Series / The Fall

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From left to right: Paul Spector and DSU Stella Gibson.

The Fall is a British crime drama series created by Allan Cubitt. The series revolves around the investigation of a string of murders in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and how the lives of the various people involved in it collide. The series stars Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, a senior police officer of the London Metropolitan Police, and Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector, the Serial Killer Stella's hunting as well as the Deuteragonist of the show.

After the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is unable to close the case of a Serial Killer attacking young professional women in Belfast, Stella Gibson is sent in from London to take over the investigation as Detective Superintendent. Under her new leadership the local detectives race against time to track down and stop the killer before he can strike again, all while working against increasingly negative media scrutiny and the still-simmering tensions of The Troubles which constantly threaten to explode into full-on violence against the police. Meanwhile the Serial Killer they're hunting, bereavement counselor and seemingly mild-mannered Paul Spector, plans his next attack whilst juggling the demands of family life and the children he genuinely loves, his job and the domestic abuse case he has become dangerously emotionally invested in, increasing suspicion from his wife of his strange behavior, and the unwanted attentions of an underage babysitter.

Due to good reception, BBC has aired the show for two seasons with a third season having just ended. While Cubitt mentioned that Spector will appear in the third season for the last time, he and Anderson mentioned that they'd have no problems doing more seasons, in part to explore Stella Gibson's background.


The Fall provides examples of:

  • A Million Is a Statistic:
    • An overarching theme of the series seems to be how much havoc Jimmy Tyler is creating, but because he's "only" a small time thug, and "only" a wife beater rather than a murderer, he's flying under the police and media's radar.
    • On the same note, Marian Kay, the sister of one of the murder victim, confides in DSU Gibson her worries that her sister will just become a faceless statistic and is losing her identity.
  • Above Good and Evil: Discussed in-universe between Spector and Stella during their phone conversation. Spector taunts her "moral relativism" and claims to be free from the shackles of moral conventions.
  • Adult Fear: Despite the serial killer on the prowl premise of the series, there are still more mundane fears that people worry about.
    • At one point, Sally-Ann finds out that her daughter has been taken from their school by the former babysitter under false pretenses à la Fatal Attraction.
    • Liz Tyler, who has been living in a women's shelter come the second series, lives in constant fear of her abusive ex-con husband finding her. Guess what happens towards the end of the series...
  • Alone with the Psycho:
    • How it ends for Spector's victims, unfortunately. He sneaks into their homes, ambushing them while they're alone. Backfires spectacularly during Annie Brawley's murder, when her brother unexpectedly shows up.
    • This nearly happens to Katie, who was the Spector family's babysitter. She develops an obsession with Spector and attempts to seduce him. He nearly loses control and murders her but is able to control himself (she's none the wiser).
    • In the second series, the final episode gives us a long conversation between Paul and Stella, alone in a police interrogation room.
  • Amoral Attorney: In the third series, Paul's wife hires a pair of solicitors for him. After Paul's violent attack on Stella during interrogation, the female attorney wants shut of him, will never be in the same room with him again. The male attorney has no difficulty continuing in his defense.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Once Stella starts questioning Paul about his relationship with Katie, he finally gets rattled.
  • The Artifact: Liam Spector. In the first episode Paul is shown to have two children: Olivia and Liam. Olivia figures heavily into the plot and is seen almost every episode. Liam doesn't factor in at all and is only seen onscreen two or three times. But every time Spector's children are mentioned, Liam will be referenced, lest the audience completely forget about him.
  • Bi the Way: Stella quite suddenly kisses Reed to get rid of her male suitor in a bar, then goes off to have sex with her, but Reed backs out upon reaching Stella's hotel room.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The second series in spades: Stella has extracted a confession from Spector, and found Rose Stagg alive. Plus Jimmy does not kill his ex-wife after finding her. BUT, he does infiltrate the police search for Rose and shoots Spector and Sgt Anderson.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The second series ends with Spector being shot by an enraged Jimmy and being left dying in Gibson's arms.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end of the video in which Rose Stagg rages against Spector, he suddenly takes the camera, looks straight into it, and asks "Why are you watching this, you sick fuck?"
  • Break Them by Talking:
    • Jimmy Olson attempts this with the minor crook he arrests in the first episode. It doesn't go so well, as the crook just smiles the whole time before creepily remarking "I know where you live". He's murdered outside his home by a hooded assailant the next night.
    • Stella later attempts this on Spector as they're talking on the phone. She gets in some good armor-piercing questions, but unfortunately isn't very successful in getting new information.
  • British Brevity: The first series was only five episodes, the second had six.
  • Call Back:
    • When Paul is in police custody, he peels an orange in the exact same fashion as he did when he snuck into Sarah Kay's house and ate an orange.
    • Katie sneaking into the Spectors' home and taking a mirror selfie is almost a shot-for-shot Call Back of Paul himself when he does exactly the same in the pilot while stalking a victim.
  • Creepy Doll: Spector has a particular "type" of woman. Partway through the first series, he gets himself a creepy lair in an abandoned house, where he has a mannequin that looks like this type, which he dresses up and gropes. After one of his killings goes horribly awry, he smashes it in a rage. In the second series, he takes one of his daughter's dolls and gives it a similar treatment.
  • Cruel Mercy: After Paul kidnaps Rose, he takes her to his abandoned lair and makes her film a series of disturbing videos (ranging from raging at him to pleading with him to trying to seduce him). Then he locks her in the trunk of her car and abandons her in the woods. But he leaves her food and water. He's surprised when she's found alive.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Stella, who's deadpan most of the time but isn't above dropping a dry, sarcastic remark from time to time.
  • Death by Sex: Happens to Jimmy Olson. After his one night stand with Stella, he's murdered on the lawn of his house as he's coming home.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The whole of the second season sets up how little attention the increasingly violent thug Jimmy Tyler is attracting from the police, because he is being somewhat overshadowed by Spector. So he can pretty much stroll up to Spector and shoot him and a police officer, point blank, at the finale.
  • The Dragon: Katie Benedetto becomes this to Paul Spector in Series 2.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Fearing for his life and his career as a police officer, Rob Breedlove kills himself rather than face retribution from the same gangsters who gunned down his partner and the impending inquiries into the illegal activities to which he, James Olson, and Aaron Monroe had been linked.
    • Paul Spector's mother killed herself for unknown reasons when he was 7, and thus began his stay in several children's homes.
  • Ethical Slut: Stella fits this. She's staunchly feminist and open and unashamed of her sexuality. See Madonna–Whore Complex below.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Spector truly loves his wife and children, and seems shaken when Stella reveals during their phone conversation that she knows he has children and taunts him by asking what they'll think of their father when his crimes come to light.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Spector actually has many standards. In fact, he seems to be a pretty stand-up guy... aside from the from the whole serial killer thing.
    • In his day job as a grief counselor, he recognizes that one of his patients is a victim of spousal abuse. He goes out of his way to help her (though helping her seemed to be incidental to the fact that he was stalking Annie Brawley and his patient happened to live nearby while he was casing Brawley's home), facing punishment at his job and harassment by the husband's former gang buddies.
    • When he finds out that Sarah Kay was pregnant at the time he murdered her, he actually writes a letter to the police department, addressed to her father, apologizing for the act and stating outright that, had he known she was pregnant, he would not have killed her. It's debatable whether he regrets killing her because he is genuinely remorseful as, being a father himself, he wouldn't hurt a child, or if it's because his perfect kill had been ruined (again for the same reason).
  • Everyone Is Armed: Unlike other British territorial police forces, all members of the PSNI routinely carry firearms due to the higher levels of gun violence present in Northern Ireland. Even Gibson is issued with one, despite only being a visiting representative from the Met, who don't carry guns (aside from their armed response team).
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Spector seems to fall into this, as he has concerns about his daughter's seeming sociopathic tendencies. He tells his wife that it's just a phase, but it's clear he suspects that she's like him and he actively tries to steer her away from it.
  • Exiled to the Couch: A self-imposed variation. Rose Stagg, whom Spector had tried to strangle during sex 9 years ago, had not told many other people at the time about the incident, including her husband, who was her boyfriend at the time. When she finally breaks it to him (at Gibson's request for her own safety), they argue and he decides to camp out on the couch. Unfortunately, that was also the night that Spector decided to pay Rose Stagg a visit and kidnap her.
  • Fair Cop: With the ladies, there's Stella Gibson and Dani Ferrington. With the men, there's Tom Anderson and Jimmy Olson.
  • Fan Disservice: The bodies of the murder victims have been posed naked and have had makeup applied postmortem. Their bodies are viewed in a very clinical fashion, as befitting of the scenes where we see them (being examined either at the crime scene or in the mortuary).
  • Fish out of Water: Stella, who at the beginning of the series hasn't been to Belfast in some time and has to quickly adapt to the circumstances there (including general unrest between the population and the police, as well as the rampant corruption). Some of the PSNI officers do not like how as an Englishwoman she takes control of the investigation. At one point some local thugs try to intimidate her. When Paul tries to explain his actions to Katie, he claims that he was deliberately trolling her because she was a proud Englishwoman beside some "potatohead Irishmen."
  • Friend to All Children: Spector's interactions with children other than his own is limited, but he bonds very quickly with the daughter of his kidnapping victim, teaching her the "Peter Piper" tongue-twister.
  • Freudian Excuse: Subtly hinted at when it's revealed that Spector is an orphan. His wife remarks that his lack of family creeps her out a bit. It turns out that his father is in prison for murder and his mother killed herself.
    • He grew up in a number of rough children’s homes, and in one of them he was routinely sexually abused by the priest who ran it.
  • Has a Type: Spector's victims are all professional brunettes in their early thirties. It's so specific that any woman who doesn't fall into this category (particularly the teenage babysitter and his blonde wife) are never in any serious physical danger from him.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Spector attempts one with Stella during their phone conversation, but she rebuts it.
  • Happily Married: Spector's cover story, and it seems to be a happy marriage on his wife's part. At least before she finds out that he's been "cheating" on her. She decides to keep their relationship together for the kids and agrees to move north to attempt to repair their relationship after Spector suggests it. Little does she know he's actually trying to get away from Belfast and the rapidly closing-in Stella.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Sarah Kay.
  • Home Porn Movie: As part of their twisted partnership/relationship, Paul and Katie video chat with one another from each one's bed, and Katie asks him to prove that he's really naked. He starts to masturbate, but unbeknownst to him, she records that part of their conversation.
  • In the Blood: Implied with one of Spector's daughters, who seems to show some of Spector's sociopathic tendencies. It's ambiguous, however, as she has terrible nightmares from glimpsing Spector's mannequin in the attic and later seeing Spector violently wrestling with the naked babysitter through a cracked door.
    • It's later revealed that Spector's birth father is in prison for murder as well.
  • Just Between You and Me: Spector calls the police station and demands to speak with Stella. When she answers the phone, he immediately asks for her personal number so he can talk to her privately, since he knows the other investigators are listening/recording the conversation. Unbeknownst to him, Stella hooks up a device to her cell phone that allows her to record their "private" conversation.
  • Left Hanging: A significant number of characters and plotlines move briefly into focus before disappearing. The investigation into the Morgans, the corruption of Olsen and Breedlove, Burns's own venality, and a great deal more. A huge portion of the show's power is that it doesn't take place in a bubble, but in a larger, vibrant world.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Katie Benedetto, the 15-16 year old babysitter for the Spectors, is completely infatuated with Paul and even makes several attempts to seduce him in increasingly desperate ways. Come the second series, she even aids and abets his crimes by destroying evidence.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Stella notes that the media tends to have this, dividing women into virgins or vamps. She specifically asks someone to remove "innocent" from a press release about the victim. Not that she wasn't innocent, but Stella didn't want to give the impression that she is pure or virginal, which would backfire if the killer's next victim was a prostitute. She doesn't want people to think that someone less "pure" would possibly deserve her killing in some way.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: An interesting case is used within the series— while all of the victims are reported on, and all the victims fit the profile of white brunette professional women in their 30s, much of the coverage is focused on one particular victim, Alice Parker Monroe, who was the ex-daughter-in-law of a Unionist member of the Northern Ireland parliament. There is even a memorial fund formed in her name.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Invoked. When Spector's wife starts getting suspicious (especially after he asks her to lie to the cops about his whereabouts on the day of Annie Brawley's death), he concocts a fake affair with the underage babysitter to cover up his serial killing.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Paul Spector spends a lot of screentime running and doing shirtless stretching and flexing.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Stella Gibson spends a lot of screentime in a swimsuit and in lingerie and nightgowns.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Stella's reaction to Rose Stagg's kidnapping. Previously, Rose Stagg had given an informal testimony in which she identified Paul Spector as a former boyfriend under a different name 9 years prior and gave a description for a police sketch. Both the sketch and the alternate name were released by the PSNI to the public, and Paul was able to deduce it was her all along.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Spector not only makes the usual remarks on vaguely morally relativistic lines to excuse his acts, but quotes Nietzsche himself multiple times.
  • Not So Different: The show overall follows both Stella and Spector, juxtaposing their similarities and personalities. In-universe, Spector actually says this to Stella during their phone conversation, claiming their only major difference is that he's unburdened by conscience. Stella flatly rejects this, telling Spector that he's just a commonplace misogynist.
  • Not So Stoic: On the other hand, both Gibson and Spector have their moments of weakness. Spector gets one such moment in their phone conversation when Gibson points out that she knows he has children. Stella herself gets one such moment after Paul lets her know that he has read her private, personal dream diary, and most poignantly, when she has to watch Rose Stagg's kidnapping video.
  • Off the Record: A reporter tries this with Stella. She flatly rebuffs him with "You and I both know there's no such thing". Later on, Spector tries this with Stella by calling her personal cell phone rather than the police station's official line. Luckily, Stella manages to covertly record the conversation with a device plugged into her phone.
  • Oh Crap!: When the PSNI finds out that Spector got amnesia from the shooting in the 2nd season.
  • Omniscient Database: Averted with the nail polish on Sarah Kay's body. It takes at least several days before Stella and her investigation team find out the specific brand the killer used.
  • Operation: [Blank]: "Operation Musicman", a PSNI-led investigation for hunting down the serial killer in downtown Belfast.
  • Organization with Unlimited Funding: A notable aversion in this series. At the end of the first series, the Belfast Strangler has slipped off the radar, and by the beginning of the second season, the PSNI's funding and resources have been stretched thin and DSU Gibson has to submit a request for a £1.8 million grant to continue the investigation.
  • Pedophile Priest: Spector spent time in a children's home run by one, but claims to have avoided being molested. The (now former) priest is completely unrepentant of his crimes when questioned.
    • It is later revealed that not only was he a victim, he was the special favorite, something a man who grew up in the same home describes as being akin to A Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Perverted Sniffing: Spector usually sneaks into his future victims' homes before killing them and rummages through their underwear drawer to find ones he'd like to smell.
  • Precision F-Strike: Stella to Spector during their phone conversation when he claims he'll get away with the murders and that she'll never find him.
    "No. You fucked up."
  • Secret Identity:
    • The most obvious one would be Paul Spector's strangulation fetish and murders, which he keeps away from his home life as a husband and father of two children and his professional life as a bereavement counselor.
    • Gibson also has one of these, as in compartmentalization. She and Professor Reed Smith discuss this trope, which they call doubling, keeping two different aspects of their lives apart. For Gibson, it's her work as a police detective in contrast to her life of one night stands. She is not happy when DS Olson tries to hook up with her again and sends her unsolicited photos of himself, saying that she "read him wrong."
  • Shown Their Work: The PSNI being shown with Glock 17s as their sidearms, which is allowed under British law due to the sectarian violence and armed criminals who take advantage of it in Northern Ireland.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Stella gives one to Spector when he tries to pull an Above Good and Evil.
    Stella: "You try to dignify what you do, but it's just misogyny. Age-old male violence against women."
  • Significant Sketch Book: Spector keeps a scrapbook/sketchbook filled with disturbing drawings and keepsakes from his murders.
  • Slut-Shaming: Several men attempt this on Stella in the first series, what with her having had a one-night stand with Olsen. She shuts them both down with no shame, pointing out their own hypocrisy or pettiness.
  • Straw Nihilist: Spector defends his acts by quoting Nietzsche at length (though he does appear to feel somewhat bad about them, but rationalizes it as impulses which he cannot control).
  • Take That, Audience!: Spector's remark in his video.
  • The Stoic: Both Stella and Spector.
    • Spector for obvious reasons: he's a sociopath who has to fake most socially-expected emotions. He does, however, genuinely love his family.
    • Stella has virtually no reaction to the news that Olson was murdered the night after their one-night stand.
  • Wham Episode: The fifth episode of the third season. The police have found evidence demonstrating that Paul's abuse as a child was far more horrific than he'd admitted, and that he'd killed a woman in London and that, despite his amnesia, he remembered that murder. Paul drops the friendly façade he's maintained all season, revealing the psychopath underneath for the rest of the interview. As his attorney walks him out, he beats Stella to the floor, snaps the other detective's arm, then starts kicking Stella, all in less than a minute. Back at the clinic where he's being evaluated, he convinces another inmate to stage a scene, attacks the lead clinician, and breaks into his locker. Then he murders the other inmate (now locked in his room) and hangs himself.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Spector writes a letter to the police station addressed to Sarah Kay's father saying that he wouldn't have killed her if he'd known she was pregnant. He also doesn't kill Rose Stagg's daughter, and even bonds with her for a while, but threatens to do so when he kidnaps Rose.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Katie, who believes herself to be Wise Beyond Their Years and believes her relationship with Paul Spector to be Belligerent Sexual Tension that will evolve into Slap-Slap-Kiss. Also, thinking she's Genre Savvy, she writes several diary entries of her supposed trysts with Paul to provide him with alibis for the time of murders. When the diary falls into the PSNI's custody, Stella sees right through the diary as the fantasies of a teenager's obsessions.
  • You Are Too Late: A rather tragic case with Ferrington when Sarah Kay is murdered. Sarah called the police a few days before because someone broke into her house and left her underwear on her bed. Ferrington and her partner are skeptical, and their scrutiny makes Sarah feel ashamed of the incident and she asks them to leave. A few days later, Ferrington has second thoughts and begins to regret dismissing Sarah. She decides to check on Sarah. She goes to the house and knocks on the door, but no one answers. She also takes the prerogative to leave a message on her home phone... and the camera cuts to Sarah being gagged and smothered on the other side of the door.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Stella has a one-night stand with Jimmy Olson. After he's murdered, Stella confesses the tryst to Burns (since there's an investigation going on and she wants to be open and honest). Burns is angry about it, since Jimmy was married. Stella coolly replies that Olson never told her that... and then she reminds Burns about their own affair in the past, when he didn't tell her he was married either. And the real irony is that Olson's wife was also having an affair... with another police officer (Rob Breedlove, who was Olson's partner and best friend).
    • 9 years before the series began, Paul Spector had a very brief sexual affair with a woman named Rose Stagg, who was in a relationship at the time with her later husband. The affair lasted only until Spector at one point strangled her into unconsciousness.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/TheFall