Review: The Fall (S3 E4/6), Thursday 20th October, BBC2

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 11/10/2016 - Programme Name: The Fall - TX: 20/10/2016 - Episode: Episode 4 (No. 4) - Picture Shows:  Olivia Spector (SARAH BEATTIE), DSI Stella Gibson (GILLIAN ANDERSON) - (C) the Fall 3 Ltd - Photographer: Helen Sloan
 (C) the Fall 3 Ltd – Photographer: Helen Sloan

The Fall is fast reaching its Miltonian conclusion – this episode is entitled The Hell Within Him, and like every other title in the series it’s from Paradise Lost.

Horror and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir

The hell within him; for within him Hell
He brings’.

And there is no doubt that all those involved with the satanic Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) have been hurled out of Eden.

NB: There be spoilers lurking here

Spector, on the mend physically, is either having his own troubled thoughts or he’s putting on a show of a mental breakdown to be unfit to plead (an MRI scan reveals that he has no brain malformation or injury). It is increasingly hard for the viewer to tell as Dornan is doing fine dramatic heavy lifting with a lot of close-ups.

Will he stand trial? We may suspect that he’s firing on all cylinders, but his ability to hoodwink those around him is formidable. Even Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) – previously the toughest cookie in the block, now spends most of her waking and unconscious hours in tears and worried about making the multiple murder charges stick.

Spector’s logbook of macabre images and writings is now an enormous plank in Stella’s fight to incriminate Spector. The big question she must consider is whether or not it constitutes evidence of past victims, or scenarios for crimes he was planning. Stymied in Belfast, she sends DS Anderson (Colin Morgan) and PC Dani Ferrington (Niamh McGrady) to London to discover if Spector can be linked to an old Met case – the murder of Susan Harper, presumably suffocated by Spector’s childhood friend.

When the going gets tough, the tough usually go swimming, but the pressure is getting to Stella. Her bath surrounded by candles continues the water theme, however, the scene is lit to look like one of Spector’s Blakeian drawings – as if he has posed her. Oh, he has. As she drops off, she imagines he’s pushing her underwater in a violent struggle. She awakens to find another man on her bed – another dream. Her nightmares are having nightmares now. She awakens to rain lashing the hotel room window (there’s that water motif again) and writes in her dream journal in the same way as her nemesis, although she writes and he – well, does graphic novels that would make Alan Moore shudder.

Sally Ann Spector’s descent into hell is now complete; having tried to drown herself and her two children by driving the family car into the sea – a horror compounded by her rescuers making her private agony a media sensation – she is now near-comatose on a ward at Belfast General (really, there are other hospitals in Northern Ireland – we know ambulances go to the nearest A&E, but why can’t this benighted family be an exception?). Bronagh Waugh’s glassy-eyed desperation as Sally Ann is palpable; this series demands a lot of prolonged and powerful eye acting.

Burns tries to confront his guilt at pursuing Sally Ann as a conspirator rather than a witness. He should be guilt-stricken. “How were we to know she was that desperate?” Because you are a seasoned police officer, you oaf. Stella directs her tearful fury at him. “Well now you can add attempted murder to her charges!”

So weak is he that he hides in the loos for a surreptitious snifter.

Spector’s legal team, Healy (Aidan McArdle) and Wallace (Ruth Bradley, Humans), seem determined that he will never take the stand. They wonder, like the rest of us, why Stella is having to do the work of her underlings rather than just, er, superintending. Wallace questions how Spector’s confession was obtained and whether it was gained under oppression because it all looks very odd. We can’t disagree.

During his interview under caution Spector had said: “Just you, Stella, nobody else.”

Listening to recordings of Stella’s phone calls with Spector, Wallace notes: “She didn’t really use any standard interview techniques, offer any psychological secures or minimise the seriousness of Spector’s crimes.

Almost not like a police interview at all, more like an intimate conversation.”

Yes, we remember; it was more like a first date. Stella had already established the relationship on the phone before his arrest and given him her personal phone number – and he visited her hotel. Wallace is looking to make her name – she thinks Stella seduced a confession out of him, so Healy offers her a ‘second chair’ if she can prove it to make it part of the brief. In her way she is as ruthless as her client.

Poor Dr O’Donnell (Richard Coyle) is seeing a surfeit of Spectors at the moment – little Olivia has the weight of the world on her shoulders. The MRI scan shows nothing to suggest amnesia, but Spector maintains to his brief he has no memory of finding the scissors with survivor Annie Brawley’s blood on them and he’s doing well hoodwinking them until told that alibis for all the murders have been provided by Katie, who claims their link is sexual. He denies it all, but his demeanor reveals that he knows this is damaging; she is hardly a credible witness.

Where Healy and Wallace must exercise damage limitation is over the chilling recordings with Stella in which Spector describes the smell and the “flick of a switch” in his head while killing.

Wallace shows him recordings he made of ex-girlfriend Rose Stagg and himself when he abducted her. Valene Kane as Rose is probably the best value in the entire series; her eyes replay every moment of horror before us – she’s just magnificent.

In a tit-for-tat move, Healy decides to ask for Stella’s dream diary to be submitted as evidence.

Spector asks to see his son on the ward, but says he doesn’t recognise or remember him. His connection is with his Olivia, in fact, his emotional life is exclusively populated by females.

He gives gullible Nurse Sheridan (Aisling Bea) some spiel about his out-of-body experiences and she hands him a fiver with “He who does not love abides in death” from The Gospel of John 3:14 scribbled on it. Considering he’s spleenless, he’s looking limber. Why do only two police officers take him to the Foyle Clinic secure unit? Surely there would be far more security surrounding a potentially dangerous prisoner. They don’t even check him before he enters the unit. He throws away the note on the ground outside as Stella watches him arrive by CCTV from inside the building.

It was telegraphed last week that there might be a clash of wills between Gibson and Dr Larson (Krister Henriksson) over their differing perspectives of Spector – is he patient or a killer? Their meeting is less combative than we expected; he says he will try to get to the truth of the matter. But for the most part tension isn’t uppermost in their discussions about Spector’s drawings and poetry – the ‘battle between Good Paul and Bad Paul’ – a “dazzling array of perversion”, says Stella.

Larson seems to agree he was abused, but Stella points out that he’s a sexual predator and it’s her job to protect other women from him. “Don’t underestimate the threat – the danger that Paul Spector represents,” she says defiantly.

Stella picks up the bank note as she leaves.

Of the walking wounded left in Spector’s wake, Rose Stagg is particularly tragic. Describing to Stella how he’d left her drugged in the car boot to suffocate, she says it wasn’t the first time he’d suffocated her – and reveals their history of fetishistic rough sex, breath play and “going to dark places” – places so dark that her marriage is in ruins.

Like an ice-cube down the back, Stella reveals to Rose that she had inadvertently set Spector after her by revealing her as an informant by referring to him as Peter – his real name – to scare him into stopping the attacks. Rose seems quite understanding under the circumstances – she’s already supped full of horrors she’ll hardly feel one more.

This series initially took a lot of flak over its violence against women, but it is somewhat redeeming itself in the third series by being less graphic but no less forensic a study of murder. It is still narking us that a killer should look so beautiful; it does perpetuate the myth of the death row sex symbol that a certain sad type of woman thinks she can tame, but at least now it’s taking a less sensationalist line, backing up Allan Cubitt’s assertion that anyone who believes it to be misogynistic hasn’t watched closely.

Deborah Shrewsbury


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