(Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen series 1)
Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) and Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) returned to our screens last night in the first episode of the second series of The Fall. Having left us at the end of series one with Spector saying he was bringing his reign of terror to an end, walking off to a life of solitude in Scotland, he left police detective Stella no closer to catching him. It was a great way to close the series, as it was neither a definitive end, nor a dangling cliffhanger, but left us wondering what would happen next all the same.
Series two has re-joined the action just ten days after series one. Spector is still holed up in his beautiful house in Scotland (bereavement counselling clearly pays well) and Stella is facing the fall out after not only failing to be any closer to catching the killer, but also being very publicly slut-shamed after her one night stand with a murdered policeman. Annie Brawley is lying in her hospital bed, alive, but unable to piece together the events of the night on which she was attacked, let alone remember the face of her murderer.
Episode 1 was as unsettling a start to the series as we’ve come to expect. The apparent contradictions in Spector’s character are just as jarring as in the first season, with him totally in control of his public persona while simmering with quiet rage and God-complex. Indeed, the first season garnered some criticism for the seemingly charming, handsome Spector and his crimes, with some circles asserting the series was glamourising violence against women. I feel it is a long way from doing that, but it does highlight how appearance can completely sway our image of someone. Dornan is unquestionably handsome, having landed the role of Christian Grey the point is proved he is not only model-handsome, he is Hollywood-handsome. Women give Spector sideways looks in the street, and when he talks to them they melt, throwing personal details at him like confetti. He is great with children, making up sweet stories about pixies delivering post and making his daughter’s life seem magical. He is a responsible grown-up in a caring profession. He brutally rapes and murders women. I think it is this contradiction that is really the source of the problem for many people. If he looked like Nick Nolte’s mugshot then maybe the on-screen murders might sit more comfortably with us, or at least makes them less uncomfortable to watch (if that’s possible). But he doesn’t. He is attractive, seemingly functional and utterly ruthless. That is what makes him one of the most terrifying characters on screen, as he is someone who most of would trust. His poor wife seemingly has no clue as to who she have been living with, with his late nights and erratic behaviour being explained away as him embarking on an affair. People are so keen to trust him that even when he cockily points at the e-fit of himself on the front page of the paper and asks if she thinks it’s safe for him to go back to Belfast, the stranger on the train replies flirtatiously that she didn’t think he had anything to worry about.
The conflict in his relationships with children and women are personified in his dealings with 15 year old Katie (played wonderfully by Aisling Franciosi). Still technically a child, Spector seemingly finds it difficult to decide which of his boxes to put Katie in; is she a child to be revered and nurtured, or a woman to be destroyed? Maybe this duality could save her in the end.
Then there is Stella. Cold, beautiful, methodical Stella. Like Spector she has more going on under the surface than it first appears. She is measured in the way she speaks, immaculate in the way she dresses (I am in the market for a beautiful white silk shirt if anyone spots a nice one) and controlled in all she does. When approached by a threatening gang of loyalists in the street she remains utterly in control, lunging forward at them asserting her dominance. The only area out of control seems to be her personal life, where a penchant for unavailable men seems to be a pattern that is making her life difficult. There are also hints she had been through her own personal trauma as she advises Annie to snap a hair band on her wrist when she feels her thoughts and feelings get too much. Anderson’s Stella is the law-abiding mirror of Dornan’s Spector.
Some interesting additional elements have been flagged up in episode one, with the cost of such a large police investigation being highlighted, as well as the need to maintain the victims individuality when the inevitable press coverage begins. I am sure both will be ongoing themes over the next few weeks.
Of course, what makes The Fall really stand out is that this is no ‘whodunnit’, but rather a ‘who’s next’ as we wait to see which way Spector’s plan will unfold.
The Fall continues to be terrifying and mesmerising in equal measure, and will ensure I’ll be installing extra deadbolts on all my doors and windows.
In the meantime, have 2 minutes of next week’s episode.