I watched this in a slightly weird way. I’d meant to watch it as it aired, but missed the first episode and kept failing to remember to catch up despite frequent prodding from various friends. In the end I watched all five episodes in just two days and managed to finish the final episode just half hour before it disappeared from iPlayer. So that hopefully explains the tardiness of my review, I think watching it quickly like that actually helped the show a lot, but unfortunately not enough to save it. The review below contains vague spoilers about the structure of the show, but not the details of the plot.
The biggest problem with The Fall was the way it finished. In that it didn’t. I watched it thinking that it was a five part mini-series dealing with a specific case, and that any future seasons (if there were any) would have different cases. That meant I was massively frustrated when the conclusion of the series left the murderer not caught, the secondary case not resolved and no answers for anyone. A series can be entitled to a cliffhanger, but a) not if you’re only five episodes long, and b) only if it’s an actual cliffhanger, just having your murderer declare he won’t murder any more is not a cliffhanger. The fact there will be a second season is small compensation, particularly if we have to wait well over a year for it.
Ordinarily I probably wouldn’t make the ending of a season/series such an important part of my review but it really did seriously damage my enjoyment of the show. I felt like I’d been taken for a ride, like a shaggy dog story but without a punchline. And remember that’s speaking as someone who watched all five episodes in two days, I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for people who invested weeks into the story to end up so unsatisfied.
The other problem with the series was it felt like a lot of things thrown together. While I found the serial killer story interesting (and particularly liked the unusual take on following the perpetrator along with the investigators) I struggled to either follow or care about the story about police corruption (and that one got even shorter shrift in the endings competition). I only started getting a feel for the characters in that storyline in the final couple of episodes and by then it was too late for me to go back and double check who was who and what they had and hadn’t done. Other minor storylines felt rather bolted on with little foundation, the couple grieving their son took a lot of time and didn’t add much, while the story about a mother and her premature baby felt manipulative, irrelevant to the main plots and ill served by their limited screen time.
Those problems are a real shame, because the reset of the series was extremely well put together. Gillian Anderson is superb as the not-particularly-likeable but confident and capable detective. Her character is fascinating and her performance is restrained and subtle. Jamie Dornan is also wonderful as the murderer. It’s particularly impressive that he somehow manages to play the family man with the same sense of creepiness and danger as he does the murderer; he doesn’t flip a switch, he’s the same person whether he’s planning and carrying out a brutal murder, or attending parents evening and having a conversation with his wife. He’s not a complex person, he’s very simple really, but no one in his circle of family and colleagues is ever going to make the leap that he might be a murderer.
I also liked the way the police work was presented. The impeccable attention to procedure and forensics were very refreshing to anyone who’s ever shouted at a character on CSI to pull their hair back. It’s always such a relief to see competence and intelligence on the television. I never watched the series, but The Fall certainly seems to owe a debt to Prime Suspect – competent female leader, and a gritty but realistic presentation of police work.
It’s hard to give an overall “yay” or “nay” to the series, because while Anderson’s performance is almost worth the price of admission alone, I feel bad recommending people watch something that is going to leave them frustrated. I find myself not really wanting to watch the next season, but that it’s inevitable because I’d like to see how the story ends. That to me makes it a series that’s more manipulative than it is good.