The city of Belfast conjures up some rather unsettling events. Of course, that's all in the past and today the Irish locale is a culturally thriving and beautiful metropolis. This jagged duality makes it the perfect place to set THE FALL, a flesh-crawling 2013 BBC series, now on DVD from Acorn and RLJ Entertainment.
The brutal assault and murder of a young woman has connections to local gangland activity (she was the estranged spouse of a kingpin's son). The notoriety of the case forces the constabulary to bring in a special Scotland Yard investigator, DSI Stella Gibson. Gibson's not only a tough cookie, but an icy one. She also is also possessed of a wild sexuality which offers her a release from her stress-filled duties. When another homicide occurs, she immediately connects the two crimes, alerting her team to the unpleasant fact that there's a serial killer on the loose.
These allegations are sloughed off by the officials, who can't imagine how the two killings are connected to the vicinity's gangland activities. The answer, Gibson assures them, is simple. They aren't. That one victim was related to a mobster is totally accidental. A red herring – made all the more convincing by the subsequent uncovering of a prostitution ring involving top police figures and dark political connotations.
No one believes Stella Gibson – except Paul Spector, a much-revered, dedicated women's grief counselor. And for good reason: he's the serial killer.
As you might suspect, THE FALL isn't your run-of-the-mill connect-the-dots TV crime drama. It's a continuously twisting (and twisted) downward spiral of two disturbed personalities. The comparisons between the hunters (her for him, he for new victims) is what fuels this fascinating, tense 5-part thriller.
Gibson, portrayed by Gillian Anderson (who also served as co-producer), gives a remarkable performance (in spite of a “British” accent reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck's in The Lady Eve). She's a conflicted analytical genius whose brilliant sleuthing clashes with unbridled ferocious carnality. Yet, professionally and personally, she is an emotionless machine. For example: while checking out a crime scene, Gibson spies a handsome detective. She suggests he visit her hotel room – the result being a coital encounter equivalent of the 1906 Frisco quake. Shortly thereafter, the man is found murdered (a totally unrelated case). Her superiors discover where he was, and what the married policeman was up to. Gibson, shrugs it off as nothing (“...just a fuck...”). She balls ‘em as she sees ‘em.
Spector is a devoted family man with two young children. His fierce desire to help battered women arouses suspicions from his coworkers, pegging him as a save-the-world do-gooder whose problem is that he cares too much. His erratic hours provide ample opportunity to seek out/groom his next victim, utilizing his psychological skills to seamlessly ingratiate himself into their environs. “Have a busy night?” innocently asks his wife the next morning while getting their kids ready for school. Killing with as much fervor as Gibson uses for sex, Spector's post-violent release takes a drastically different direction (he lovingly bathes and dresses his corpses). Spector increasingly retreats to his safe house, a haven for his sadistic tools and (dare I say) binders full of women – notebooks with sketches of his “models.” Jamie Dornan (now a hot commodity, due to his participation in the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey movie) perfectly complements Anderson – with his opposite personae. The cleverness of THE FALL is Dornan's undeniable likeability, as opposed to Anderson's uncaring, detached demeanor.
In his excellent script, Prime Suspect alumnus Allan Cubitt eerily disproves the relationship between oil and water in human terms; sometimes they do mix. With the murders piling up, and Gibson's expanding profile proving prophetic, the wily superintendent explains that “Even a multiple murderer can have his share of good qualities.” Alarmingly, Gibson understands her prey all-too-well – a kink she admits via her quoting Nietzche’s “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster.” In one especially demented instance, the lead protagonists’ respective vocations concurrently place them at the forefront of an unrelated police matter. Yikes.
While appearing far more desirable to Gibson's after-hours existence, Spector's on-the-surface idyllic home life (his adoring wife works at a children's hospital) soon too starts to show cracks. His young daughter (Sarah Beattie) spies him fondling “souvenirs.” Later she draws graphic pictures of women being tortured. When a hormonal teenaged babysitter (Aisling Franciosi, who bears a frightening resemblance to his “types”) comes on to Spector, he's forced lie to his spouse about a non-existent affair with the girl. It's the only lie he's ever told her that he's ashamed of.
With Gibson closing in, their revolving cat-and-mouse roles eventually connect. “We're a lot alike, you and me,” he astutely tells her over a cellphone before tossing it into a river. It's the preamble for the creepy finale that chillingly ends this first series.
THE FALL's location photography and production values are aces. The widescreen deceptive pastoral visuals of the city by daylight, trumped by their foreboding nighttime counterpart, effectively transform Belfast into another Jekyll/Hyde player, and deservedly earn the praise of d.p. Ruairi O'Brien. The spine-tingling stereo soundtrack does what it must – accentuating the suspense – and represents the excellent work of the aptly named band Unloved.
The lion's share of the accolades naturally go to the high-octane direction of Jakob Verbruggen. This is a splendid example where one episode per sitting may not be enough. Mystery fans may indeed opt to watch the entire 306 minute two-DVD saga in one viewing.
A 12-minute MAKING OF featurette offers some welcome (and startlingly humorous) sidebars. Producer Julian Stevens recounts how after seeing Verbruggen's work on the series Code 37, he was determined to attach him to the project. But Verbruggen didn't have an agent (try getting away with that in this country!). A positive sign to the attributes of the social network, Stevens sent the director an email on Facebook. A stunned Verbruggen understandably couldn't believe his good fortune. Anderson wryly comments that she can never come to terms with her being cast as investigators – the crucial difference being that “...I'm actually a ditz.” Dorman, meanwhile, spent much of the filming constantly apologizing to his female costars about what he was about to do.
There are sequences of THE FALL that constantly come back to haunt you – I mean in a good way (the aforementioned dialog, acting, writing, direction, look). Depending on your predilection, the show will either have you going to bed locking or unlocking your door (hopefully the former). LSS, am I ready for Series 2? Aberrantly so.
THE FALL. Color. Widescreen [1.77:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]. Dolby Digital stereo-surround [2.0]. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment. UPC# 0-54961211890; ISBN # 9781621721185; CAT # AMP-2118. SRP: $39.99.