The Fall

With episode two of series two set to air tonight, we look back at the slow-burning opener

Last week saw the return of BBC Northern Ireland's The Fall, the most hyped and talked about Northern Irish television drama in history.

When we last saw serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) and super cop Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), they had reached an impasse, with Spector fleeing to Scotland and taunting Gibson with her failure to catch him.

The first episode of series two spends much time orchestrating the slow but relentless setup towards their eventual and inevitable showdown. Cutting repeatedly between scenes from either's perspective, the episode does not deal in subtlety, though there is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, both landscape and portrait.

Gibson doesn't take a dip in the pool at any point, but fans of Gillian Anderson’s bosom will not be disappointed. The camera continues to linger on slinky silk blouses and lovely lace bras as her character spends a fair proportion of time dressing and undressing in the women’s washroom.

Indeed, Gibson spends one entire scene slowly unbuttoning from her uniform while smouldering into the mirror at her lesbian protégé. And when it’s down in black and white like that, it does all seem rather sleazy.

Washroom scenes are, of course, a cliché of cop shows, but this is hardly a Cagney and Lacey moment. Unfortunately, for all her 'head-bitch-in-charge' feminist sensibility, and sexually liberated attitude (who can forget her upfront come on to a colleague in episode one, series one?), and skill as a detective, the camera and the staging consistently insists that first and foremost Stella Gibson is icy eye candy.

Later, and looking equally spectacular in formal garb, her colleague DCI Burns (John Lynch) dons full white-tie evening attire, complete with ribbon-festooned dress shoes, which is perhaps a touch over the top, but then again, aren't senior policemen always dashing form the opera in these kind of shows?

Nevertheless, Lynch's intense glower is always welcome on the screen. He was woefully underused in the first series as the moral and upstanding cop with his own history of obsession with Gibson, but his several scenes in this episode look promising for further development.

Gibson and her boss aside, there are many beautiful people in The Fall’s Belfast, not least the serial killer himself. Doran’s psycho continues to charm the ladies, and is apparently so dishy that he can effortlessly pick up a comely blond on the Larne to Belfast train, despite how clearly he resembles the E-fit picture of a wanted murderer on the front pages.

For us locals, part of the pleasure of a show filmed in Belfast is picking out familiar locations, and The Fall continues to throw in some of the best of them. This time around the spruced up Cathedral Quarter gets a spin, looking all clean and spiffy. Established Coffee is also ready for its close-up, although happily the camera keeps it distance from the most bearded hipster barista this side of the Lagan.

This episode even sees Gibson upgrading her accommodation to the cool Merchant Hotel. Presumably Room 203 at the Hilton is still booked out after her sexy scenes there last year.

Back to the drama, and Spector’s motivations remain something of an enigma. But now that his average Joe family life has unravelled, the signs of his deviance multiply at every turn. While in Scotland, for instance, he steals his daughter’s Barbie dolls for a spot of mild bondage.

Dollies the world over have been subjected to all kinds of violent indignities at the hands of their juvenile custodians, to be sure, but the implications about his relationship with his daughter here are truly disturbing. And she is not the only child who encounters Spector’s pathology in this episode, as we discover in the final act.

But for all the anxious anticipation the episode manages to build with these unsettling scenes, there are a few too many eye-rolling moments that pull us out of the drama. When Gibson returns to her car after visiting the scene of Annie Brawley’s attack, for example, the local hoods who emerge from the shadows appear like the cast of West Side Story.

Draping themselves over Gibson's car, they threaten her with a show of aesthetically pleasing choreography, but before they can break into song, she dismisses them with a dramatic stamp of her stiletto. Burns can only watch from his limo – his ornamental footwear no match for Gibson’s Manolos.

Spector’s amazing cat burglar skills, meanwhile, are also getting a bit silly. 'How did you get in?' a shocked Katie asks when he beams into her kitchen. Turns out she left her door unlocked. Like half of Belfast, apparently.

It is always easy to criticise glaring problems in shows of this magnitude. And with review-embargoed preview screenings, promo appearances from cast and director, and dozens of anticipatory articles published in the press in the run up the airing, it would have been hard for any show to live up to The Fall’s hyped return.

The second series' opening episode avoids the most egregious sins of the first series: it rightfully criticises indulgence in violence against women. But then, no one even dies in this episode.

Writer/creator Allan Cubitt has taken over as director this year, but it is too soon to say whether that will mark a move away from the first series' much publicised tone of misogyny and sexism. Although Gibson continues to call out male hypocrisy, however, the admiring camera still lingers a little too lovingly on her alluring figure.

The Fall series two, episode two airs tonight, November 20, on BBC One. Episode one is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.

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