The first three and a half minutes of 'Dark Descent', before the series name burns onto the screen, are stark and matter-of-fact. There isn’t any dialogue, there's no score, just incidental sounds. Two different people, a man and a woman, a window into their lives, almost mundane, juxtaposed. It's simple, like the inside of a spiral, tight and compact.
But as we go around the bend again and then again, teeter-tottering between these characters quite situated in their lives, the vista widens. And like any spiral, it frays. Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) stalks women, but also he's a dad, with two kids (and one's a daughter) and he's a husband, and grief counselor. Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is a woman, a detective, a superintendent called in to oversee a case about a murder of a woman in a male-dominated police force in a male-dominated field. In a male-dominated world. In fact, the first episode of The Fall is so well-constructed, its austerity is almost not to be believed. Because there are these little instances of compassionate sweetness, too, where the dialogue laces the visuals with the daintiest most subtle specific human emotion and experience. As if all the economy and exigency in the world still can't touch a crystal clear moment of true human connection forged from the realest truths.
Most of what we call "needs" are desires.
There's a lot of world view on parade on the page in a well-written TV pilot, (it's the 101 of writing one since it might be your only shot at communicating the value of a show) but in 'Dark Descent' just as much of the show's POV is in its images. Paul places his foot over the picture he had just drawn of his client to conceal it from her husband when he's confronted in the elevator but it serves to communicate his subconscious intentions, too, to place her underfoot -- and objectify her in the most prodigious way possible. Later, Paul stashes the diary of his sickness under his daughter's pillow when his wife climbs in the bed to lie down next to him, both of their heads inches away from his pitch-black fantasies. More visual metaphor with multiple simultaneous meanings. Stella holds her own wrist with all of her strength for as long as she can stand it to prove how athletic one has to be to actualize their murderous compulsion. These are images that don't have a foundation in television or film as far as I know. They're unusual, complex and they're very very loaded.
Men and women express grief differently.
And the seesaw at the center of this tale structurally works because it explicitly, relentlessly shows the deep abiding difference between the genders. Its equilibrium conversely finds itself, then, in the shared sameness of the human condition. Stella and Paul poignantly represent both their gender's outward boundaries, and the point where the lines converge. Neither sex is judged, shamed or exploited. Both are shown in a piercing reality as substantial, elaborate and fully dimensional. It's unusual how well the women of The Fall know themselves. And the men possess a kind of omniscience, too, made from an unexpected blend of intelligence and vulnerability. The heart of this series is about people who are just too broken to function in our society, most particularly, outside of the extraordinarily refined tunnel they have bored for themselves. This based on the idea that the bedrock of life itself is loss, never-ending, of one kind or another. (Hey, it's not called The Fall for nothing!)
The essence to a committed relationship is exclusivity.
So to solidify our investment in Stella and Paul, we have to buy that they really are two lines that can and will intersect -- that these two extremes can somehow understand the other better than most and in the most dire of circumstances, when all else is lost.
The Devil Is In The Details:
*Gillian Anderson's facial expressions could cut glass.
*The supporting characters are exquisite. They are extremely well-cast and acted. All are memorable for interesting distinct reasons.
*The tension is created in such weird and wonderful ways. I.E. the babysitter. Need I say more.
*The score (Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes) falls somewhere between Brian Reitzell (Hannibal) and Cliff Martinez (The Knick). It's fantastic and so full of dread.
Ferrington: "Could it have been the cat?"
Stone: "She's drunk."
Ferrington: "That's her excuse, what's yours?"
Stella: "But really and truly you should fuck off. Now."