Tomorrow night, BBC 2’s procedural thriller The Fall will return for a second series and with it comes a lingering concern that it will once again disappoint with an unresolved ending.
The drama – which stars Jamie Dornan as ashamedly handsome bereavement counsellor Paul Spector, who commits a series of sickeningly artful murders throughout Belfast, and Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, the steely-yet-elegant detective drafted in to catch him – was one of the most highly-regarded new shows on TV last year.
In fact, it was BBC 2’s most popular drama for more than twenty years; however, not everyone was quite so enamoured with it. The Daily Mail labelled the show the most repulsive drama ever broadcast on British television, while an Express columnist echoed the thoughts of many viewers when he criticised the show’s depiction of violence against women, calling it a “glossy excuse for misogyny”.
But what makes for difficult viewing for some is precisely what makes The Fall so uncomfortably gripping for the vast majority of us. The gift of the show is its unique focus on the psychological character study that brings viewers unbearably close to both leads. Those much-discussed scenes that lingered intimately – too much so according to its creator Allan Cubitt – on Spector’s victims, framed in exposing and sexually-suggestive poses, are upsetting because they make us complicit in his monstrous acts.
This blurring of the boundaries between voyeur and participant is further enhanced by the way we’re encouraged to empathise with Spector. Yes, we watch him stalk his prey with a chilling enthusiasm, but these scenes are also juxtaposed with ones showing Spector as a loving father to his young daughter and a caring therapist to his distressed patients.
Detective Inspector Gibson, by contrast, is given a much less flattering depiction, wantonly luring a married colleague to her hotel bed with scarcely a how-de-doo and barely batting an eye when that same man is gunned down by the IRA just days later. Even Sarah Lund would think that cold.
The first series intentionally kept its two main characters apart for its entirety, generating an unrivalled sense of suspense through Spector and Gibson’s dangerous game of cat and mouse that wound perilously close to disaster over five nail-biting episodes. And then, in the final few moments, Cubitt fumbled his ending. There was no final showdown as anticipated, a fortunate Spector counting his stars as he whisked his family off to a new life in Scotland while Gibson merely seethed impotently on the other end of a phone line.
It was, frankly, a disastrous move. Twitter was understandably up-in-arms and the Radio Times rightly branded the episode a “big disappointment”. Ardent fans may argue that this conclusion was ‘true to life’ with its refusal to wrap up everything in a neat little bow, but the most troubling aspect of the finale was that it felt like an open-ended cop out, lacking the forethought and consideration of the rest of the series as though it had been tacked on in the final few moments when everyone involved realised they were going to get a second series.
Now that the show is indeed returning for that second run, The Fall has been gifted the opportunity to get the ending right. Stephen Wright, commissioning editor for BBC Northern Ireland, has already said that the upcoming series is “pitching to a climax”, and while the first episode may find Spector and Gibson isolated in different countries, you can rest-assured that it won’t be long before Spector returns to prowl the grim and gritty streets of Belfast once again.
With any luck, this time Cubitt will follow through with his story and deliver a resolution to match his masterful build-up over the past two series. Get it right, and the show will almost certainly go down as one of the most inventive and darkly compelling dramas on British TV; get it wrong for a second time, and many of us will be left lamenting the collapse of The Fall.
Click here to watch a trailer for The Fall – Series Two