The Fall ‘Dark Descent’ – Series 1, episode 1

Samuel Breen

the fall 300x225 The Fall Dark Descent   Series 1, episode 1


SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen series 1, episode 1 of ‘The Fall’

The last time writer Allan Cubitt was in Ireland, Donegal was on its knees with potato crops failing. Following the death if his predecessor the new English Land Agent observed how poor land management had caused a nutritional and economic dependency on spuds. In The Fall DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson; Stella, really?) arrives following a murder inquiry, hoping to unpick the problem and unearth what the locals couldn’t.

There are echoes of imperialistic righteousness, tribalism and horror that run through both shows but The Fall is a present day murder investigation taking place amongst an affluent crowd of young professionals in Belfast – marked out by their suburban driveways and All Bar One soirees. Pre-recession graduates settling down with kids in a world that feels eerily Blairite. Not least the yuppie house music that fills the wine bar. There are a few moments where I expect James Nesbitt to crop up, but I can’t work out if I’m fudging things with Cold Feet or James Nesbitt’s Ireland.

The Fall is a writerly work with juxtaposition as the commanding theme. We know the killer (Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan), we know the next victim Sarah Kay (Laura Donnelly), and perhaps the victim after that. DSI Gibson knows there is to be another murder and two jobbing police officers draw similar conclusions. Like his acclaimed writing on Prime Suspect 2, Cubitt is walking the viewer through the procedural elements of police work, only this time we’re walked through the murderer’s actions and mindset with equal fidelity, before being asked to compare the two.

“No one knows what’s going on in someone else’s mind, and life would be intolerable if we did,” says Paul to his wife, continuing the French philosophy that ghosts the opening episode, in addition to the psychological drama. What we are shown is the synthesis: as the murderer jots horrors in his notebook, the detective attempts to unravel clues in hers. As Paul mutters these words to his wife, their daughter experiences nightmares. While Gibson fails to maintain her grip longer than 30 seconds, Paul trains his to last with murderous intent. There is a cyclical motion that carries the episode, linking one scene to the next.

Beyond the violence of the closing scenes the most chilling part to Dark Descent is played out with pathos. While Paul councils a bereaved couple he secretly sketches the mother, Liz, drawing shadow beneath her chin. The scratches at first suggest incisions across her neck and once the portrait is complete, naked breasts and all, he proceeds to shred the leaf of paper. Within this banality the violence is visceral, making for electrifying viewing.

What we have seen before from Cubitt is his ability to flesh out our frustrations in order to grab our imagination. Bureaucracy is a common device and here the local policeman, an Eric Cantona (or Aìrec Cantoyna if you will) styled Irishman played by John Lynch, cannot anticipate the murder which the audience awaits. Gibson quips that King Aìrec’s, “Failure to see that crimes are linked, linkage blindness, is the thing that will allow the killer to strike again.” I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with her position, despite have no knowledge of investigation theory nor of the phrase “linkage blindness,”  and relishing the procedural correctness of her analysis.

Sex is a major theme and it appears across the board, while religion is employed delicately. The murders are taking place in bedrooms and on naked women; Paul asks Jimmy and Liz about their sex life; Stella makes a pass at Jimmy; Paul’s friend was found out to have paid for a lap-dance; and Sarah returns home having deflected an approach. Religion appears in Paul’s Russian-Jewish descent, “What kind of a name is Spector anyway?” Jimmy asks riddled with Catholic guilt. More subtly Stella takes a swim – to be read as a baptism, fast becoming a cliché for detectives. But other than Jimmy’s search for god, we’re given little so priestly. Regardless it is an indication of the approach to the show, and what we can expect to come.

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  • Hill244

    Cant believe Gillian Anderson is still sooo fit. Her character seems a melange of Clarice Starling and Dana Scully. The house exteriors and interiors did not fit – but that is only cos I lived on Rugby Road where the locations were shot.

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