Warning – the following contains plot spoilers for The Fall’s final episode. From the start..!
So, they let the bastard get away with it. Paul Spector, the murderer whose killing spree has fuelled The Fall, evaded the clutches of DSI Stella Gibson and remained at large to slaughter again in series two. Maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised: last month, Ben Stephenson – the controller of BBC drama – revealed that we were building “to a gripping cliffhanger” and that the Belfast-based thriller had been recommissioned. But surely the impact of The Fall would have been greater had it been given a proper conclusion and remained a five-parter?
This desire to turn what should be standalone serials into long-running series needs to stop. It didn’t used to happen with shows that are now generally regarded as TV classics. There was never a need to make Closer to the Edge of Darkness or The Return of the Singing Detective, so why order another batch of episodes of The Fall?
The answer, of course, is ratings (it’s been BBC2’s biggest drama series to launch in eight years), but continuing the story of a sizeable hit isn’t always the right move. Just look at the precedent set by Homeland – a tightly woven conspiracy tale for its opening run, a credulity-straining misfire in its second season.
Because, let’s face it, the decision to serve up more episodes of The Fall undermined the coherence of tonight’s finale, almost to the point where the whole thing began to feel like a con.
For a start, Paul’s ability to uproot his family and disappear in an instant seemed improbable. Also, Sally Ann’s decision to stay with her husband when she was under the impression that he’d had an affair with the under-aged babysitter seemed implausible – she had the girl’s number on her mobile, so why didn’t she call to get her version of events? OK, so he didn’t confess to murder, but he was still admitting to being a perv.
Then there was the deus ex machina device of having one of Paul’s near-miss victims appear from nowhere to provide a photofit. And let’s not forget that Paul – when under police questioning – supplied a sample of his own handwriting, which could then have easily been checked against the letter sent to the dead woman’s dad.
There were further niggles too: why, in the penultimate episode, did the guy who was eventually stabbed with the scissors not dial 999 before Paul went in for a second attack? Where did Paul’s sudden ability to spout Nietzsche come from? Why did the subplot about police corruption go nowhere? And, most importantly, why did we learn nothing about Paul’s motivation and his reasons for marrying someone who looked nothing like the type of women he was murdering?
All crime dramas should have a proper pay-off. That doesn’t mean we need a tidy Agatha Christie-style solution, but there definitely needs to be some kind of resolution. The Fall made such an obvious pitch for a second series that, in the process, it forgot what it should have been trying to achieve. For a drama that preyed on our worst fears, we should have felt thrilled by this final episode. Instead, we were left cheated.
If you have missed The Fall you can watch it on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
This article was first published online in 2013.