The BBC’s insidiously charming serial killer Paul Spector has arrived bloody and battered in a third series of The Fall this month. Awaiting him is Gillian Anderson's tough-as-teak DSI Stella Gibson. If you haven’t caught the Belfast-set thriller so far, there’s still time. Here’s 11 good reasons to do exactly that.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FALL SERIES 1 AND 2
1. It’s the most gripping thriller on TV
The two adversaries, Stella Gibson and Paul Spector, face off. Well, face away.
Designed by its creator Allan Cubitt as a reaction to typical violence-against-women shows, The Fall is a psychological thriller without equal on terrestrial TV. Pitching hard-bitten detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) against unorthodox killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), it's part slow-burn character study, part nerve-jolting procedural with plenty of spiky things to say about misogyny, sexism and male hypocrisy. Forget what you've read: it's not a game of cat and mouse; it's two panthers trying to claw each other's eyes out.
2. Stella Gibson is the new Jane Tennison
An obvious comparison, sure, but Gillian Anderson's policewoman shares DNA with Helen Mirren's iconic Prime Suspect cop. The two detectives share more than gender and an unshakeable quest to introduce villains to the delights of prison food. They're both tough characters whose uncompromising natures and refusal to play the game show up those around them (mostly men) as lily-livered yes men. Both will go down as iconic TV detectives.
3. It’s one of Gillian Anderson's best roles
Gillian Anderson as the smart and resilient SI Stella Gibson.
Yup, it’s a big statement but The Fall is the meatiest, most satisfying work Gillian Anderson has done in more than a decade. In fact, it’s possibly her best work since Terence Davies’s The House Of Mirth back in 2000. Stella Gibson is just a perfect showcase for her range: tough and steely, yet with a deep emotional hinterland that Anderson hints at rather than lays bare. She’s a career officer whose drive for recognition and advance gradually morphs into a very personal battle with Spector's serial killer. As a Metropolitan Police officer seconded to Belfast, she also has to deal with life spent on alien turf and endless nights in hotel rooms. Oh, and her sex life is none of your business. By any standards, she’s a feminist hero.
4. Paul Spectre is a seriously subversive villain
It won't need pointing out that there's zero correlation between handsomeness and moral character, but casting the twinkly volcano of allure that is Jamie Dornan as a troubled man who preys on women for sexual gratification still takes viewer expectations and gives them a hefty kick in the painfuls. His character, a meticulous man drawn to risk-taking like a moth to a flame, has a deep-seated psychopathy that The Fall creator Allan Cubitt has compared with real-life serial killer Russell Williams. The fact that he's also a committed dad and a grief counsellor somehow only makes him all the more predatory and despicable. Dornan, though, brings enough charm to the role to keep him from being totally repugnant. He is, though, a really shit husband.
5. It’s edgy but not exploitative
The show has, unfairly, been accused of a form of abuse-sploitation in some quarters. In reality, little of the violence against women in the story is shown – only one of the murders in Series 1 is shown, that of Sarah Key – and every bit serves a clear purpose in contrasting its perpetrator's scrupulous methodology with his confused and disturbed mindset. "I only showed the murder of one woman on screen," emphasises Cubitt of his opening series, "which I needed to do to show what it was that Paul Spector was about." Unlike many shows about violence against women, this one has a clear feminist agenda.
6. It's satisfyingly complex
As cop shows go, The Fall is no formulaic procedural. This isn't CSI: Belfast where things end up wrapped in a neat bow at the end of an episode. It's a messy, political, brackish pool Gibson has to swim in. She has to deal with all this while staying on the heels of a dangerous psychopath. Imagine Andy Garcia in Internal Affairs, only lumbered with Clarice Starling's caseload. "I’m not the sort of writer who seeks to explain things away in a simple kind of way," says Allan Cubitt. In other words, be assured that at no point will Spector turn to Gibson and say: “We’re not so very different, you and I."
7. There’s no dead wood
The Fall doesn’t sell out its minor characters or supporting roster with flimsy supporting parts at the periphery. Leading the pack are In The Name Of The Father’s John Lynch as Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns, an ex-alcoholic whose troubled past includes a fling with Gibson that he may not be completely over (he isn't), and Spector's wife Sally Ann (Branagh Waugh), another carefully drawn character. Series 2, meanwhile, shoved thrusting young cop Tom Anderson (Colin Morgan from Merlin) into the fray, while Belfast powerbroker Morgan Monroe (Ian McElhinney) continued to add a whiff of high-up nastiness to the mix.
8. Series 3 adds more quality to the cast
If you're a serious Wallander fan, you'll know Krister Henriksson's face. The Ingmar Bergman veteran played the title character in the Swedish version (ie he's not Kenneth Branagh) and he's swapped Henning Mankell's grizzled detective for The Fall and a smaller role as a senior medical practitioner called Dr Larson. Joining him as a medical practitioner is Richard Coyle. He's a doctor who tries to reconcile his Hippocratic Oath with the absolute bastard who's now in his care. But will he help nurse Spector back to health or just leave him to die from his wounds?
9. You can binge it in a weekend
Belfast and furious: Gibson at one of the crime scenes.
By the expansive standards of Fargo, Game Of Thrones or Marvel’s Netflix spin-offs, The Fall moves at a lightning lick. Series 1 clocked in at five episodes, while Series 2 and 3 extend the run by an episode each. At 60 minutes and with not an ad in sight, the format benefits from uninterrupted tension-building. Series 1 offers Spector’s nocturnal creeping as its point of view, preluding its most upsetting violence, but when – or how – the next attack will unfold is kept unclear. The result is terrifically clammy, nervy television.
10. It’s a cross-cultural feast
Creator/director Allan Cubitt's first love is music (he wrote the songs the Spector's babysitter Katie uploads to YouTube) and there's plenty of nods to that passion in the show, not least in the fact that Stella Gibson's name is a compound of two famous makes of guitar. Belfast's own David Holmes – a long-time Steven Soderbergh collaborator – partners up with his co-composer Keefus Ciancia to pen the score. The show's title, meanwhile, is lifted from T.S. Eliot's poem The Hollow Men. The literary great is referenced several other times in the show, too. Basically, watching The Fall will make you at least 28 percent cleverer.
11. There may be more Stella Gibson in our future
Gillian Anderson... and on: Will Stella Gibson return for another season?
If the finale of Series 3 should prove to be a showstopper in every sense, the show may not stop there. “If Gibson is left standing at the end, I see no reason why she shouldn’t carry on," hints Cubitt of the denouement. The creator isn't giving anything away, only to say that his star is receptive to reprising the Met's longest-standing absentee. “Gillian is up for playing Stella forever," says Cubitt. "She loves the character, and because of the way I work, there’s a lot more to explore in Gibson’s character beyond the third season."
The Fall Series 3 continues on BBC Two on Thursday 9pm. Head to Amazon Prime to catch up with the first two series.