Movies · TV

Concluding The Fall: A Q&A With The Creator and Stars of the Best Show You Might Not Be Watching

By  · Published on November 29th, 2016

The themes, narrative and characters of the BBC/Netflix serial-killer drama.

[Don’t worry, there are no spoilers in the article, only the video, so if you clicked because you want to see what the show’s about without ruining any of its many twists, you’re good so long as you don’t press play.]

In American movies serial killers are masterminds. They are devious and cunning and usually have a catchy angle from which their murderous personas are derived: “Hannibal the Cannibal,” “Buffalo Bill,” “The Bone Collector,” “Ghostface,” “The Jigsaw Killer,” et cetera. We portray our serial killers ‐ by and large ‐ as psychopathic geniuses, beings of superior intellect who look down on the rest of us and concoct justifications for arranging heinously artistic displays of death.

In reality, however, things are much blunter. Serial killers don’t kill out of some desire to send a message, to enact a performance, or to shock and/or titillate. They kill because they have to, it is a compulsion that will not be ignored, a jones that only has one fix. Most serial killers, while they take immediate pleasure in the acts the commit, have no pride for what they do, it is a dirty, base side of themselves that must be obeyed, like any addiction. They’re not all loners or lurkers, most are have families, spouses, children, and spend their entire lives trying to keep this dark side of themselves in the shadows.

Serial killers, in short, are just like you and me on the surface. They look like us, they talk like us, buy coffee in the mornings, drive their kids to school, eat tacos on Tuesdays and watch Modern Family on Wednesdays. They shop at Home Depot, get their oil changed, and walk the dog on the same neighborhood streets as we walk our own. They aren’t just among us, serial killers are us, they are not some separate class of evildoers obvious to the naked eye, rather they are ordinary people with extraordinary secrets, and that, I think, makes them much, much more frightening.

This is also, I think, what makes Allan Cubitt’s serial-killer drama The Fall so intriguing. Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), the killer at the heart of this series, isn’t Hannibal Lecter, he’s a husband, a father of two small children, and a soft-spoken, respectable man, all while being a master manipulator, a sexual aggressor, and the serial murderer of professional young women in Belfast, Ireland. The intrigue surrounding him doesn’t come necessarily from the selection, pursuit, execution and disposal of his prey, but rather in how he navigates his other life between killings, how he balances being a murderer with being a lover, a father, and a man, especially once his crimes start drawing attention.

And then of course there is the investigating officer on his trail, Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who herself isn’t portrayed as the typically-jaded, wounded, hard-boiled dick on the case, but rather as another sort of desperate hunter, a woman with her own personality flaws that while nowhere near as severe as Spector’s, still should be hidden from the light of day. Stella isn’t the antithesis of Spector, she is a reflection of him, the two separated by the very thin line that separates all of us from “normalcy” and mental illness.

The cat-and-mouse back-and-forth between these two over the series’ three-season run (all streaming right this very moment on Netflix) has made for some exhilarating if extraordinarily dark television, and the many themes of the show, not to mention the labyrinthine plot and nuanced characters, are the topics of conversation in this half-hour video from the British Film Institute between stars Anderson and Dornan, and writer-director Cubitt that also touches on the methods, meanings, and ramifications of displaying graphic violence on-screen.

If you’ve seen The Fall, you don’t need me to convince you the following conversation is an invaluable addendum to the series. If you haven’t seen The Fall, bookmark this, get thee to a Netflix, then come see us again when you’re finished, which, if you’re anything like me, should be around this time tomorrow. In an era of television where serial killers get practically as much air time as (other) suburban white people, The Fall is a antidote to the spectacle and melodrama inherent to much of the genre, and it is through this removal from the fantastic and planting in reality that the series is that much more captivating, engaging, and horrific.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist