The Fall Recap: A History of Violence

The Fall

Wounds of Deadly Hate
Season 3 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson, Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector.
Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson, Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector. Photo: Des Willie/Netflix

“Wounds of Deadly Hate” begins and ends with an image we know well: Stella’s worried face, deep in concentration. I often wonder what Stella is thinking in these moments. Does she consider how this single-minded quest has dominated her life? Does she wonder if she will ultimately hold Spector accountable for his crimes?

Despite the botched events that capped off last season, bringing Spector to justice should not have been this difficult. They have physical evidence, witnesses, his own confession, and the fact that his alibi provided by Katie has proven to be shaky, at best. But Spector’s supposed memory loss disrupts any clear path to justice and brings up a host of questions about his ability to stand trial. Like Stella, I don’t believe Spector has retrograde amnesia. It’s too convenient. And we have gotten hints that suggest this is an elaborate lie, such as the MRI scans showing no physical reason for memory loss, and his carefully timed violent outbursts in which he hurt himself in the face of the damning evidence. But in “Wounds of Deadly Hate,” Stella learns that Spector’s memory isn’t her only hurdle in bringing this case to court. Her own past has also begun to haunt her.

Stella is full of contradictions. She abhors how Spector uses his power to dominate and abuse women, yet she consistently shows disregard for protocol by sleeping with detectives beneath her station. What Stella has done in her sexual life is by no means worthy of the scorn Spector deserves, but it nevertheless points to an abuse of power and emotional manipulation. She is so obsessed with taking down Spector that she’s willing to cut corners and make glaring mistakes to save Rose Stagg, along with a litany of other issues. Healy gladly exploits Stella’s alleged police misconduct at the center of this complaint, which she learns about at the end of the episode. Healy isn’t doing this to protect Spector, though. He seems to have animosity toward Stella for her flagrant disregard for protocol and her supposed “vendetta” against his client. “Let’s make her pay,” he says to Wallace, who seems to silently disapprove.

Throughout the episode, Gillian Anderson continues to bring remarkable nuance to her performance. She makes it believable that this detective can have such opposing sides to herself — being someone who both defends women’s autonomy and uses feminist rhetoric to defend her abuse of power. But this episode isn’t really about Stella. The narrative focus falls on Spector’s history of violence.

We get an early sign that “Wounds of Deadly Hate” is about Spector when we witness what proves to be his dream of jumping off a building and plunging to his death. From there, the episode juxtaposes two interrogations that reflect important aspects of the investigation and Spector’s psyche. The first takes place with David Alvarez (Martin McCann), a man who knew Spector in their adolescence and might be protecting him by serving time for the murder of Susan Harper. And the second is Spector’s own conversations with Dr. Larson.

I’ve always found interrogation and therapy scenes to be some of the trickiest to pull off. If the characters state how they feel too plainly, your story runs the risk of seeming on-the-nose. If they’re too opaque, it’s hard to care about what’s happening, especially since the visual language of these scenes tend to be static. To the credit of The Fall, the scenes mostly work in this episode.

By the end, it’s revealed that David is protecting Spector for this murder. In their teenage years at the orphanage, Spector had protected David from further abuse, in his own way. The undercurrent of the episode is a question that bares no easy answer: For people who have been abused like Spector, at what point do we hold them culpable? Where should we draw the line between victim and criminal when someone is both?

Both questions apply to Katie, whose father’s death made her particularly susceptible to Spector’s brand of charm. In court, the judge puts it bluntly: The trauma of Katie’s past does not excuse the violent mistakes she made. Her mother cared for her. She was given chance after chance, yet still she’s loyal to a man who couldn’t care less about her. Throwing a corrosive agent in Daisy’s face (who thankfully wasn’t blinded, thanks to the quick thinking of a friend) doesn’t entirely fall on the feet of Spector’s influence or her father’s death. Katie has an uncertain fate now that she’s heading for juvenile detention. “I’m in pain for your pleasure,” her confiscated letter to Spector reads. How will she rethink such statements and her warped ideas of love once she realizes Spector doesn’t give a damn about her?

The focus on Katie reveals a lot about Spector, even though he isn’t present at her trial. After all, she parrots the same rhetoric that he’s so fond of using. Doesn’t it sound familiar when she tells everyone in court that they’re pathetic sheep being fattened for slaughter? She even claims that Spector is the only one who sees the world clearly. It’s evident that this worldview has all the depth of the nihilistic and myopic rantings of a teenager. Spector isn’t just violent and misogynistic; he’s stunted.

Of course, it’s hard to hear everything Spector went through as a child. As he tells Dr. Larson about discovering his mother’s body after she killed herself, and describes the traumas he went through in the ensuing years, it makes sense to feel sadness for the child Spector once was. But he isn’t a kid anymore. And although The Fall hasn’t given us a clear answer for Spector’s memory loss, I believe he’s lying. Consider the advantages it gives him, and the sympathy he’s afforded because of it. Early in the episode Dr. Larson mentions that the people at the hospital found Spector to be “docile, cooperative, friendly even.” Isn’t that how it goes with so many violent men? Their neighbors, family, and colleagues say they never could imagine them being capable of such horror. For Spector to curry such good favor in spite of all the evidence against him, he had to revert to a past self — or pretend to do so. It had to be a persona the police couldn’t account for, one who still held hope for a better tomorrow even after the ugliness of his past.

As I’ve written in previous recaps, the violence Spector unleashed on women like Rose Stagg isn’t new. It’s festered within him for years. When Anderson and Stella finally manage to question Spector under the guise of wanting more information about the storage locker, it’s clear they’ve got him right where they want him. “The police have been clever. They have something on me I actually remember,” Spector later says to Healy, after he’s formally charged for Susan Harper’s murder. This season has meticulously set the stage for another showdown between Stella and Spector, which is sure to take place in the finale episode. Just look at the way she silently studies his every move as they sit across from one another. Just consider the awful crimes he has committed. Stella nearly has him trapped, and Spector is at his most dangerous when backed into a corner. It’s not a question of if he will retaliate, but when and how.

The Fall Recap: A History of Violence