The Empathic Strangler (Series Review: “The Fall”)

The suspense builds ever so slowly as the city of Belfast reaches the dreadful conclusion that it’s got a sadistic serial killer in its midst in the intelligent crime thriller, The Fall. Do not miss this one!

SnapShot Plot

In a sure-footed performance with a spot-on Brit accent, Gillian Anderson makes her X-Files Agent Scully seem like a Girl Scout.  Her Stella Gibson is about as hard-boiled as they come and if you doubt her resolve for a second, her determined, almost feral sexuality clearly defines this woman as a creature who means business. After failing to capture what they thought was simply a brutal murderer, the Belfast Assistant Chief Constable, Jim Burns (played by brooding, veteran Irish actor John Lynch) imports the outside aid of DSI Stella Gibson, an ace investigator whose take-no-prisoners attitude sends ripples of job insecurity among the rank and file in the precinct.  In a matter of hours, Gibson  recognizes the signs of a serial killer, but must convince Burns, who is hesitant to draw that conclusion, nor to panic the city.  A second murder of a young professional woman living alone, petite and brunette like the previous victim, whose body was left in a similarly artful pose, leaves no room for doubt.  Thus begins the hunt for the serial strangler of Belfast.

The Fall is – of course – a procedural crime drama but it’s much more than simply BBC Northern Ireland’s answer to Hollywood’s Law & Order machine.  As we become more and more hooked into the story, what emerges are fully fleshed out character portrayals of  both Stella Gibson and the killer, Paul Spector (in an unbelievably creepy yet strangely normal performance by Jamie Dornan), as well as the city of Belfast itself as a once thriving but evidently scarred metropolis struggling to survive amidst organized crime, political corruption, prostitution, domestic violence and now this, a serial killer on the loose.  The acting is top notch across the board, and I was also glad to see one of my favorite actors, Archie Panjabi (you know her as the mysterious bi-sexual private investigator in The Good Wife) in a supporting role as a Belfast Medical Examiner.

Parting Shot

The Fall is a show that takes its time, much like the methodical planning of the killer researching his prey.  It doesn’t rush its audience into spoon-fed judgments on the characters’ motives or ambitions; we reach our own conclusions gradually, through observations of nuanced, subtle behaviors.  As Stella Gibson and Paul Spector are revealed to us, we start to see that – although polar opposites on an ethical scale –  they are markedly, disturbingly alike in some key ways.  They are both absolute predators: Paul in his ritualistic, brutal killing, and Stella in her ruthless pursuit of him as well as her unabashed and impersonal sexual appetite for which she makes no apologies.  They are both very physical characters who clearly take pride in their bodies.  More than once Stella refers to the killer’s athleticism and you can see she’s actually impressed by it.

It’s also interesting to see how much attention is paid to Paul’s home life and his job as a grief counselor (I’m not kidding here).  He is the consummate family man: a loving husband and doting father to two little ones.  And he seems to genuinely care about his clients and to empathize with their pain.  In fact, we know so much about Paul and even about his victims’ personal lives but very little about Stella Gibson.  At the end of the 5 episodes that make up Season 1, she still remains an enigma.  Word has it that the BBC has approved a 2nd season, although there’s no confirmation yet on whether Netflix will carry it.  I can’t imagine they’d deny us the satisfaction of a resolution to this captivating plot, as well as more time spent in the company of the intriguing Stella Gibson.

The Fall is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:



  • I ddo not even know how I ended uup here, but I thought this post was great.
    I do not know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you aare not already
    😉 Cheers!

    • Norma says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comment and I am slowly trying to build an audience for Norma’s Streaming Picks. With the support of people like you, I am truly optimistic. Thanks again!

  • kristin says:

    I am watching this series as this posts. I am fascinated by Gillian’s character. Character development is more important to me than plot, but even that here is interesting because of Paul’s vocation. As Norma pointed out!

    • Norma says:

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Kristin. And of course, I couldn’t agree more. When I’m watching a good movie or show and there’s something about it that makes me imagine a lively conversation around the dinner table (I am Italian, after all….), I have a strong hunch it’s a keeper for Norma’s Streaming Picks! Thanks and stick around!

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