The Fall season finale recap: 'What Is in Me Dark Illumine'
Gibson and Spector finally go head-to-head in a bloody season finale.
Ahead of The Fall‘s second-season debut on Netflix, creator Allan Cubitt told journalists at this year’s Television Critics’ Association that he was “very confident” there would be a third season of the crime drama. And, knowing that before diving into the new episodes, led me to wonder whether season 2 would bring closure to the Belfast Strangler case. And now that we’ve seen the season finale the answer is… yes and no. Yes, in that Gibson’s quest to capture Spector has been realized. No, in that, well, he might die before she’s able to give his victims’ and victims’ families any justice.
We pick up with Gibson eyeing Spector’s burnt-out car. She notices on the satellite imagery map that there’s an abandoned building not far from where the car is—an abandoned building the investigative team hasn’t searched yet. She and a copper drive over and arrive to a set of tire tracks that could resemble those from Rose Stagg’s car. (Are tire tracks ever that unique to the human eye?) Gibson doesn’t wait for backup or forensics: The officer uses bolt cutters to let her in, and she begins to pick through Spector’s lair. In an upstairs room she finds a chair and a tripod. She knows Rose has been there, but she doesn’t know where Rose is now.
Elsewhere, Jimmy has been tipped off to his wife’s safe-house location and makes a terrible scene there, attacking Liz before eventually fleeing; Katie is brought in (with an appropriate adult who is not her mother) for questioning. The tech team was able to retrieve a video from Katie’s phone. And, as you may have guessed, it’s the sexytimes videochat between her and Spector. Gibson and Anderson watch the clip for what feels like an uncomfortable length of time before Gibson asks him to head up the interview with Katie. He hesitates: The line of questioning is rather sensitive, wouldn’t Katie be more comfortable with a woman? Which is exactly what Gibson doesn’t want. “She’s obsessed with Spector. Let’s see how she deals with someone of a similar age.”
But it doesn’t seem like Katie’s uncomfortable at all. If anything, she’s probably making Anderson a bit uncomfortable with the graphic nature of her testimony. (Testimony which we know, by and large, is false.) Anderson asks why she broke into the Spectors’ home and why she snapped the selfie wearing a T-shirt of the suspect composite. “For fun,” is her pat response. Anderson makes it plain to Katie that her lies are futile, but she persists. Why? “Because I was asleep before I met him, and now I’m awake. Because I see everything with new eyes now.” (Do I smell a spin-off?)
Gibson is called in to watch more retrieved footage, this time from the Bleecker Street Hotel owner’s computer. Turns out he’s a tech-savvy Peeping Tom and has thousands of hours of video of his clientele, including the light bondage between Spector and Katie.
A gussied up McNally goes to Spector again to try to shake him, and at first, it looks like he’s taken with her. But obviously he’s too smart for all this.
“Sending in someone who looks vaguely like Annie Brawley is pretty feeble, Stella,” he says into the camera. “You can do better than that, surely.”
NEXT: Meeting of the minds
Paul isn’t the only Spector refusing to admit the truth: Daughter Olivia has been brought in for questioning, and though she doesn’t entirely understand what’s at stake, she does understand that she can’t tell what she knows. She lies about not drawing the pregnant lady; she lies about the necklace Spector gave her; and when asked about the naked lady in the roof she says she can’t tell because it’s a secret—because Daddy might go to prison.
“All her instincts are telling her to protect him at all costs,” Gibson remarks, with tears in her eyes. “The truth is, she knows nothing about him.”
With evidence mounting, Eastwood charges Spector with the remaining Belfast Strangler murders, to which Spector responds: “I’ll talk to Stella. No one else. Just her.”
Burns tries to dissuade Gibson, not only because it’s a departure from protocol but because, thanks to her diary, Spector knows way to much about Gibson—information he could use to his benefit.
“He’s not a monster,” Gibson says. “He’s just a man.”
Stella Gibson and Paul Spector
I decided at about 48 seconds into Gibson and Spector’s marvelous, mesmerizing face-off that I wouldn’t be “recapping” it. It would be a disservice to the scene. (And, really, most of my notes were verbatim transcriptions of the dialogue—it’s just that well-played.) So, instead, a few jottings and observations:
– Spector, our Misogynist in Chief, considers the women he stalks his “projects,” like some men would consider woodworking or mustache maintenance their projects.
– Yet, he doesn’t believe himself a rapist. In fact, the mere suggestion leaves him sneering, as though his crimes are above that.
– He judges Gibson for not having kids. His explanation for why he waited 18 years to live out his sadistic fantasies: “You’re a barren spinster,” he tells Gibson, “so you wouldn’t know, but small children take up all your time.”
– The camera work here is intimate. At times, Spector speaks directly into the lens, as if we are the interrogators.
– Spector is surprised (and maybe a little hurt) when he discovers Katie recorded their videochat.
– He doesn’t hate women; he hates everyone.
– Spector is quite adamant that Gibson was likely molested by her father. “It reads that way to me,” he says. “If he didn’t, you sure as hell wanted him to.”
– Gibson asks the question I posed in my recap of the previous episode: Whom was Spector addressing in the Rose Stagg torture tape when he turned the camera on himself and called the viewer a “sick shit”? He does not answer this question.
– When Gibson asks for the whereabouts of Rose Stagg, Spector calls an end to the interrogation, but delivers this closing vow: “But be aware, it’s not over between us. In fact, it’s just begun.”
NEXT: The beginning of the end?
We reconvene in Gibson’s hotel room, where she’s jotting down notes presumably for a press conference. And she’s not alone. Anderson is in her bed. (For some reason this reveal elicited a chuckle from me.) It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion, given Anderson’s likeness to Spector, that he’s not some sort of sexual surrogate here. In fact, he tries to, tactfully, ask Gibson that very question.
“You said a strange thing,” he begins tentatively. “When you first asked me to interview Katie Benedetto. You suggested that I was like Spector. What did you mean by that?”
“I meant what I said,” she responds. “Similar age, similar looks.”
Gibson begins to catch Anderson’s meaning—a thought she deems “repellant.”
But Anderson doesn’t stop there, wondering aloud whether it would be such a weird thing—there is a “strange allure” about Spector, after all.
Gibson then paraphrases that great Margaret Atwood quote (which she credits to a woman, “I can’t remember who”): “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
“He might fascinate you,” she concludes. “I despise him with every fiber of my being.”
Her phone rings, and it’s Eastwood: Spector has made an offer. In exchange for revealing Rose’s location, Spector would like a visit with his daughter, Olivia.
Paul Spector and Stella Gibson
And quick as a shot, we’re back to Family Man Spector, and this scene with his daughter is, in many ways, heartbreaking.
“Watching you grow up has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. And we know he means it.
With his short visitation complete, Spector is dressed in civilian clothes and led to a van to guide Gibson, Anderson, and the team to Rose’s location. The convoy doesn’t remain a secret though: The prison guard who’s been tipping of the Chronicle journalist lets him know Spector is on the move to the forest. And when Jimmy pulls up and demands he drive to the scene, well, you know no good will come of it.
When the team pulls up to the spot Spector designates, Stella heads out alone into the woods, with helicopter coverage above, while a cuffed-together Spector and Anderson wait on the dirt road. Gibson wanders… for a long time. As the two men wait for Gibson, Spector declares that there’s clearly something going on between Gibson and Anderson, and warns the latter not to do anything if he hasn’t already because the fantasy is much better than the reality. (And he should know.)
Gibson finally finds Rose Stagg’s car—she’s inside the trunk and barely alive.
“Unexpected,” Spector muses when the call comes across Anderson’s radio. (Though he can’t be too surprised she’s still breathing seeing as he left her snacks and water.) It’s also probably worth noting that she has “I love [is it Tom?]” carved into her arm. One final love letter to her husband? An act of defiance against Spector? Or both?
As the rescue team emerges from the woods with Rose Stagg’s body, shots ring out. Jimmy has shot Spector and Anderson. Gibson runs to Spector, cradling his body as the life bleeds out of him.
“We’re losing him. We’re losing him,” she cries.
Will Spector survive to stand trial? It stands to reason that if producers want a third season that would need to be the case. There are plenty of loose ends to be tied up in what could be a final season.
But, that said, I think the show could benefit from going back to a five-episode season. The first season felt focused and ran a brisk course. This second, in contrast, felt slightly stretched—the middle bit could have done with some streamlining.
I’m also a bit confused by what seems to be an extraneous story line: that of Burns’ dealings with the Monroe family. A B-plot in the first season, the arrangement got no more than a few throw-away lines in the second season. Perhaps we can jettison with it altogether in season 3? Pretend like it never happened? (What is it really adding, after all?) Or maybe producers still have one or two tricks up their sleeves in that regard.
Small quibbles for an otherwise compelling drama. What did you think of season 2 of The Fall?