Over the past few years we’ve seen a few examples of TV dramas returning purely because their inaugural series performed so well in the ratings. Broadchurch was an example of a drama that should have been one and done and I can’t be the only one worrying about the upcoming second series of Doctor Foster. Another drama that I feel should’ve ended after its second series, if not its first, is Allan Cubitt’s serial killer yarn The Fall. I personally feel the drama has returned purely to it delivering record viewing figures for BBC Two and due to the fact that its male lead Jamie Dornan’s star has risen significantly since the first series in 2013.
The popularity of the series was certainly clear from the screening I attended during the Edinburgh TV Festival which again was open both to the public as well as critics like myself and representatives from the television industry. The demand for tickets for the event was so great that the screening had actually been moved into a bigger cinema which was at least three quarters full. I was amazed that the majority of people had actually paid for a ticket to see an episode which they wouldn’t have to wait that long to see on their TV. I would also add that if I’d personally paid for the privilege of seeing the episode then I would’ve been disappointed.
The primary reason for my disappointment is that this episode never seems to get out of second gear and certainly doesn’t continue the excitement that the final installment of the second series provided.
For those of you with short memories the final scenes of series two ended with Dornan’s Paul Spector being shot just as Gillian Anderson‘s DSI Stella Gibson had tracked him down. Gibson’s colleague and recent conquest DS Anderson (Colin Morgan) had also been shot with our heroine hovering over both bodies as the credits rolled on series two. Series three picks up exactly where we left off and with both Spector and Anderson in need of urgent medical assistance it’s clear that a hospital is where these men belong.
I personally felt we’d spend about half the episode in Belfast General Hospital before the characters, with the exception of Spector, moved on to their next destination. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case and the episode almost came to a grinding halt as we watched as a team of medical professionals painstakingly set about trying to remove the bullets from the so-called Belfast strangler. The medical team was headed up by Dr. O’Donnell (Richard Coyle) who seemed to be a steady hand to oversee a rather frantic operation. O’Donnell was possibly the highlight of the episode especially as he brought up the theme of those in the medical profession treating each patient without prejudice. It helps that Coyle’s performance was spot on, portraying his character as a professional first and foremost with his personal feelings hidden beneath the surface for now. I just worry that sooner or later O’Donnell will be caught in Stella’s net as I’m sure it won’t be long until she’s on the hunt for another man to share her bed.
A lot is made of Jamie Dornan’s performance, but fort me Stella is the character who makes The Fall as compelling as it is and that’s a testament both to Cubitt and to Anderson. This episode sees her striding around the hospital trying to get her bearings as she worries about Paul, DS Anderson and Spector’s hostage Rose Stagg who was discovered right at the end of the last series. Despite everything seemingly falling in around her, Anderson makes Stella seem incredibly cool although I feel its the moments of vulnerability that shows the actress at her best. One such moment is when Stella learns that she will no longer be the media face of the case and instead her boss Jim Burns (John Lynch) handles the obligatory press conference outside the hotel. Eventually Stella seemingly collapses with all of the exhaust of the day and finds solace in an elderly patient at the hospital who mistakes her for a family member.
The one element of this first episode that I really had a problem with was the handful of dream sequences featuring Spector that seemingly existed just to give Dornan something to do. These sequences see Paul driving a car before crashing and essentially being stuck in a tunnel which is supposed to represent limbo. At one end of the tunnel is the voice of his mother whilst at the other he hears his children singing and presumably has to decide whether to go into the light or fight for his life. I honestly feel that this jolts the tone of The Fall which up to now has never gone in for sequences like this and I think that these scenes exist to please Dornan’s legions of fans.
The scenes involving Paul’s family as well as his teenage babysitter Katie (Aisling Franciosi) were some of the episode’s best even though they were few and far between. Bronagh Waugh, who plays Paul’s wife Sally Ann, puts in one of the series’ best performances in my opinion and this episode is no different. Here we see Sally Ann desperately trying to keep the truth about Paul away from her children whilst at the same time trying not to lie to them. Although the truth about her dad is no longer a secret for Olivia who finds the story about him on her mother’s laptop whilst she’s left unattended. I’m actually incredibly intrigued to see where this story will go next and what impact Paul’s actions will have on Sally Ann this series. Meanwhile Franciosi puts in a similarly stellar turn as the obsessed Katie who seemingly can’t deal with seeing the man she’s obsessed by in pain. I really enjoyed the story arc that was set-up last series with Katie acting as Paul’s alibi/accomplice and I’m hoping that the character isn’t forgotten about once the series gets properly going.
I’m more than ready for the series to get going as soon as possible as this felt incredibly like a stop-gap and almost as if Cubitt wasn’t prepared to write another six episodes of a story which could easily have been wrapped up last series. Certainly all of the action in this first episode could’ve been condensed into a half hour whilst those dream sequences should never have existed in the first place. Although I do like dramas that take their time to develop, the first episode of The Fall series three felt more like a better-shot, classier episode of Casualty. That being said there were still some things to appreciate about the series namely the performances from Anderson, Coyle and Waugh plus the storyline involving the Spector family. Even though I feel I’ve got to watch series three of The Fall as I’ve committed to the series already, if the pace doesn’t pick up soon I may well reconsider this. Although a tense drama such as The Fall does need slower moments, I found parts of this episode to really drag and I’ve just got my fingers crossed that next week’s instalment sees us leave Belfast General behind and head back to the police station where The Fall always seems to thrive.
The Fall continues on BBC Two, Thursdays at 9pm