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August 10, 2014 | by  | in Arts TV |
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In Review: The Fall

The Fall is another example of recent television which ostensibly serves itself up as a familiar dish, and then gives you something else. In previous drafts, that metaphor had become quite engorged, but for now we’ll let that sit.

This came out last year: it’s on Netflix and HBO Europe and stuff, but I don’t know that it’s made it to NZ, so you guys might not have seen it yet.

And so we have Gillian Anderson playing Detective Stella Gibson. Also, Jamie Dornan – that dude from Fifty Shades of Grey – who plays the serial killer. That’s not a spoiler; there’s no pretence as to who the killer is: we’re introduced to him right from the start. And actually, that’s an example of how this show subverts certain genre conventions.

Interestingly, and really ironically the more I think about it, he’s the one getting nominated for all the acting awards (we’re mostly talking about BAFTAs here), whereas Anderson is the actual star of the show. I don’t even really want to touch her acting and character because I need some time before I can be properly critical and objective on that. Not that the point is to be objective. Anyway.

The reason I say it’s ironic that Dornan would be the person to be recognised for his acting is twofold. Firstly, Anderson is the primary protagonist. She’s therefore the natural choice for some Best Actress things… Secondly, the show is an explicit critique of male hegemony, focussing on male hegemony from the perspective of power and how that plays into sexuality. So they give Dornan the nominations…

I dunno. It’s possible, as always, that I’m just being a little unfair and need to relax a little. It’s also possible that I’ve made an error in addressing acting nominations for awards at all, given that I literally know nothing about how these awards processes operate.

But I feel as if this is a pretty important television show, and if judges (I assume many of the judges are going to be men) of these award processes are going to ignore the thematic foundation upon which The Fall is built, then either they’re not really watching it properly, or it’s not as effective as I think it is. Or Dornan just does a good job of his character. In fact, there are many things to think about on that score.

Anyway, that’s one thing.

The other thing I wanted to briefly discuss was the way in which the audience is positioned. It seems to me a reasonably uncontroversial generalisation to say that the audiences of these kind of serial-killer dramas are usually male. Where the killings are misogynist. More male than female in any case. I don’t really want to speculate on why that is (though I have some theories) because it’s largely irrelevant to my argument. Yes, argument.

And even if you do disagree with that assumption, I don’t really care. So we assume that. And then there’s this show, which takes that male audience and explicitly and at times viscerally, uncomfortably, critiques aspects of male identity and, importantly, sexuality.

There’s a distinct focus on the connection between violence and sexuality, which I think is something that might resonate with an audience here (regardless of gender). Obviously, we understand that the killer’s attitudes are very fucked-up – but more than that, we see that attitudes of the other male police officers are as well, much of the time. It’s perhaps an easy shortcut to use the police as a mechanism to expose the patriarchy, but then again, it might also be a pretty effective one.

In any case (that’s close to being a pun), it’s interesting (and positive) that a male audience would be targeted with this kind of content.

On patriarchy, there is also considerable, though more subtle, attention paid to notions of victim-blaming and the like. This might not be an exactly relevant example, but Gibson’s actions are at one point criticised by her boss (male), who says something along the lines of “Don’t you know the effect you have on men?” Lots of the male cops are part of the boys-will-be-boys club, I guess. There might be a likeable male character in the show. Which is just so cool given that it’s a male audience. You know?

Strangely, I’m at the end already and haven’t really said anything at all. Which is not so surprising but is still kind of annoying. Some quick words on televisual things: it’s a slow-paced drama, not a procedural but a drama. Five episodes. There’s a lot going on with water imagery and femininity, which is a thesis I’ve had in my back pocket for a number of years now. Lots of creepy doorway shots. In fact, the cinematography is largely outstanding, as is the dialogue, which is pretty subtle. And there are some intense parallel-actions sequences between the killer when he kills and Gibson, which also get the brain firing away.

Should also say, there is some violence but it’s not graphic, and often the filmic focus is on the effect and cause rather than the act. Actually, I might need to think about that more…

Another thing: many of the episodes are available on YouTube in Spanish. If you speak some Spanish.

Watch this. Watch it and then we can chat about it. My name’s at the top.

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