Not long into the recap of series one, it’s clear why The Fall probably shouldn’t work. There’s the incredulous plot, for starters, which asks viewers to believe that a loving father, working in the compassionate role of bereavement counsellor and living happily with his wife and two children, has a secret life as Belfast’s foremost murderer of attractive, professional young women.
Then there’s the fact that the killer is played by the impossibly good-looking Jamie Dornan. So ridiculously handsome – all dark, piercing eyes, cheekbones and on-trend hipster beard – in fact, that he’s the one Hollywood has chosen to fulfill a thousand housewives’ fantasies as Christian Grey incarnate.
Then the recap subsides into the start of series two proper, and you’re instantly reminded why The Fall was one of the best dramas on telly last year. Here’s icy cool DSI Stella Gibson, played by the unimpeachably fantastic Gillian Anderson, interviewing the lone survivor of the killer’s spree, instructing her two use mild pain by snapping a hairband on her wrist when the memories become overwhelming. And there’s Dornan’s Paul Spector (yes: Spector/spectre – another clunky device that really should count against the show), now cutting a solitary figure in a far-flung remote Scottish location, on the phone with the daughter who really wants her dollies back.
The scene is set for our two main protagonists, all through the familiar ‘Nordic Noir’ filter that accentuates the frame’s greens and blacks for added murk factor. And then something utterly remarkable happens – the episode goes for a full three minutes without a word of dialogue and virtually no kinetic action on screen. Instead, just a low, ambient score accompanies a sequence that’s intercut between Gibson and Spector methodically plotting their next steps. This may well have confounded the idiots who splurged out tweets of disgust when the triumphant vision of Gibson placing Spector in handcuffs wasn’t proferred at the end of season one. But then The Fall isn’t a show that’s interested in living up to conventional expectations.
Sure, there is the odd slip when it momentarily falls back on the tropes of crime drama. The sight of Spector sleeping next to a doll he’s tied with ligatures around its neck and ankles is only one step removed from the disappointingly clichéd serial killer that True Detective’s villain turned out to be. Then we get the outrageous scene with Spector travelling back to Belfast on the train, which toys with those very same tropes, and all is forgiven.
What other show would sit a potential victim in front of its killer, his photofit adorning the front page of her paper, then watch as he pencils in that on-trend hipster beard to make it even more obvious…then twist the knife even further by having said potential victim reveal she matches the profile of every other women he’s killed, via ID that shows her address, all thanks to the unassuming charm Dornan invests in his character’s public persona?
The other reason The Fall is so marvelous is that, especially in a society where an appalling number of people still think the likes of Dapper Laughs and Ched Evans have been hard done by, it continues to place women in control at the heart of a world beset by terribly flawed men. It also subverts the aggressive male/submissive female gender roles quite brilliantly. Witness the moment Gibson, surrounded by six heavies, stares down the ringleader and emasculates him with the slightest of feints. Or the confrontation between Spector and schoolgirl Katie. Just as he looks to have her cornered and cowered (again toying with his real identity as a killer), a kiss that draws blood reverses the balance of power, leaving his threats hollow and ineffectual.
Of course, Spector still gets to go back to his old stalking ways. In a skin-crawling final scene, we see the dissonance between Spector as caring father figure and psychosexual killer combined, proving why he is one of the most fascinating characters television – on either side of the Atlantic – has come up with for years. Come 10pm every Thursday for the next five weeks, one thing’s for sure: you will be moving meticulously around the house checking every door and window is locked and bolted.
The Fall continues on BBC Two every Thursday at 9pm.
Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids