The Fall series 3 spoiler-free preview: Jamie Dornan’s Spector hangs in the balance in an absorbing opening episode

The hit BBC2 police drama finds Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson wondering what to do after the killer she tracked down was shot at the end of the last series

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* This is a spoiler-free preview of the first episode of The Fall series 3 *

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“We’re losing him?” were the last words uttered at the end of series 2 of The Fall, as Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson cradled Jamie Dornan’s bloodied serial killer Paul Spector.

Spector had taken Stella and her colleagues to his last victim, Rose Stagg (Valene Kane), who just had been found alive in the boot of a car hidden deep in the woods. But during the operation he had been shot by Loyalist thug Jimmy Tyler (who was convinced that Spector had slept with his wife) and things looked pretty grim.

Question was: what is Stella’s investment in this darkly handsome psychopath? Was she worried about losing a man she was drawn to, if not obsessed by? Or was she determined that the sadistic killer of Belfast women face justice? And why couldn’t writer Allan Cubitt just kill Dormer’s character off and be done with it? Do we need a third series?

Some of the answers to these vital questions are given in the first episode of The Fall, which returns to BBC2 later this month.

Without spoiling any of the hour-long drama that unfolds in episode one, I can say that it is very good – extremely slow but still tense and very moving at times.

Spector (who the BBC confirmed would be returning to the show earlier this year) is rushed to hospital where his life hangs in the balance. He is treated by a handsome young doctor played by Richard Coyle, and there is a lot of blood.

Also, many of the nurses on hand to take care of Spector are clearly designed to look exactly like the kind of woman – slim, pretty, brunette – that their patient enjoyed killing in the previous two series. It’s all quite eerie.

Stella (pictured) is obviously close to the action and, while very little happens in the episode, writer Allan Cubitt expertly explores her conflicting emotions. She also faces a fair bit of scrutiny over her actions in an investigation which ended with her chief suspect getting shot in police custody.

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I won’t say whether Colin Morgan’s Detective Sergeant Tom Anderson survived the ambush, but you may wonder why Stella was so preoccupied with saving the life of Spector? Anderson and Stella had also just slept with each other towards the close of series 2 and he had some stern questions to ask her then. Did she, he wondered, sleep with him because he looked a bit like Spector? The questions are even more urgent now.

The Fall is a troubling drama which has come in for a fair bit of stick for its lengthy depiction of the killings which some critics have suggested was queasily voyeuristic at times. Stella’s fascination for the handsome Spector has also been called into question.

But it seems as if writer Allan Cubitt has sought to make some amends in the show’s final outing. There is a brilliant scene in the new episode when Stella talks to Rose’s husband, who has also been taken to hospital, and tells him that if his wife is to recover she will need his support.

It struck me as offering a defiantly feminine – if not feminist – perspective on nature of victimhood and male violence, and was welcome, if a little overdue.

Also welcome were the returns of John Lynch as Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns (another old flame of Stella’s), Stuart Graham (DCI Matt Eastwood), Bronagh Waugh (Spector’s estranged wife Sally) and Aisling Franciosi as the vulnerable Belfast teenager Katie, who was obsessed with Dornan’s psychotic killer in previous episodes.

The question remains: where will this cat-and-mouse drama go next, now that the killer has become the injured mouse?

Can he return? Will he kill again? And if not, what on earth is going to happen?

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The Fall series 3 begins on BBC2 later in September