The Fall: Beauty Hath Strange Power

"Why are women emotionally and spiritually so much stronger than men?"

Because the basic human form is female. Maleness is a kind of birth defect. Thus speaks Stella to Jim after he has melted down, a relapse in full-swing that has shades of just straight hissy fit. Anderson delivers this coolly, so matter-of-fact, so impersonally, with no discernible judgment. More on the gender conversation later but in the meantime much of everything in The Fall (and consequently my psyche during this rewatch) goes to hell sideways in its own sedate restrained languid way, though Peter in Stella's hotel room closet did almost give me a heart attack.

The Fall is incredibly non-verbal. The scripts are very short and there are many beats through which you can drive a truck, with no dialogue whatsoever. Additionally, the dialogue is mostly very simple, locative even. So much of this story is visual. But not visually arresting, unless by arresting I mean that it quietly slays the viewer in its acute modest distilled intimacy. For me, the show's finest and quite unnerving moments are most often the very little ways people are people. For example, I was completely engrossed in the great pains Stella took to pick out a different outfit (than the one she was wearing) for her meeting with Reed. Or watching Peter slink through the hotel with the strangest mix of boyish bravado and entitlement. Or seeing Sally Ann subtly (finally) give away her husband to the cops.

With everything going on, it's hard to zero in on the 'most' revelatory scene in 'Beauty Hath Strange Power', but I nominate the scene in the bar with Reed and Stella, as it's right up there vying for the #1 spot. It's an intriguing idea that the scene (in recent memory) most open to interpretation is between two women. Two women, who are all but portrayed as the most direct characters on The Fall, have multiple exchanges this season where it's not clear at all what either is getting at. In 'Night Darkens the Street', it's wholly murky, when Stella begs the question about Rose being kidnapped to Reed whether Stella is trying self-soothe, see from a neutral position Reed's POV or just fuck with her. Here, in the bar, is Stella daring Reed to come upstairs with her or getting some kind of pleasure out of watching Reed deliberate it? Or is she lonely? Or genuinely attracted to Reed? Who knows! There are generally at least twelve trains of thought I'm following when these two are on-screen. And it's an astonishing, and by all accounts intentional, portrayal of complex female interactions by Cubitt, who plays so very much (and very well) with the differences between the genders.

'Beauty Hath Strange Power' seems like as good a place as any to pause and say that I haven't given Jamie Dornan nearly enough praise. His interpretation of Peter grows in depth with each passing hour. Amazingly, it's only really now that the expanse of his duplicitousness is fully surfacing. But the scariest side of him is not him chiding or casually taunting Katie or even when he smells Stella's satiny blouse. It's not even watching his face when he uploads to his computer whatever godforsaken video of Rose he has. It's his virulent fury when he sees Stella in one of his secret places. When he utters several expletives in Stella's honor, it was the conveyance of a hate of women from the deepest place imaginable in a human being. I keep thinking that it's undoubtedly a testament to the masterful nature of this show that this crushing degree of anger is at all watchable. Because, to be honest, it shouldn't be.

The Devil is in the Details:

*The music -- good god.

*Stella's bulletin board.

*So great how everyone kind of lost their shit a little bit around Stella when she was wearing that leather pencil skirt.

*It bears saying again --Peter Paul Spector might be the purest misogynist portrayed in celluloid.

*Love this shot:

*Netflix previously gave this episode's title as 'It's Always Darkest'.


Glen: "Mother works for an auction house. Fine art -- paintings and stuff."
Stella: "I know what fine art is."

Peter: "Being a serial murderer is a form of slow suicide, deeply self-destructive. I'm sorry to disappoint you, Katie, but that's not my style."

Stella: "You look at me like you looked at that bottle of Scotch, a mixture of fear and anger. I don't like it."

The note Peter left for Stella in her journal:

Oh, Stella, how revealing.
How exposing.
It's all in these pages.
Sweet little Stella missing her daddy, lost and alone.
Sexy Stella, expressing her deepest, darkest desires.
Stroppy Stella, angry and misunderstood, lashing out against the world of men.
Oh, Stella Gibson, how well I know you now.

Oh shii.


Carey said...

AHHHHHHH Was my reaction to this one when I first watched it! This is the turning point, the moment they truly collide and it's dangerous and magical. This is arguably my favourite episode. The confrontation between Stella and Jim, the interaction between Stella and Reed and then , finally, that moment when she realises the worst possible thing that could have happened has indeed. He is in her head.

I love the X-Files and the legendary Scully but I hasten to add that this may be Gillian's greatest performance. Understated, mature, restrained and complex. Stella is more than an enigma, you just follow her on screen, you never actually know her and that is both appealing and repellent. In many ways, her and Paul are one of the same in how they compartmentalise, how unsetttling that the one she seeks the most to bring to justice is arguably the closest to her unconventional view of the world around her. The gender perplexities make this sure. Stella sees maleness as an inherent defect that needs viewing with suspicion. Paul views women as something to control and take from. Different ends but perhaps the same spectrum? Well they say if you're gonna catch a killer...


Wonderful review Heather!

Heather said...

I enjoy your thoughts so much! I agree that Stella Gibson is Anderson's best role to date. I also agree that the parallels between these two mains is utterly irresistible. Oy.

TJ said...

thanks to you I found this series - and what a brilliant series it is!:) Wow!

Gillian Anderson is fierce.

And what a nice surprise to see my fave TGW-girl Arhie Panjabi.

When the BBC gets it right, it's magnificent.

Heather said...

So glad you're watching and enjoying it. So true about the BBC when they nail it. And I agree completely that Archie P really is the real stabdout of TGW! I first discovered her there and fell in love. :)