Color Me Grey
by KARA VANDERBIJL
creator Alan Cubitt
When Jamie Dornan isn’t murdering brunettes in Belfast, he’s busy slinging Dakota Johnson over his knee to spank her. Now that BBC’s The Fall has been renewed for a third season, in which he’ll (presumably) pick up the role of serial killer Paul Spector, Dornan will likely continue his spree as one of the most disturbing televised turn-ons. It isn’t much of a surprise: with his breathy brogue, Dornan could resemble a penny loafer and still drop every pair of panties west of the Atlantic. What is ironic, however, is the fact that his serial killer, Paul Spector, is ten times sexier than his billionaire sadist, Christian Grey. Whether that says more about Dornan’s abilities, Fifty Shades of Grey, or human desire, I’m not sure.
The Fall, created by Allan Cubitt, follows Spector as he commits a string of murders around Belfast, and focuses on the local police force, led by Detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), as they attempt to catch him.
As far as crime dramas go, The Fall doesn’t offer much novelty. The narrative zeroes in on both the killer and the detectives pursuing him, which is refreshing, but hardly new — remember Dexter? The Fall pounds the point home yet again that nobody’s innocent. Detectives stalk Spector in much the same way that Spector stalks his female victims. Spector’s young daughter Olivia and his wife lie to the police. Spector is just as capable of accomplishing positive things (raising children, helping a woman escape her abusive spouse) as the detectives are capable of doing negative things (becoming media informants, beating up women). We get it: everybody’s terrible!
Thankfully, the series doesn’t spend too much time on this theme. It’s more concerned with the gritty present, not its characters’ tragic pasts, and this lends a sort of clinical agnosticism to its moral judgments, not to mention its characterization. Since Spector’s — not to mention the detectives’ — motives are cloudy, we can only judge them by their actions. And this is where The Fall really shines.
Take Detective Stella Gibson, for example. We know almost nothing about her except that she’s from London, she’s competent, and, like her spiritual predecessor, Dana Scully, she’s logical to the extreme. The problem? She’s also attractive. Her boss, Jim (John Lynch), can barely control himself around her, even though their affair ended years ago. When she leaves a button undone on her blouse during a press conference, it’s all anybody can talk about — not the fact that she’s the one who answers all the questions with poise. After a one-night stand with a colleague who happens to be married — and later gets killed — Gibson gains a reputation as a loose woman who doesn’t respect conventions like marriage or professional distance.
This is the uneasy truce men have made with women: they won’t question your professional prowess, as long as you shed it (along with your clothes) once they visit your hotel room. If not, they’ll get sullen — or predictably, violent.
Paul Spector kills successful women for reasons that The Fall’s first two seasons only begin to untangle. But it’s not a stretch to imagine that Spector shares a similar history with Jamie Dornan’s other character, Christian Grey, whose “dark side” involves silk ties and a riding crop.
Sure, there’s a huge, and perhaps categorical, difference between those who like it rough and those who rough women up, but the stories are the same: they ask us to look into the character’s past to decipher why he has become like this, what has brought him to this point — so that we can empathize, perhaps forgive, and in poor, spanked Dakota Johnson’s case, even love the perpetrator.
At one point in The Fall, Spector breaks into Detective Gibson’s hotel room and steals her journal. Although its contents aren’t revealed in any great detail to viewers, Spector later taunts Stella about what she has written concerning her father, hinting at a dysfunctional relationship.
He means to prove that he’s not the only one with twisted sexual desires, but instead, he reveals a tragic point: in Stella’s case, nobody will forgive. Nobody will empathize. Nobody will love. A man’s past justifies his end; a woman’s condemns hers.
Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording.
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