The Fall S02 E01 premiere review: Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan return with a punch!

by Matt D
Jamie Dornan Gillian Anderson

Jamie Dornan Gillian Anderson

When it first debuted last May, serial killer drama The Fall surprised a lot of people as it garnered ratings of over three and a half million for its opening instalment. After sustaining the majority of this audience throughout its run, there was no question that The Fall would return for a second series. However, some people who’d stuck by the series felt a little cheated when the final instalment had an underwhelming climax as serial killer Paul Spector put in a chilling phone call to the woman trying to track him down; DS Stella Gibson.

My initial thought on the first episode was that I wish I’d remembered more of what happened at the end of series one. Despite being provided with a very useful catch-up I still struggled to remember who some of the minor characters were, especially when it came to the women who were helping Stella with her investigation. The fact that Paul primarily targeted brunettes made even more confusing to differentiate between the sister of one of his victims, his former lover and the woman who he almost finished off. The woman in question; Annie Brawley; woke up at the end of the last series but appears to still be shaky on the details of her attack. Despite Stella’s gentle questioning, Annie is incredibly vague but later uses a rubber band round her wrist to indicate how frightened she is. Stella’s other line of enquiry is Rose, one of Paul’s more fortunate former lovers, who is reluctant to come forward as she cheated on her now-husband with the man she knew as Peter. Though Stella is able to talk Rose round, it appears that she may not be able to turn up for her meeting with the DS, following the episode’s final scene.

Gillian Anderson

Meanwhile, Paul is on his own in the small Scottish shack and it appears as if Sally-Anne has finally given up on him and returned to Belfast with their children. Still as creepy as ever, Paul surveys the house, ominously playing the piano and creepily handling his daughter’s dolls. Paul is prompted to return to Belfast after receiving a message from Sally-Anne telling him to stay away from his family. This is prompted by a confrontation his ex-wife has with teenage babysitter Katie, who informed her that she wasn’t having an affair with Paul and he instead tried to attack her. Paul’s plan, to threaten Katie, doesn’t go at all well as she insinuates she knows that he’s the serial killer but it seems that this information turns her on. I feel that one thing that the first series did well was convince us that people wouldn’t suspect Paul was the serial killer due to his charming outward persona. However here I felt that Paul was fairly sinister throughout the episode, a fact that is best exemplified through his interaction with a woman on a train. I have to say that if I was the woman in question than my suspicions would be aroused if a random stranger asked me if he looked like the photo of the serial killer on the front page of the paper.

The Fall was at its most realistic when focusing on Stella’s attempts to deal with both her bosses and the media. The fact that there was to be another 28 day review into Operation Musicman didn’t sit well with her nor did the fact that very little evidence had turned up in the last ten days. This wasn’t the only problem Stella had to deal with though as the papers began to quiz her about her relationship with the late DS Olson. Stella’s one-night-stand with the married sergeant appears to have cast some doubt on her suitability to lead the investigation even though she didn’t realise he was married at the time she did the deed. It appears that the story about Olson has also affected several of Stella’s relationships as Danielle requests a transfer back to the streets while Reed wonders why she didn’t know about the liaison. Luckily for Stella, as the episode goes on, she at least starts to get somewhere in her investigation. Her first breakthrough comes when Annie finally starts to remember the attack while, towards the end of the episode, the divers find something in the muddy bog which may well be a murder weapon. But, as we’ve seen throughout The Fall, Paul still remains a couple of steps ahead of Stella.

After coming close to discovering the truth about Paul in the final episode, I found it frustrating that writer Allan Cubitt essentially took us back to step one as Stella continued to struggle to find her man. On the whole I felt that there was a general lack of story progression in an episode that only came alive in the final few scenes with the divers’ discovery and Paul’s latest home invasion. I personally believe that The Fall is at its best during the quieter set pieces in which the actions of Stella and Paul are shown simultaneously. The best example of that in tonight’s episode was when we saw Paul menacingly stalking around his house while Stella surveyed the crime scene at Annie’s house. Visually, The Fall is one of the best British TV dramas around but where I feel it falls down is in its characterisation. Both Paul and Stella are particularly cold characters so I feel its hard to care about either of them; which is a problem as they’re often on screen on their own. Although not all dramas need to have likeable central characters, I found that my lack of interest in Stella and Paul meant that I wasn’t as engrossed in The Fall as I possibly should have been.

Gillian Anderson

This is not fault of either Gillian Anderson or Jamie Dornan who I both feel excel in their roles as Stella and Paul respectively. Anderson is great at creating the air of authority that Stella exudes every time she addresses her fellow officers. I found her similarly impressive in a scene in which she addresses a gang of youths who are trying to intimidate her by sitting on her car. Anderson tries her best to add some vulnerability to the character due to her feelings about the Olson affair. But I personally couldn’t really sympathise with a character who I feel is too distant to ultimately connect with. Meanwhile, Dornan has grown as an actor between last series and this and seems to relish playing Paul at his creepiest. The character who I find the most sympathetic is Paul’s wife Sally-Anne, which is partly due to the fantastic performance by Bronagh Waugh. Sally-Anne is the only character who the audience can really identify with, as she finds herself caught up in Paul’s mess through no fault of her own. Elsewhere, reliable performers such as John Lynch and Archie Panjabi add a bit of authority to proceedings as Stella’s boss Jim Burns and pathologist Reed Smith.

I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed by the return of The Fall, as the plot almost seemed to be going backwards rather than forwards. Alan Cubbitt’s story only seemed to progress in the episode’s final moments and as a result I was waiting for something to happen. But these final scenes did create enough intrigue to have me coming back for episode two as did the fine performances from the improving Jamie Dornan and the wonderful Gillian Anderson.

What did you think to the return of The Fall? Are you glad to have it back?

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