Friday, February 6, 2015
The Fall (Season Two)
The Fall is a BBC crime series starring Gillian Anderson. I have previously written about this program, a compelling police procedural, noteworthy primarily because of the performances of its antagonists, the icy, sexually predatory Stella Gibson (Anderson) obsessively pursuing a handsome and petulant serial killer, Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan as a warm and kindly father to his young daughter but with a penchant for torture and murder of attractive young career women. (Dornan is apparently hot stuff, eye-candy to match Gillian Anderson -- he's the star of the upcoming film Fifty Shades of Grey.) The show is overwhelmingly somber and lugubrious, often to the point of absurdity, but it's addictive as well, handsomely mounted, and impressively, if monotonously acted. The series' first season was based on a disheartening and questionable notion -- Stella Gibson's sexual promiscuity and dominatrix-like imperiousness was equated to the serial killer's vicious antics with his victims. The second season abandons that premise without refuting it, but substitutes an equally discomfiting and absurd theme: the paradigm for the relations between men and woman is that of a sexual serial killer to his victims. Gibson, as usual, gets the best lines: at one point, she plies her glacial charms on another woman, a spunky forensic investigator; as she plots to get the woman into bed, she notes that "the female is the exemplar of the species; maleness is a kind of birth defect." While she is whispering sweet nothings like this in the ear of her reluctant lady-love, the bad guy, Paul Spector, has invaded Stella's hotel room, rummaging through her lingerie, and carefully reading the heroine's dream diary to secure clues as to the psyche of his nemesis. The pathologist chickens-out, fleeing the planned Sapphic encounter and Stella enters the hotel room alone where the villain hides in the closet. A moment later, one of her previous sexual partners, the perpetually morose and sad-eyed chief of police pounds on her door, tries to inflict himself on her, only to get his nose efficiently broken by the heroine. As she treats his injuries, the bad guy slinks away unnoticed. Later, Stella remarks that as far as sex is concerned, there is no distinction between men -- they are all rapists, a comment that the poor chief of police protests, but can't really dispute in light of his own conduct. This second season has to amplify the perversity and sexual frissons of the first year's five episodes and so the program becomes weirdly fantastic, dream-like in some respects, and surreal. None of it makes any dramatic or logical narrative sense, although the show triumphs over the spectator's disbelief by establishing a kind of hushed, half-expectant, and languorous mood of sexual fantasy -- the program demonstrates that Stimmung and gloomy, perverse ambience can overcome the viewer's resistance to plot elements that are simply implausible. For instance, the cops know the identity of the killer throughout four of the six episodes of season two but until the last two hours don't take him into custody and simply observe his increasingly bizarre behavior -- Spector has enlisted a sixteen-year old strumpet, a sadistic Lolita, in his planned sex-crimes and this imparts another layer of unseemly perversity to the proceedings. (And, for a good measure, there is an arrogant pedophile priest as well who gets to spout his theories as to his superiority to the authorities -- it's not enough to have one Nietzsche-influenced monster in the show; rather, we have two -- or, possibly, three if you count the omniscient Stella Gibson in that category.) In the final ninety minute episode, the viewer gets what he has been waiting for: the big confrontation between the heroine and the serial killer, a long dialogue that is shot impressively in huge, but inexpressive close-ups. This is the show's pay-off and it's legitimately thrilling. In the final scenes, Stella goes into a dank-looking forest to search for one of Spector's victims and there is a shoot-out in which her most recent lover, a young fellow who closely resembles the serial killer, and the bad guy himself are, apparently, gunned-down. (Richard Pryor had a hilarious, if unprintably obscene, routine about a woman whose sexual partners all ended-up dead or badly wounded: The Fall verges on the comic with respect to the fate of Stella's paramours.) Ignoring her wounded boyfriend, Stella runs to succor her true soul-mate, the dying Paul Spector, reiterating the theme of kinship between them. At one point, earlier in the show, the boyfriend, another of Stella's one-night stands, asks her if she is attracted to him because he has the benumbed blank affect and movie-star good looks of the killer. Stella deflects the question and, then, tells this parable: "What are men afraid of when it comes to women? Men always say that they are afraid women are laughing at them. What do women say that they are afraid of with respect to men. Women always say: we are afraid they will kill us." I think the BBC has another season of this show in the works -- are they going to resurrect Spector somehow and set him free to further his depredations? This would be ludicrous, but, of course, I like the show and hope that this can be accomplished.