Early in Season 2 of The Fall, Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), a detective investigating a string of murders by the Belfast Strangler (Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan), coaches her team about the serial killer they’re hunting. ”He takes his fantasies and he makes them into reality…. He feels he has a right to decide who lives and who dies,” she says. That’s not a bad description for a TV showrunner, either, right?
The Fall‘s creator, Allan Cubitt, is well aware of the parallels between his job and the Belfast Strangler’s. In a 2013 column for The Guardian, he wrote that many crime shows exploit their victims just as serial killers do: by eroticizing power, violence, and death, and objectifying their prey, turning women into half-naked corpses before we have the opportunity to care about them as living humans. The Fall fights that impulse hard, not just by letting us get to know the victims before the crime—or, in the case of a lone survivor (Karen Hassan) this season, after—but also by continuing to explore the impact on their families a full season after their deaths.
I’d say that The Fall is a deeply moral crime thriller, but that description is too boring for a drama that’s electric with suspense and erotic tension and pulpy cliff-hangers. Anderson’s performance is riveting. Last season, her icy confidence made some fans (including this one) want to be Gibson, but this season, she shows a real vulnerability without sacrificing any strength. As for Dornan, there’s a reason his character is named Paul Spector: He’s quite the specter himself, an oft-shirtless heartthrob who might be TV’s sexiest psychopath if he weren’t also a good reminder that serial killers are known for charming women to death. Without revealing too much, season 2 picks up just days after the season 1 finale and finds Spector starting to get bold, paying visits to women he’s tormented in the past and leaving easily traceable clues for Gibson—who’s already close to catching him—while messing with her head on a very personal level. He’ll mess with your head, too. In one scene, Gibson finds a video of him torturing a woman. ”Why are you watching this?” he asks, straight into the camera. ”Are you sick?” He’s talking to Gibson, but he’s also talking to the rest of us. Like Spector, we know we shouldn’t be taking pleasure from other people’s pain. But it’s impossible to stop. A