The Fall – horror or titillation?

Last night's episode of the cat-and-mouse thriller starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan left Claire Webb with a bad taste in her mouth

A confession: I haven’t seen last night’s “scissors” scene from The Fall. Instead I ran caterwauling from the room hands cupped over ears, and sang Mary Had a Little Lamb to myself three times before I dared stick my head back round the door. So if you’ve yet to have the pleasure, I can’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say the serial killer was interrupted while enjoying his latest victim.


Perhaps my reaction was the desired one. Or perhaps I’m not as desensitised as most – being more of a Great British Bake Off habitué than a hardened crime consumer. Yet judging by the squeals issuing from the Twittersphere, I’m not the only one who’s finding The Fall hard to stomach.

Yes, it’s masterfully done. Gillian Anderson’s Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson is the most inscrutable, complex, risqué detective since – well, since Anderson played alien-hunter Dana Scully in The X-Files. And model-turned-actor Jamie Dornan is just as unfathomable as the baddie: playing the concerned father one minute and cold-blooded psychopath the next. Most deliciously creepy of all is the way parallels are drawn between the two. 

But did we really need the scissors? Couldn’t we have learned about that unfortunate bloke’s grisly end from the pathologist? I feel like the serial killer’s little girl: scarred by ugly scenes she never wanted to see. There’s a reason I avoid films with “18” certificates – maybe they should be introduced for BBC2 dramas too.

More disturbing still is that the violence often borders on titillation. Last night a young woman in a short skirt writhed on the floor, gazelle-like legs splayed, moaning softly. The only differences to your bog-standard sexy drama being that her hands were tied and the groans caused by a gag. Then there was that agonisingly drawn out sequence in the second episode – mere minutes after the nine o’clock watershed – when Stella’s one night stand was interwoven with scenes of the serial killer caressing a victim (who was also a stunner, naturally).

It makes me uncomfortable and possibly that’s the idea. But at what point does it cease to be a horrifying story about a serial killer and become porn? Albeit very sadistic porn for a very niche audience.


Call me a 21st century Mary Whitehouse – or just a wimp – but I’m not sure I’ll be tuning into series two.