Finally, the long-awaited sophomore season of the Irish crime drama “The Fall” has hit Netflix. The series focuses on the cat-and-mouse chase of serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, “Fifty Shades of Grey”) by the Belfast police, led by Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson, “The X-Files”). This season brings the pair much closer until they are practically on top of each other – literally.
Available to stream on Netflix
The premiere picks up almost exactly where the season one finale left off. The episode’s dark themes are beautifully echoed in the low lighting and muted tones, and characters are often only silhouetted by single-point light. The music and dialogue are similarly hushed, with large swaths of silence where nothing can be heard but the sounds of breathing. This sets the mood for the whole season to come — dark and dangerous — but not like a fast explosion. Rather, it is slow and creeping, silent and deadly, like a concealed dagger. And, in case we’d forgotten over the hiatus, we are quickly reminded of the eerie feeling that no one is ever safe. Finally, the dramatic turn from slow burn to sudden attack at the end pushes the show forward.
The real high points of the episode are the character interactions. Paul’s love for his daughter, Olivia (newcomer Sarah Beattie) is soured by the use of his skills as a murderer to comfort her. His kind smile toward Rose Stagg’s daughter (Valene Kane, “Jump”) before his kidnap is purposefully jarring. Nevertheless, it is the women of the episode who steal the show. Aisling Franciosi’s (“Quirke”) character, Katie Benedetto, gains complexity as a character and develops from innocent bystander to fully immersed in the thrill. In Stella’s interview, Karen Hassan (“Hollyoaks”) ’s poignant performance in her role as a survivor of one of Paul’s attacks, paints a believable picture of not only a murder survivor, but a sexual violence survivor.
This season, even more so than the previous one, employs the practice of surveillance and the feeling of being watched. This theme carries out with the installation of cameras in the Spectors’ home, the videotaping of victims and Paul’s secret observation of Stella. This makes many intimate moments public, and it forces viewers to face their own positions as voyeurs in these people’s lives. At one point, we are even called out as spectators, when Spector asks “Why are you watching this? You sick fuck!”
“The Fall” also relies on some strong cinematography. This season continues the trend of visual doubling — the use of mirror images and juxtaposition of everyday actions with those of sinister intent. The visuals are written into the plot at the very level of the character’s personalities. Where Stella is clinical and Paul is sensual, both are sexual beings who strive for complete control in their lives. It is these similarities that allow them to get in the other’s head, constantly outdoing the other, and driving the show.
Dornan’s soft-spoken serial killer, Paul, is slowly losing his humanity with his separation from his family, which he plays with subtle and cold dead eyes. Meanwhile, Stella is warming up, with Anderson opening up cracks in her armor and bringing out real emotional depth. Additionally, Stella is the Queen of the inversion of the Male Gaze, using the men around her to her advantage. The supporting characters are further fleshed out in this season as well. John Lynch’s (“Black Death”) character, Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns, provides a wonderful example of a man who is tired of a job he has been in for too long, while Niamh Mcgrady (“Holby City”) and provides his counter as an ingénue who still sees the best in people with her character, Police Constable Danielle Ferrington.
A new addition to the team is the young and upstart Detective Sergeant Tom Anderson (Colin Morgan, “Merlin”) who is described as both promising and attractive – both things true of the character and the actor who plays him. It will be interesting to see where his character goes in the next season, especially with the parallel lines drawn between him and Spector.
The season wasn’t without its shortcomings. Unlike its predecessor, season two felt the need to spell out the visual comparisons it made verbally. This aspect has not only weakened one of the show’s greatest strengths, but underestimated the audience’s ability to figure it out on their own. “The Fall” is the kind of show meant to make you think, and to dumb it down is to patronize those who enjoy the challenge of a good puzzle.
Overall, season two does not lose momentum and honors its strongest points: the complex characters who are portrayed with depth and respect by the talented cast.