but still.

  • Jim M

    This is true…and there was a very incompetent journalist in S2 who gave his car to an armed, on the run loyalist and didn’t call the cops… That whole storyline was ridiculous though.

  • Korhomme

    Don’t be so sure about the surgeons.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Can we say the children weren’t incompetent?

    Is that’s what we’re left with?

  • Korhomme

    Olivia was very sweet.

  • whatif1984true

    Since when were decisions made based on quality. It is very rare that a series ends on a high, it usually limps to a weak end.
    As with Business/The Peter Principle one could say most TV series continue until they are wisely recognised as bad. The production companies know this but so long as they are commissioned why should they care, it is the bread in their mouths.

  • 05OCT68

    Cubitt was too self indulgent with the 3rd series, Spector should have died in the shooting in the 2nd series.

  • tmitch57

    In the final two episodes of Series 3 the Kincora Boy’s Home scandal was obliquely referenced by subject, but not by name. This hinted at the damaged individuals that might be walking around as a result of the scandal, which was indirectly related to The Troubles, the securocrats, and unionism.