The Fall ‘The Vast Abyss’ – Series 1, episode 5

Samuel Breen
3620695 low res the fall 300x199 The Fall The Vast Abyss   Series 1, episode 5


SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen series 1, episode 5 of ‘The Fall’

I can’t remember the last series to offer such robust characters while still providing the viewer with such scope for interpretation. It’s been a pleasure to watch.

In the closing episode to this intoxicating series we are shown the incompatibility of Gibson and Spector, how they were never written to talk with each other; that in their likeness they have nothing to say. Seemingly it is left to Sally Spector to shine a light on her husband, and to make him human.

I missed it first time around last week but last week Sally (Bronagh Waugh) was talking about her patient whose child is fighting for its life. “There’s a baby at work, she’s really poorly. Her mother she’s only 18 herself,” and in ‘herself’ we were left to draw upon when Paul and Sally had their first child. Seemingly it is this that has shaped Paul professionally and left him working in a job he feels overqualified for.

“Growing up I never thought for a second I’d have a wife and family of my own.” Bored of the work, doodling where he should be making notes. Equally his own childhood has caused much harm “If you’re looking for me to make allowances for your terrible childhood I’m afraid I can’t,” and “I know what growing up without a father did to you.” We are left to piece together these elements, these quips, hoping that we will be able to construct the psychoanalysis DSI Gibson cannot.

In this final episode Sally shines because she’s given more air time and because she is used as a window into Paul’s mind. With Gibson falling short in catching her killer, it is Sally who is elected to provide the interrogation: “When I look at you I don’t know who you are. When you meet someone, when you first get to know then there comes a time when you get to know their friends and their family and you get to know all about them through these others thorough their closest relationships.” We are even shown how such a disjointed couple have sex, with Paul angrily thrusting, and Sally visibly in pain. He may have had the broken childhood, but now it is Sally who is tortured.

We’re reminded of the overlap of characteristics between Gibson and Spector, but in The Vast Abyss their traits change. In Spector we see a man pushed to the point of unmanageable stress, dealing with poisonous thoughts of “chaos” and more. I envisage him admitting his actions to the police. So detached and solipsistic has his character become that he wouldn’t be affected by imprisonment. He no longer wants his job and he has even found himself neglecting his wife, losing interest due to his focus on the preservations of childhood.

Rather than protecting his family from his own actions, Paul appears to be protecting himself from harming the babysitter. In some way I feel like the lack of conclusion was caused by the difficulty in writing dialogue between Gibson and Spector. In their phone conversation Cubitt falls back on more philosophy, about freedom and morality in an intellectual battle that is truncated before it tanks any further; Spector plays it cool and Gibson loses it. I can’t help but feel that the two have nothing to say to each other and to continue this dialogue would be futile. When challenged by Stella, Paul goes mute, he throws his mobile into the river and disappears.

Gibson, comparatively, has been increasingly unlikeable. As the show progressed her steely persona moved closer to Paul’s psychopath. Becoming increasingly cut off from those around her, and losing any self-awareness. “And Jerry, I’m not interested in judging,” she demands speaking of an online sexual profile of the victim, “Just find the killer.” He doesn’t judge the victim, rather he delivers the details he has successfully unearthed in a calm professional manner. Elsewhere in the hospital she is taken aside by Paula having just argued “With the greatest respect…” to the attending doctor.

They maybe off to Scotland, but the police are impossibly close. The artist’s impression is too good and the local residents to the murder house have identified him, and worse, have a grudge for him. In my mind, he’s caught and his daughter heartbroken.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to know what conclusions everyone has drawn.

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  • Nick George

    I was frankly disappointed with this as a series ending. I take issue with none of the main post as far as it goes, but I am left with a dissatisfaction that the “Spector case” remains unresolved and, yet, lacks enough promise to lure me back for a whole second series on it (if that is what is planned). If this tale cannot be covered within 5 episodes, by all means give it eight (or whatever) but what has been done seems to me to be either an inadequate way to end it or an unnatural place to break it. All that said, i expect I will give it the benefit of this doubt when it returns.

  • zandeman

    This is an excellent piece of critical writing. It almost restores my faith in the Independent. I’ve been hooked on this series from the first episode. The Belfast it portrays is very different from the one I grew up in, but believable for all that. Stella’s lack of self-awareness was emphasised in the scene with the hospital doctor, when her obsession got so far in the way of her effectiveness that the pathologist had to intervene and send her away. Why – apart from her sex and her role as senior investigator – does she identify so viscerally with the victims?

    I’m not disappointed that the series ended where it did and I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next series, hoping for an answer to this question and many, many others.

  • greggf

    “In this final episode…..”

    How many are going to be made then……?

    This episode totally lost the realism that previous episodes promised, for example; the Shankill residents were promoted as though they would have a hand in Spector’s dénouement. Perhaps that’s for the next series!

    They made it up as they went along and decided quite cynically that another series would bring more viewers, money and opportunities.

  • zandeman

    “…they would have a hand in Spector’s dénouement…”

    Dorty bastes.

  • samuelbreen

    Hi Zanderman, thanks for posting, and thanks for the kind words.

    I posted a theory in a previous post about how Gibson is an extension of Helen Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect 2. I think she is someone who sees the world – rightly or wrongly – in terms of injustice and will immediately identify with the victims. Remember the bureaucratic battles that Mirren’s character lost? But like a lot of characterisation in the series there is a lot of allusion and precious little concrete evidence, so it would be good to see more.

    I really liked her lack of self awareness, and how it was contrasted with her ability to stay in control of the people around her. It was a really complex part of her character. That said, I don’t know if I’d want to see more of Paul.

  • samuelbreen

    Hi Nick, thanks for posting and thanks for reading.

    I’m with you, I’d prefer the next series to look into another case and I would have liked to have seen a more permanent ending. But that’s because I’m failing miserably to envisage how it could play out any further. I’m with you, I’ll be watching with apprehension and curiosity in equal measure.

  • JohnJGuy

    What is so striking about this series, is that there are people who are desperately seek the ’satisfying’ fulfillment of Spector’s capture. What is realistically striking is the crushing dullness and presentation of quiet despair in the ordinariness of peoples lives that seemingly overwhelms them.

    A second series only makes this so much more frighteningly compelling for viewers and critics alike. There are no easy or satisfactory answers whatever the outcome. There is going to be continued and unrelieved anguish, regardless of whether Spector is caught or not. It is clear, since he is hardly the only ‘villain’ in this environment, but rather represents a more obvious shade of felon.

    ‘…the police are impossibly close.’ Samuel Breen

    It remains to be seen. It’s more likely that Spector’s pattern of behavior will get the better of him for second series…

    …At least.

    We as humans don’t like issues resolved, but it is a more often than not a fact of life.

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