When the final episode of ITV’s Broadchurch aired in the spring, I wrote a piece claiming it was one of the best pieces of television in recent years. I still stand by that claim, however the BBC has had a good go at matching that series quality and addictiveness. The Fall ended tonight, though it’s been made very clear that the series will return. Indeed, if the BBC hadn’t commissioned a second series, I would imagine many viewers would be incensed at the lack of closure. As it is, we all have to try not to gnaw off our fingernails over the next year (or longer) while we wait to find out if Detective Superintendent Gibson (the terrifically hypnotic Gillian Anderson) will ever catch the serial killer Paul Spector (the ‘golden-torso’ Jamie Dornan).
Broadchurch worked as a furiously compelling whodunit. Bets were made. People desperately tried to work out who the killer was. Some friends of mine even hosted Broadchurch parties, where everyone sat round a big TV for the series finale, eager to share in the rush of satisfaction when the killer was finally announced. I can’t imagine people hosting any ‘Fall parties’, because this crime drama was not a whodunit. It is a very different beast altogether. It wasn’t even really a whydunnit. It was an are-they-going-to-find-him saga; an intense and mesmerising game of cat and mouse. And it pulled it off superbly.
The drama has come under attack from some viewers and critics because of its dark subject matter. There have been some very strong opinions voiced. The Daily Mail’s TV critic Christopher Stevens has called it ‘the most repulsive drama ever broadcast on British TV’. The way it deals with violence towards women has become a hot topic, with some claiming the series is misogynist and revels in the suffering of Spector’s female victims.
My take on all this? The series is about a violent sadist who kills people, mostly young women. The initial subject matter presents problems. There is too much of this type of thing on TV. Far too many crime series focus on the grisly ordeals women go through. This has been the case for a while now. Deceased series Wire in the Blood and Waking the Dead often focused on the issue. There were so many young women on TV being raped and tortured and left crying in dungeons, it was a shock when a middle aged male got stabbed. Luther is another series (one that was pulled up for its gruelling scenes by RT’s Alison Graham) that has had issues in this area (an episode in its first season treated us to the horrible sight of a young woman terrorised and tortured in her own home). Lynda La Plante-helmed drama Above Suspicion devoted entire series to the truly sickening ordeals young women were put through. So yes, television has become too obsessed with the unmentionable. It has become normalised. But – and this bit is really important – we must now move on to looking out how the subject matter is presented rather than simply moan that it is there at all. It is there. Let’s recognise the problem, but let’s not pretend that there isn’t an audience for it.
There are ways to show the shocking and not step over the line. In my opinion, The Fall has just about managed this. There were terrifying scenes within it. Nearly every episode climaxed with the vicious murder of another of the killer’s victims, but the focus on the drama is, for the overwhelming majority of the time, devoted to the procedure of catching the killer and his attempts to evade capture.
In terms of the show’s representation of women as a whole, I think it is a confident step in the right direction. The show is not pro-misogyny, as some people have claimed. Indeed, it is a tremendously empowering series where women are concerned. Instead of revelling in the trauma the females go through, it actively holds up the issue of male-on-female violence and says ‘Look at this. This is vile. And we are going to challenge it’. And it does challenge it. DSI Gibson is one of the most fascinating and multilayered female detectives ever created. She is strong, resourceful and confident. She isn’t a hardnosed bitch. She isn’t an alcoholic. She doesn’t spend most of her time fainting in mortuaries or crying in the lady’s toilets. She knows her job well and she is good at it. She is the force that counteracts the violence and fights against the hateful force of misogyny and won’t let it pass. The telling moment was when she said, whilst talking on the phone to Spector in tonight’s finale, ‘You think I’d let you walk away? You try to justify what you do. It’s just misogyny. Age old male violence against women.’ This scene was one of the most powerful in the entire series, and it really made it clear that this drama is anti-violence and anti-hatred. By making the two lead characters work against each other, then hold a conversation during one of the final scenes, this overall message was made very clear.
It was a shame the BBC announced the renewal of the series before it was over. It would have been great to have left that cliff-hanger play and leave the viewers to jump of their chairs shouting ‘WHAT?!!!!’ But it’s still great to know it’s coming back, and I cannot wait to see how writer Alan Cubitt develops it during its second series. Let’s hope he keeps it the right side of horrific, and doesn’t make the mistake of thinking a good sequel means the same again, only brasher and nastier. The Fall works well by being patient and subtle. I hope he keeps it that way.
The Fall is available to watch for a limited time on BBC iPlayer. The series is released on Blu-ray and DVD from 17 June 2013 by Acorn Media.