Crime dramas are the series du jour at the moment with Broadchurch standing out as one of the biggest recent successes whilst quieter affairs like Assorted Buffery favourite Scott and Bailey continue to impress. The Fall then has a lot of work to do to stand out from an already packed genre. Thankfully, it seems to be doing so through its central quirk; we already know who the killer is. In fact, we spend just as much time with the killer as we do with the investigator, a neat twist which already establishes The Fall on solid ground.
Sent to review a murder investigation in Belfast, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) sees a pattern between two murders and believes there is a serial killer on the loose. However, her superiors have other ideas and urge her to just do the job she was sent to do. Elsewhere in the city, we are introduced to Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a psychologist, happily married with two adoring children and a nice family home. He also happens to be a serial killer with a penchant for tall brunettes who strikes again over the course of the episode, stalking his victim whilst taking his daughter for a walk in the park.
It is these central juxtapositions that make the first episode of The Fall an intriguing watch. First of all, the contrast of the hunter and the hunted is established in the opening scenes; both Gibson and Spector are seen going through the motions of their own routines, one in her own home, the other in someone else's. These scenes appear throughout the episode, tying the two characters together even if they don't realise it themselves yet. It also makes for an interesting dynamic as an audience member, employing a healthy dose of dramatic irony to produce a rather unsettling effect.
The rest of the episode was no less uncomfortable, particularly in the scenes with Paul as he goes about his two lives. Returning from stalking the house of his next victim, Paul comes home to find his young son waiting for him on the stairs, worried about where his father was gone. As shocks go, it was most extreme and unexpected, hammering home that this is a drama in which the domestic is every much linked to the criminality. Dornan's performance captures the two aspects well though with a hollow-eyed link between the two. He may smile with his kids, but it never goes to his eyes. I'll be interested to see if Paul manages to keep the two lives separate successfully because it already appears as if they're beginning to bleed into each other.
As for Gillian Anderson, it's a welcome return to investigation for her (though I do still expect Mulder to show up any second - it's just habit). Arguably given the harder task of playing the hero opposite an intriguing villain, Anderson gives a solid, if not showy performance, as Gibson and it is her scenes that provide a measure of security and comfort from the unsettling nature of Spector. It is also once again great to see a lead female role in such a drama, following on from the considerable performance of Olivia Colman in Broadchurch.
Though slow-burning, The Fall's central conceit of a 'whydunnit' as opposed to a 'who' makes this a compelling watch and I'll be interested to see whether it can maintain the uncomfortable atmosphere that it has established so well in the first instalment.
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