The tempo in the third run of The Fall has so far been noticeably more lethargic than in the previous two series. Much of this has been enforced by the fact that writer and creator Allan Cubitt has written his characters into a corner. His protagonist Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) might be upright, but her antagonist Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) is still recuperating (although in impressive shape) in Belfast General. So unless he really is one of the undead, there isn’t much prospect of him getting into tip-top strangling shape for a few weeks. Remaining internal bullet fragments apart, such catastrophic blood loss would put any mortal on bed rest for a while. But what he lacks in mobility he makes up for in menace.
Not even super-vixen Katie (Aisling Franciosi) has been in full Fatal Attraction mode so far this series. Although she is circumscribed by her bail conditions after aiding and abetting Spector, she should be doing more than frothing at the mouth.
It is as if it were aiming for style over substance. From being one of the paciest series on the box, it had slipped way behind the sheer heart-stopping momentum of Line Of Duty or the stellar, gritty writing of Happy Valley. But this week things perked up a bit with the arrival of a pivotal new character – played by an actor with form in walking on the dark side.
The cops are suffering from the PR fallout of Operation Musicman and have to claw back some credibility. The daftly named investigation into the three known murders should be rechristened Operation Orchestra Stalls after last week’s discovery of a cache of trophies from other killings in Spector’s stolen car.
The passive-aggressive Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns (John Lynch) has sown discord between Stella and her squad, moping about like a rejected Romeo and being petulant in his dressing-down at the police board meeting. Now he’s pressing Stella to Get A Result.
Between the murder of Fiona Gallagher and the attempted strangling of Rose Stagg it transpires Spector carried out nine other attacks – all set down in gruesome Hieronymus Bosch–style sketches, with extensive notes on the movements of his targets with their initials. By way of limbering up, Spector carried out many fetish burglaries – collecting enough fancy underwear to stock a branch of Victoria’s Secret. And echoing Dornan’s other oeuvre Fifty Shades… there are even selfies of Spector in fetish bondage.
Spector, either regaining or pretending to regain memories of his life, tells hospital staff that he thinks Tony Blair is prime minister and that he knows what Facebook is, but not Twitter. He talks of Olivia as if she were two years old and says his memory loss is like being in a storm; he says he doesn’t feel like he has a son and doesn’t know why the police want him.
All of this, and a bit of business as he toys with a wedding ring belonging to consultant neuropsychologist Alison Walden (Denise Gough), is deeply unsettling. Immobile as he is, Spector’s pull still radiates, luring in the female staff attending him. Seeing Nurse Sheridan (Aisling Bea) administering his intimate physical care – doe-eyed with bottom lip quivering – is like watching a toddler about to eat razor blades. Dornan’s sheer physicality fills the small hospital side room.
Ascertaining that six years are missing from Spector’s short-term-memory, Walden assures him these memories will be relearned. But, he says woefully – his Malteser-dark eyes brimming with tears – “the ownership will be gone”.
The news makes DCI Eastwood (Stuart Graham) and Burns seethe. They are adamant that he’s playacting and say that as he had already confessed, he knew right and wrong at the time so any pretence of amnesia is irrelevant. Stella says his protestation will be problematic at trial; Eastwood tells her to make sure the evidential case sticks.
Ordinary medics are going to be too soft and vulnerable to the arch manipulator, so Stella plans to transfer Spector for assessment by consultant forensic psychiatrist August Larson Krister Henriksson (aka Kurt Wallander) at a forensics unit in a clinic in East Belfast. Stella warns Larson not to underestimate Spector’s perfidious nature – something we want to yell at Nurse Sheridan. Don’t stay in his room, silly moo – he’s playing you!
Stella is all for going soft on Spector’s estranged wife Sally Ann, who is clearly going dangerously doolally with post-miscarriage grief and the discovery that she married a monster. To save face, Burns and Eastwood want to prosecute her for perverting the course of justice. We hope she and the kids are still breathing when they find them.
The scene in which Spector’s brief Healy (Aiden McArdle) visits him in hospital significantly heightens the tension. The unreadable Healy is obviously a tough-love advocate and brutally outlines the police case with pictures of Tyler, the alleged victims and Stella – all of whom he denies knowing, except for ex-girlfriend Rose Stagg, whom he denies wishing to harm.
Rose tells Stella about her abduction in excruciating detail and shows scratch marks on her arm that Stella had interpreted as ‘I love you’ – a scene juxtaposed with that of the lone Spector getting out of bed, standing and flexing his awesome muscles. The camera certainly loves him.
Katie, now on the lam, takes a chance by turning up at the court building to watch as Stella arrives. Shackled Spector, in a wheelchair, gives evidence at his committal hearing by video screen. Healy raises doubts over Spector’s competence to plead – so Katie finds another hero.
Poor Tom Anderson (Colin Morgan) is still on the squad but has been sidelined by Stella, who needs only mate once with a man to tire of him. They should be grateful she doesn’t eat them afterwards, although that would mess up her collection of pristine while silk blouses. But he does pique her interest in one respect by uncovering an astonishing possible backstory. One of the newly discovered murders was ascribed to a man serving time for it – someone who had been brought up in the same children’s home as Spector and lived with him during his years in London, about which little is known. Did Spector have a killing partner?
This episode opened up the potential for Stella to find either a strong ally or another adversary in Larson. He seems a mysteriously equivocal soul, so it could go either way. Before Spector came out of his coma she believed she finally had the whip hand. Now his amnesia, feigned or real, means all bets are off.
With Rose we see again Stella’s strong identification with and compassion for other women. She also responds to mirror images of her own chic toughness, as she did with Ombudsman Kinkhead (Geraldine O’Reilly) last week.
Men have trouble keeping up with Stella – or maybe she just attracts ultra-needy ones – Spector included. She is probably better advised to carry on with her lesbian adventures. Her dalliance with pathologist Reed Smith (Archie Panjabi) might have stalled, but remember how she asked Reed in episode four of the first series, “What will you tell your daughters in the future? About how to stay safe?
Reed: Pretty much what I tell them now. Don’t talk to strange men.
Stella: Strange men?
Reed: Any man.
Stella seems to have taken that on board.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here