British cop shows normally consist of rural fantasies like Midsomer Murders or idiotic pro-cop propaganda like The Bill. As such the first season of The Fall felt like something fresh and different, at least as far as UK drama goes. Thoughtful if not quite cerebral, its Belfast setting and excellent cast helped it stand out from the crowd. I had high hopes for season two, and it’s good, but I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t progress further, and I personally felt it got a bit bogged down in unnecessary ways.
I mentioned in my review of season one that it’s good to see a series like this set outside London. Belfast’s comparatively small size allows for interesting plot points. Indeed the major story arc of this season revolves around someone knowing the killer, Paul Spector, from about ten years in the past. In a metropolis this just wouldn’t make sense, but in a place like Belfast it’s quite plausible. Similarly, Spector has antagonized a lot of local people by season two, and so bumping in to them on the city’s streets is a distinct possibility. He also meets a woman on the train who has dyed her hair blonde to reduce the chance of being selected as a victim.
Season two focuses largely on the police manhunt of Spector and his efforts to avoid detection. This is the source of predictable tension, but the recklessness of the police was a surprise, and deliberately leaving a known killer on the street felt unrealistic, at least in these circumstances. I was also disappointed by a major scene where the police chief visits a pederast priest in prison who knew Spector from childhood. The show depicts the police as a powerless agency in that context, having to bow and scrape in the hope of eliciting helpful information; when, in reality, surely all it would take would be one word with the warden to force co-operation on pain of dire consequences.
One massive blind spot is that The Fall makes barely a reference to Irish Republicanism or the Nationalist movement. The reality is that much of Belfast is highly segregated, especially in working-class areas, and the politico-religious divide affects each and every aspect of life–especially policing. It’s disappointing that The Fall doesn’t really address this, and it doesn’t feed into the story at all. A couple of Loyalist paramilitaries continue to play an important role in the series, and are involved in some very menacing scenes, but the broader sectarian context is largely ignored.
While not touching on this issue, The Fall continues to explore gender relations and expectations. It’s always good to see a drama of this nature attempting to take a humane and responsible approach to gender representation and here, especially, to the subject of violence against women. However I felt that, in contrast to the first season, from a narrative point of view it was at times handled quite clumsily. Early episodes continue to dredge up Stella Gibson’s fling with murdered policeman James Olsson for no apparent reason; later episodes suddenly drop major characters into a bisexual liaison out of nowhere, and have one prominent male character (who we suddenly learn is a recovered alcoholic) fall off the wagon and threaten sexual violence against Gibson.
Scenes like these felt contrived, as if writer Alan Cubitt was trying to use his characters to create talking points rather than to tell the story. I also disliked a technique used in a major scene towards the end of the season when Gibson and Spector are talking to one another. A ‘talking heads’ technique is employed whereby the camera sits in front of each character in turn who speaks straight into the camera. I hate this technique, which always feels either like a crass attempt to manipulate and exploit the audience or like the shallow arthouse pretension of a sixth-form film student.
The third season of The Fall just finished filming and is due to air later this year. This particular story feels like it needs to end, and considering the trajectory of season two I hope that it’s not stretched out further. Otherwise what started as a very promising and exciting Anglo-Irish drama could start to feel like so much other overwrought UK TV and break down under its own sense of self-importance.