One of the greatest and most devastating aspects about noir is its ability to seduce. It’s a genre that peers into the human soul and shows us exactly what we want, only to reveal those desires as illusions. Throughout its three seasons, The Fall has used its icy exterior and obsession with the minutia of its central investigation to hide an ideology deeply indebted to noir. Given that influence, I should have realized “Their Solitary Way” would withhold the hopeful resolution I was counting on.
“That’s Disney. This is the real story,” Rose says to her daughter, who is unsatisfied with the version of the fairytale she’s being read. The line feels like meta-commentary to the audience: If you want a happy ending or even just a satisfying one, you’ll have to look elsewhere. None of the characters in this finale are given the endings they deserve. Nobody gets a clear resolution.
With all the mounting evidence, Spector’s confession, and Stella’s unparalleled determination, it was easy to hope that The Fall would give us a satisfying ending. It was easy to believe that a man responsible for the assault and murders of several women would be brought to justice. Instead, the finale presents a bitter ending that holds up a warped mirror to how similar narratives play out in the real world. “Their Solitary Way” cuts sharp, but I’m not sure it cuts deep enough for this to feel fully earned. The problem lies in the heart of the story: the cat-and-mouse game between Stella and Spector. This battle of wills between the feminist-minded investigator and the misogynistic serial killer simply hasn’t felt like an even-handed battle.
To Healy and Wallace, Spector didn’t confess to murdering Susan Harper so much as he described it as a sex game gone awry. When Spector gets in front of Stella and Anderson with Healy by his side, he refuses to answer why David is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, let alone witness. Spector delights in having an audience. With unnerving specificity, he talks about his sexual proclivities. He maintains he doesn’t remember the last few years, but he slips up in small ways, eventually revealing his true self without giving up many direct answers. Throughout the first few minutes of the interrogation, Stella remains silent. She watches Spector intently. She pays attention to his every gesture, waiting until her words will have the maximum effect. When David is mentioned, she strikes.
Stella: “He said he felt in your debt.”
Spector: “She speaks.”
Saying Stella speaks up is a far too passive way to describe how she uses Spector’s history to force his hand. She utterly rips into his façade and sense of self, knocking down all his defenses until the man behind the careful mask he’s constructed is all that’s left. “Rose Stagg was so right about you,” she says. “Your infantile desire to have a captive and captivated audience. It’s all one big performance, a protection against the dreaded black hole of your heart. Well, guess what Paul? It’s time to grow up. Stop this pathetic charade.”
We are given no room to breathe. The cutaways to Wallace and Burns, who separately watch the proceedings with tense faces, further heighten the gnawing feeling that starts to build. Stella knows what she’s doing. In order to make Spector reveal his true self, she has to make him angry enough to crack. The scene is like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter. Eventually, it will snap.
The Fall has never been afraid to show violence, but it has always seemed more drawn to its planning and aftermath rather than the actual act. But this is different. When Healy asks for a recess, Spector makes his move while Anderson and Stella are making their way for the door. He punches Stella with all the force he can muster, her blood spraying onto the floor. He stomps into her stomach as she curls herself in a ball tighter and tighter. When Anderson tries to stop him, Spector twists his arm back until it breaks. Every scene after Spector is taken back to the psychiatric facility pales in comparison to this attack. The interrogation sequence works because its greatness rests entirely on Gillian Anderson, who is absolutely stunning. Throughout the episode, she gets to show both Stella’s vulnerability and her drive to bring this case to trial no matter how Spector tries to unnerve her. The Fall doesn’t always live up to her terrific performance, but that’s not the only issue that plagued this season.
Showrunner Allan Cubitt, who wrote and directed every episode this season, crafted an interesting villain but failed to cast an actor who could handle the intricacies of the role. Spector is meant to be a splintered character. To his friends and family, he is warm and charismatic, but lurking beneath the surface is his true self: a frightening, misogynistic, abusive man stunted by the trauma of his past who enacts his fury on women in increasingly sickening ways. Unfortunately, Jamie Dornan plays Spector the same way throughout. The Fall needed an actor who could play charming and wicked with equal panache, who could hold his own against Gillian Anderson. For all his talents, Dornan is not that actor. His performance through the final twists is suspenseful and tragic, but it doesn’t carry the emotional heft that it should.
In the end, Spector gets to engineer his own demise. He takes advantage of the ruckus caused by another patient to slip away unnoticed. He beats Dr. Larson unconscious, then hides in the patient’s room, finally killing himself in a way that echoes his mother’s suicide and his many victims: a plastic bag over his head, a belt around his neck as he hangs from a door frame. We watch the life drain out of him, his feet and hands twitching until the nurses find his body.
When Stella sees what’s left of Spector, it’s a gut punch. Her face holds so much regret and anger. Despite everything, she wasn’t able to find justice for women like Rose. She wasn’t able to keep her promise. Sure, Spector is dead. But in those final moments when Stella returned home and drank a glass of wine, I was left feeling absolutely gutted. Even when an investigation is led by someone as capable as DSI Stella Gibson, women are left with untreated wounds. For them, justice is not a possible salve.