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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

THE FALL: SERIES 1 -- DVD review by porfle

Bleak, melancholy--borderline depressing, in fact--the Brit cop series THE FALL: SERIES 1 (2013)  has enough going for  it to supply hardy viewers with plenty of hard-edged adult drama and suspense.  Yet those holding out for some kind of closure at the end of series one's five episode run may find it ultimately unfulfilling.

Gillian Anderson ("The X-Files", BLEAK HOUSE) plays DS Stella Gibson,  who's been summoned by the Belfast police to head a departmental review into a stalled murder investigation.  When other, similar murders point to the work of  a serial killer, Gibson urges her superior and former lover Jim Burns (John Lynch) to put her in charge of the case.

Meanwhile, we follow the everyday life of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, "Once Upon a Time"), a devoted  husband and father who works as a grief counsellor.  He also happens to be the killer DS Gibson and her new task force are searching for.  When not helping care for his ultra-cute kids Olivia and Liam or guiding a young couple through the heartbreak of losing their son, he's stalking young professional  women as a prelude to murdering them in extremely ritualistic fashion.

While Dornan plays the character with a quiet, smoldering intensity,  Anderson's DS Gibson seems mostly sullen and cold.  This is partially accounted for by the fact that she has no life whatsoever outside of law enforcement, and treats the one sexual encounter that we see--after an abrupt come-on to handsome  young cop James Olson (Ben Peel) to whom she's just been introduced--with less warmth and intimacy than a handshake. 

When Olson is gunned down in connection with a related case, Burns' objection to Gibson's casual encounter with him becomes fodder for series creator and writer Allan Cubitt's desire to inject gender politics into the mix whenever possible.   The scripts often feed Gibson weak male characters to get the best of and sympathetic female colleagues to  bond with, although none of this is as effective or relevant as Helen Mirren's struggles against sexual discrimination in the classic series "Prime Suspect." 

It does, however, give Anderson the chance to play an imperfect heroine who isn't particularly likable and, in fact, comes off as rigid, humorless, and emotionally-repressed.  We learn practically nothing about her past and thus haven't a clue as to how she became this way.   One might even call her character underwritten,  giving Anderson the task of filling in the blanks with her own substantial presence, which she manages to do quite well.

As for Paul Spector, so much is made of his family and professional lives that we sometimes almost forget that he's the killer, except for the times in which his public and private personas threaten to collide.  Strangely, he's just about the only male character who seems to demonstrate consistently positive traits--faithful husband, devoted father, caring grief counsellor--and he's so matter-of-fact while going about his misdeeds that we get little sense of how truly evil and deranged he would have to be underneath his bland exterior.

A not-altogether-successful attempt is made, through crosscutting, to draw parallels between Spector and Gibson as we see them going about their lives.  Both are predators of a sort--she conquers her male prey through impersonal sex while he dominates and kills his victim.  He runs, she swims; she pores over her case notebook while he studies his trophy scrapbook; and so on.  In one curious scene,  a shot of a dead victim sprawled across a bed is juxtaposed with a similar view of Gibson in a matching reclining pose after sex.

The murder sequences,  of course, are repellent but not played to chill or thrill except when things go wrong and chaos ensues,  as in episode four's botched attack.  This bit of excitement comes none too soon, as it's around this point that the series starts to drag a bit despite some mildly shocking moments which, even so, might have been directed a bit more sharply.  Other subplots which don't seem all that relevant distract from the main drive of the story.

As Spector fights to keep himself together,  a punchy phone conversation with DS Gibson provides the series with some of its most scintillating moments.  However,  this is the closest we'll get to a climax in series one, as the final episode ends with a cliffhanger that promises to stretch things out even more next season.  I would've preferred a resolution,  but if the writers go in a different,  unexpected direction next time it should keep things interesting.

The 2-disc set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  The sole extra is a 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.

THE FALL: SERIES 1 is substantial, involving drama that's worth watching,  although somewhat of a disappointment compared to some of the better Brit cop shows I've watched.  In some ways it even comes off as a bit half-baked at times.  And while I'm keen to find out what happens next season,  I'm not exactly on pins and needles.

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