I have been watching the UK show The Fall with Gillian Anderson over the past few weeks, and funnily enough it’s given me the opposite sort of trajectory experience as TD. I started out feeling ambivalent about it, finding it absorbing and well done but a little dull. Most of all, I didn’t like the basic concept, that of the lone, hyper-intelligent serial killer being doggedly tracked by police expert, for reasons that ought to be obvious to anyone but especially to RI readers (and anyone who has read McGowan’s Programmed to Kill). I didn’t and still don’t believe in such characters, on top of which, any show that places modern police activity in the context of catching a craven and cunning killer has to come under “whitewashing” in the broader sense.
However, with the second season, most especially the fifth episode (which is where I am up to), the show has turned into something quite unusual. It occurred to me that it makes a counterpoint to TD, in that, while TD promises much and finally disappoints, The Fall promises very little and yet achieves something of real substance in the end. There is a scene in the fifth episode in which cop-Anderson watches a video recording of one of the killer’s victims begging for her life. It’s a long scene and the camera focuses as much or more on Anderson’s own expression. Due to thoughtlessness, Anderson is directly responsible for this victim’s imprisonment, and as she watches, her face grows more and more stricken until tears come to her eyes. The killer then turns the camera on himself and berates her, the viewer, us, for being sick enough to watch this.
I found it deeply disturbing. By the end, the scene seems to holographically capture the whole psychodynamic of sadism, voyeurism, anima-projection, powerlessness and abuse of power, empathy and lack of it (sociopathology), the acutely agonizing triangle of killer, cop, & victim, which matches up with abuser, caregiver, and abused (maybe even with id, superego, and ego). It places the cop, and by extension ourselves, in the role of helpless witness but also as complicit (literally in the case of Anderson, figuratively in the case of the viewers who this show was created for); and it shows in a very subtle but direct way how the psyche that is fragmented, shut down (the killer-abuser), can’t feel anything except by causing others to feel for it, and so torments others to relieve its own torment. In the scene, the killer’s satisfaction is in causing his victim terror and pain, but also, unseen to him, in causing the witness, the cop, also a woman, to feel the anguish and grief, the empathy for the victim, that he can’t feel, because he can’t feel it for himself. He then accuses her of sickness for watching ~ i.e., feeling such empathy.
So even if the storyline of The Fall is bogus and suspect, the psychology seems to be dead-on. And the feeling I got is that the filmmakers only hit on this by “chance,” out of a desire to explore the psychology of the crime and approach it as compassionately as possible. As a result they hit a deep vein, maybe even the main artery (to mix metaphors) of the beast. They got closer to realism not by trying to expose the truth, but by trying to do justice to the lie they were telling and find truth in it.
I recommend it, anyway.
It is a lot easier to fool people than show them how they have been fooled.