The Fall reaches a disappointing conclusion

by | Jun 11, 2013 | All, Reviews

For five weeks we’ve waited on tenterhooks and with baited breath for the highly anticipated final episode of The Fall. After the news broke that there would be a second series it was to be expected that the final episode would most likely end with some form of cliffhanger and leave some questions unanswered, but I still found myself a smidgeon (okay quite a bit) disappointed that after so much suspense and tension this final episode didn’t quite cut it – it certainly didn’t feel like a series finale. You could say that The Fall came oh so close but sadly fell at the final hurdle, but maybe it was always a clever ploy to keep us on our toes and guessing about the second series, and if that’s the case – touché BBC!

Watching this Belfast-set murder thriller series has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride for me (in addition to feeling like I was watching a Hollyoaks reunion in some points). While Broadchurch had me completely addicted from the word go, I was a little unsure after the first episode largely because it felt too soon after Broadchurch and I was shamefully comparing. However, I quickly found myself longing for the next instalment of The Fall week after week, and along with little signs such as me leaving the lights on at night and checking behind my doors (just incase!) I knew it was having some sort of an effect. So how did it end up that cool as a cucumber DS Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who led us to believe she had a cunning plan to catch the killer all along, let Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) slip away when at times he was pretty much in her grasp. We’re going to have to start from the beginning to figure this one out.

Metropolitan police detective Stella Gibson is recruited to Belfast, under the watchful eye of Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns (John Lynch), to help with an unsolved murder case. Gibson is an interesting character; she is ice cold, ruthless and knows exactly how to get what she wants, but as the series progresses it is clear that the weight and stress of the case brings out a vulnerable side of her also. It doesn’t take long for Gibson to decipher that the unsolved murder is linked to a series of murders and soon the team find themselves on the hunt for an extremely dangerous and clever serial killer. The twist in The Fall is that we are given an insight into the killer’s world from the very beginning making it less of a ‘whodunit’ and more of a ‘catch me if you can’. Bereavement counsellor Paul Spector has a wife and two kids, a nice house and a normal but mundane job. What’s not so normal about Mr Spector is that in his spare time he likes to relieve his stress by stalking women (most of whom are professional and successful), taking control of them and eventually murdering them, usually by strangulation. Spector plans his murders (the first few at least) meticulously and what’s scary, for us as the audience, is that it’s put across he can be ‘anyone’.

His first victim is solicitor Sarah Kay and we are reminded just how unhinged Spector is when he stalks her while he has his daughter with him on a walk. Sarah comes home after a night out to find her underwear laid out on her bed and signs that somebody has been in her house. After calling the police (who at one point seem to suggest her cat could be the culprit) and after they have inspected the house, they all decide it’s best not to take any action. It doesn’t take the two PCs that visited Sarah long to feel uneasy about leaving her alone and they decide to check up on her again; whilst they are ringing her house phone we see Spector strangling her to death.

The second episode upped the creepy factor and I shuddered a little witnessing the scenes of Paul grooming Sarah Kay’s corpse by painting her nails and bathing her before positioning her carefully on the bed, and then returning to his wife and children – just wrong! Even more disturbing was the camera flitting between Paul bathing Sarah and Stella enjoying a night of passion with a colleague, DS Olson who had been recently investigating a shooting. Once Sarah’s body is found, Gibson’s worst fears that a serial killer is on the loose are confirmed and she convinces Burns to let her be SIO on the case, which he agrees to as long as she doesn’t link Sarah’s murder to the others. In an upsetting development we find out that Sarah Kay was actually in the early stages of pregnancy when she was killed but had not told anybody about it.

Alongside the serial killer story The Fall also delves into the world of police corruption, drugs and prostitutes, which only becomes more prominent in the third episode when DS Olsen is shot dead in the street and we are then led to believe that he was involved in some dodgy dealings. Honestly, this storyline was completely overshadowed and I paid little attention to it throughout the series – watching Paul Spector going about his daily business like everything is normal was much more interesting. Spector did sometimes show his humane side particularly through his apparent love of his two children. He becomes worried when Olivia begins to have nightmares caused by her father’s odd behaviour and she has also witnessed him be violent towards their 15-year old babysitter Katy who is besotted and a little obsessed with Paul.

Stella Gibson is clearly shaken by the murder of DS Olson, which had only taken place mere hours after he left her hotel room, and it only gets worse when it is revealed that he was actually married. Gibson is completely unapologetic when questioned about her actions and the recurring theme of the treatment of women by men in different forms is brought up. Gibson comes to the conclusion that her serial killer cannot stand women who are dominant in their professions and his actions are him almost punishing them for being independent and successful. This realisation starts the countdown; it won’t be long before Spector and Gibson have to come face to face, their chemistry is already palpable and they haven’t even met yet!

Much to his delight, Spector finds an abandoned building on some deserted land and uses it to assemble a mannequin (as you do) and keep his murder paraphernalia, including a lock of his victim’s hair, safely hidden. His strange behaviour continues when he decides to pay a visit one of his patients at her house as she is struggling to cope with the loss of her child, and when she asks Spector to hold her for a bit you can’t help but feel that she will be his next victim. Surprisingly, she doesn’t end up in the morgue and, although Paul begins to receive threats from her violent husband for visiting her, he manages to convince her to seek help and refuge in a later episode.

Newly acquired CCTV footage showed murdered DS Olson to have been involved in illegal dealings alongside another Sergeant, called Breedlove, and the son of the Chairman of the Independent Policing Executive. Breedlove is called in for questioning but after revealing he was actually having an affair with Olson’s wife and that he expects that he will be the next target, Breedlove shot himself in the head. The contrast between Gibson and Spector is more apparent then ever in episode four. While Stella calmly, and with great authority, deals with Breedlove’s tragic suicide at the police station, Spector is facing the consequences, specifically at work, for his actions and slowly he is beginning to unravel and make mistakes.

Stella begins to get a little bit closer to the killer when Professor Reed, the Pathologist, points her in the direction of a friend she knew at university who was almost strangled to death by a man named ‘Peter’ during a brief relationship with him. Reed arranges for Stella to meet and question the friend and it becomes evident that her story affects Stella deeply and she seems visibly upset by what she hears.This penultimate episode ends with Spector staging another attack on a women he has been stalking but while he is hidden in her house waiting for her arrival home, everything descends into chaos when she walks through the door with a man (who is in fact her brother)! Spector decides to attack them both and th result is a very big, and quite bloody, mess. As Spector flees the scene we are left pondering how on earth is The Fall going to end its first series?

This brings us to the final episode where Spector’s latest attack leaves him in danger of being caught; while the woman’s brother has died from what looked to be multiple stab wounds, she is still alive but in critical condition. She is rushed to the hospital and Gibson ruthlessly insists on a forensic examination of her. Paul has fled the crime scene and arrives home to find that his wife, Sally-Ann, has called over babysitter Katie while she had gone to work. Katie, still besotted with Paul, strips in front of him but he sends her home in a rage. Later, Paul awakes with a jolt and finds his daughter Olivia fast asleep next to him, he removes the necklace he gave her as a present which had belonged to one of his victims. In an attempt to garner help from the public, CCTV footage has been released from the areas that Sarah Kay had visited right before she was murdered. Unfortunately for Spector, the CCTV shows him and Olivia on the day they went for their walk and once Sally sees it on the news she tells him he must go to the police station so they can at least rule him out.

If Paul Spector was beginning to panic at having to visit the police station you would never have guessed (he’d be great at a game of poker!). As he calmly sits waiting to be interviewed he yawns, looks completely unfazed and even volunteers to give his fingerprints. Spector tells the interviewing officer that his wife can vouch for his whereabouts on the night of Sarah Kay’s murder and also on the previous night; it becomes clear he has asked Sally to create an alibi for him. While on his way to give his fingerprints we finally get the moment the series has built up to – Gibson and Spector within touching distance but all we get is lingering eye contact in the corridor which was still electric in a strange way.

It makes sense that if Paul Spector was to be caught then it would be because of his daughter Olivia. Although he wasn’t caught, she has in a small way played a part in the undoing of her father. The same stationary was used for both Paul’s apology letter to Sarah Kay’s father (which he had written and sent after realising Sarah had been pregnant) and Olivia’s drawing of a pregnant woman. Once the letter had been analysed and the drawing found, Stella could confidently guess that the killer had a young daughter who he deeply cares about.

When Sally confronts Paul, asking him why she had to give an alibi to the police, he covers his tracks by saying that he was actually with Katie (the babysitter) on the night of the murders, but as Katie is under the legal age of 16 if the police were to find out then both he and his wife would most likely lose their jobs. Sally decides to leave the house and I have to say that huge credit should be given to Bronaugh Waugh for her performance in this episode. She really got a chance to shine as the overworked and unsuspecting wife of Paul Spector.

Alone in the house, Paul sees the Kay family appeal on the TV but after Sarah’s father breaks down in tears Stella Gibson takes over. She plays a clever game and tries to lure Paul in by saying that the killer can have a one-on-one conversation with her if he rings the incident hotline and can prove he’s the killer.

After realising Sally is pregnant, Paul eventually convinces her to give their relationship another try and the family decide to move away for a while. Right before they go off into the sunset Paul rings the incident hotline and asks to talk to Stella. Five tense-filled and downright scary (at some points) episodes built up to a five minute conversation between Gibson and Spector which just wasn’t as satisfying as seeing Spector being thrown in prison! However, it did become clear just how obsessed Stella has become over Paul or the serial killer. The similarities between them are quite apparent throughout the episode such as her also waking up with a jolt just like Paul had done earlier. It was also a bit of a shock when Stella decided to give Spector her private number to ring on and I echo Burns’ words here – “did she just give a serial killer her mobile number?”

During the phone call Spector tells Gibson how similar they really are – they are both obsessive, ruthless and have a desire to be in control. Stella disagrees and plays him at his own game and he starts to panic when he realises just how much she actually knows about him. She tells him that he is weak and that she won’t let him walk away. Unfortunately for DS Stella Gibson and all of us at home he did just walk away (or rather drive) but still… is that it? No sort of closure whatsoever? I’m determined to think positive and believe that this will all make sense when the second series arrives. But on a whole, it was great to see a different take on a murder-mystery type series and the cast performances were exceptional throughout. Were you a little disappointed with the final episode or do you think it was a brilliant way to end the series?

Contributed by Imogen Flack

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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