Here are some nice things I can say abut The Fall: Gillian Anderson is a terrific actress. The show sure knows how to create ominous tension. Hearing people express feminist ideas on TV is always welcome. Jamie Dornan is very good-looking. I’m also happy to call it the staringest show I’ve ever seen. (Truly, the show is 65 percent pure staring.) But if the season-two finale serves as the series finale, that will be just fine by me, because that episode was awful. All this stress and pontificating for a finale that ended up squarely in Dullsville, with the big reveal simply being an elusive criminal just telling the police everything, for no real reason. Uuuugh. Spoilers from here on out, obviously.
Will Stella find Rose in time? How? This was meant to be the guiding tension of the final episode — that and the long-awaited showdown between Paul and Stella. But their face-off was a bust, revealing just how underdeveloped both characters were: Paul’s shimmering shark eyes, dilated, glaring into Stella’s slightly less-dilated pools of blue, each saying a lot of nothing. Why is Paul a serial killer? Oh, he just likes it; he was a messed-up kid and stuff, but mostly he’s just real into killing people. Why does he hate women so much, huh? Oh, he hates everyone. He’s so twisted, he suggests maybe Stella’s dad molested her! Stella’s dad didn’t molest her, though, and probably if you interview murderers with any kind of regularity, you need to be prepared to hear them say dark, made-up stuff. Haven’t you ever seen the beginning of Silence of the Lambs, Stella? I have. I wish I had just watched that movie instead of watching The Fall.
After the showdown-that-wasn’t, Stella sleeps with Merlin. (Well, his name is Tom Anderson here, but he played Merlin on a show called Merlin, and he was very Merlin-y). Rather than fess up to how strange it is that she’d sleep with yet another underling (not cool!), particularly right after she compared him to Paul the serial killer, Stella busts out a quote widely attributed to Margaret Atwood. That Stella, she sure can deflect.
And then, just as the scepter of hey, where’s Rose? is still supposed to be hanging over our heads, Paul the murderer decides to just tell them where to go. Apparently he came up with a deal where he gets to see his daughter briefly, and then he’ll point detectives to Rose’s location — except why would he need that “deal,” since we have no reason to believe the police are preventing him from seeing his daughter? (No mention of his son; sorry, son.) Stella didn’t come up with this bargaining chip, because there was nothing to bargain over. Under almost no pressure whatsoever from the police, Paul decided to just fess up. What a fascinating mystery this is! If this were actual bargaining, surely the police would insist on having their end of the deal met first. What are we supposed to think Paul’s incentive is here?
Somehow the best, safest, most secure way to bring Paul to the woods is to handcuff him to Merlin. What could go wrong? Surely there is no other kind of restraint procedure that could possibly work. Naturally, Stella decides to trek into the wooded area all by herself, because everyone’s meticulous about police procedure until it’s dramatically inconvenient, at which point out it goes. Stella finds the car and is apparently unaware that you can open a car’s trunk from the driver’s seat, so she waits for a dude with a crowbar — see, now someone else can join her in the woodlands. Rose is alive in that car trunk! Thank God for Stella’s incredible detective skills! Or just her ability to walk to where she was told to go. Eventually rescue medics also show up, though they seem very unhurried.
Then comes the big “twist” at the end, where our conveniently present domestic abuser Jimmy shows up. The hovering police helicopters and dozens of other officers spot the journalist with his camera, yet somehow no one saw Jimmy running around. The police are supposed to be looking for Jimmy, aren’t they? Not just right then, in a state of awareness, but from days earlier, when he stole a police officer’s gun. How did he evade capture following that crime, and how did he evade it again after breaking into the shelter where his ex-wife was living? I guess all the police officers ere just too focused on waiting around for Paul to just tell them where Rose was to do any additional investigating of any other crimes.
I sort of liked that Stella was much more aggressive about saving Paul than about tending to the also-shot Merlin — whom she had just had sex with, mere hours ago — because Stella’s a really bad boss. I don’t care how progressive your sexual politics are, it’s not kosher to sleep with people you outrank at work. Stella does that a few times, and in a moment that is perhaps meant to seem tender, she also undoes Gail’s prim side-bun and runs her fingers through poor, sad Gail’s hair. Again, this is someone who reports to Stella. That’s not appropriate! Imagine your boss playing with your hair. Does that feel like a correct thing to happen? Stella’s righteousness feels a little short-sighted.
The Fall isn’t a horrible show, but it’s not quite as inventive as it thinks it is. Luther has a better handle on creative psychopathy, and Dexter had a more engrossing spin on compulsive violence. Hannibal is more artful across the board. What The Fall was ostensibly doing was a stripped-down version of the genre, a purer, more strictly character-driven — and philosophy-driven — exploration of law and disorder. But what we got instead was two fabulous-looking people, sitting across a table, having absolutely nothing to say to each other.