Over the three-series arc of The Fall we have witnessed something that rarely happens to characters in returning police procedurals; its lead character has evolved. No, not changed personality entirely, as sometimes happens with the vagaries of plot-led dramas or different writers – but matured and deepened.
NB: Spoilers ahoy!
When we met her, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) was fresh from a career in cosmopolitan London – a high-flyer in the Metropolitan Police who was more than a dash arrogant when she arrived in Belfast – population around 343,445 – from London – population circa 8.63 million.
The fact that she was as beautiful as lead crystal and as flinty probably served her well in the Met (despite the canteen culture of sexism within the police service that seems to stick like bindweed) as people in what Tina Fey dubbed ‘the bubble’ in 30 Rock often get an easier ride. Indeed, one can imagine Stella’s Met superiors falling into a hush whenever she walked in the room.
But over the past four weeks it hasn’t been only the emotional strain of dealing with the victims of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) that has taken a toll on her psyche and reduced her to tears. The strain of working in a far more patriarchal society seems also to have dented her self-confidence as her sexual behaviour – in particular her unorthodox relationship with Spector – has proved abrasive to her male superiors with their very different cultural mores.
She too has been violated by Spector; he has read her diary and made his own notes in it, something analyst Dr Larson (Krister Henriksson) questions Stella about when Spector’s brief Healy (Aidan McArdle) sends him excerpts. He is curious about her dream journal, which she admits has become a compulsion.
Meanwhile, in the secure unit, Spector’s subconscious is also working overtime; he dreams of taking a header off a tall building – is this prompted by remorse or merely wishing to transcend his present incarceration? Larson’s case meeting with colleagues gives an insight into his past’s wretchedness. If a person is the product of his environment it is little wonder that Spector turned out the way he did. His mother committed suicide when he was eight by hanging herself (is that where the strangling comes from?) and he bounced around children’s homes in which he suffered sexual abuse.
Stella faces another indignity when Larson studies Spector’s entries in her diary. However, Larson admits to colleagues that at this moment Stella is probably the person who knows Spector best; he may be the first man (apart from Spector) to take her seriously by showing her the respect she is due since she arrived in Belfast. Larson says it is possible that Spector is feigning memory loss and advises his colleagues to treat Spector with “respectful scepticism”.
To evaluate his mental state he asks him if he feels competent to face the court. Spector asks if his memory will return. “Do you want it?” counters Larson.
Out-of-control Katie’s breach of bail conditions and her attack on Daisy get her sent to a juvenile justice centre. Stella reads the letter full of daddy issues that Katie handed Healy to give to Spector. She’s another of his victims.
Healy is desperate to discredit Stella for stage-managing Spector’s case as misconduct and plans to file an abuse of process application and, for bonus points, to trash Stella’s reputation by revealing her previous relationship with Jim Burns and Spector’s knowledge of it – and implicate her as instrumental in Tyler’s ambush on Spector in the woods.
Meanwhile, Anderson (Colin Morgan) and Ferrington (Niamh McGrady) have hit pay dirt in London, going through Met files for evidence given by Spector’s childhood friend David Alvarez (Martin McCann) about Susan Harper’s murder.
Anderson is not impressed by the Met’s interrogation methods, as Alvarez is too vague about how he killed Harper. “Why were the defence not all over this?” he asks Ferrington. Alvarez either isn’t the sharpest knife in the box or he had an ulterior motive for capitulating. The reason why he’s so clueless about the murder becomes plain when they watch street CCTV footage from the night of the murder. Why did Burns question Anderson’s competence? He’s perceptive.
Back in Belfast, Burns (John Lynch) is cracking up and drinking himself into a stupor as he phones Anderson about the sexual abuse that went on at the children’s home where Spector and Alvarez met. Thank God he didn’t have to investigate the Jimmy Savile case.
Anderson and Ferrington’s subsequent interview with Alvarez at Wormwood Scrubs has them practically punching the air in victory.
Spector’s notoriety has attracted a young ‘groupie’ at the Foyle Clinic. Mark Bailey (Connor MacNeill) is a psychotic with a compulsive disorder who hears voices. He tells Spector he’s in there for breaking his sister’s arm for saying his new haircut was gay. Does Spector recognise him as a younger version of himself? We do when we hear the lad’s whole story.
At Spector’s interview with Anderson and Stella, they play their ace.
“The police are being clever – they have something on me that I can actually remember,” Spector tells Healy.
Is it all over bar the sentencing? Despite the leisurely pace of this episode, which further illuminates Spector’s history from series two, there is still much to play for. And we have serious misgivings about the way-too-casual security surrounding Spector.
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