October 17, 2019

The Fall

An excellent corrective to Luther's relentless sexism is another BBC show, The Fall, which premiered in May of this year and is now available in its entirely on Netflix. It could be just another routine procedural: the plot concerns a serial killer who stalks and strangles young, single women and the detective (played by the always stunning Gillian Anderson) who's trying to catch him. But The Fall is up to something smarter than that: in the second episode scenes of the killer, Paul, choking a victim are intercut with a sex scene between Anderson's Stella Gibson and a young Irish cop. It's a short sequence, quiet, like many of The Fall's scenes are. But it explicitly connects the two women's bodies, and the ways they can interact with men's bodies, the way we can watch them do it. It explicitly suggests that our voyeuristic pleasure in the sex is just as suspect as our horror at the killing, that in both cases what we're objectifying women in ways that should make us feel uncomfortable. 

Later there's another, similar intercut: the same woman's dead body, which has stiffened and set into the pose Paul left it in, being lifted onto the table for an autopsy as Paul washes his young daughter's hair in the bath. The contrast between the dead woman's white, lifeless body and the little girl's mobile one, the presence of Paul's hands in one scene and their absence in the other, are not creepy or chilling but haunting. The Fall's pleasures are not cathartic; they are attenuated, meditative. The camera follows its characters tightly while they move around rooms. There is often no soundtrack, so the small sounds of life are isolated and revealed: the difference between the ways shoes sound on pavement, on cobblestones, walking down hallways.

The most remarkable thing that The Fall does, though, is to show us women in the world. The victim is female, but so is the detective who investigates her death, and so is one of the cops who first finds her body. The pathologist is a woman. Sarah, the victim, has a sister. We see Paul's wife at work in a maternity ward. Each of these women gets her own long, lovely scenes, her own quiet space in which to see things, to react, to walk through her piece of the story. It's a strange thing to call a show about a serial killer comforting but in some way it is: it's so rare to see women so carefully considered on screen, allowed diversity of opinion and profession and activity, that I find myself quieting along with it. Each of these women has a whole actual story; she is fully realized beyond the parameters of her interaction in Paul's destructive narrative. It's worth watching; I'd highly recommend it.