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The Fall: Darkness Visible

"Perhaps she intuited something."

Wanna see a highly accomplished actress at work? You've definitely come to the right place. 'Darkness Visible' highlights the gifts to the acting profession Gillian Anderson offers with her inestimable micro-expressions, each more subtle and secreted than the last. What comes of it is this character of Stella Gibson, a woman who defies any one (or twelve) specific definitions, traits or qualities, who is other-worldly in her self-possession.

But because this show is so exceptional, astonishing acting (on everyone's part, really) is but one piece in this stunning portrayal of foreboding. The pacing and scene structure is now beginning to skillfully explore the congruency and lack thereof between Paul and Stella in what I submit is the heart of the show. In the opening, as Paul is bathing and tending to Sarah Kay's corpse, Stella is stoically but passionately entertaining Olson in her hotel room. Both presumably in their respective element. But for Stella, when the sex is over, she is as lifeless as Sarah Kay. She and Paul are not dissimilar but they're not the same either. In The Fall, some things fit in grooves, others spin out into some place heretofore unknown.

To add to this complexity, Allan Cubitt, the creative mind behind The Fall, layers quick scenes of danger then grief then pain then tension in order to infuse the unthinkable with human emotion, transmitted from character to character, to us, the viewer. It's all extraordinarily effective at drawing us into each moment in these lives we are watching unfold, unravel and get twisted up again. The story then enacts something that happens in life, a pulsation separating then connecting and so on, the characters, their experiences and sentiments.

Then there's the introduction of pathologist Reed Smith (Archie Panjabi) -- be still my beating heart. Smith and Gibson, in pristine full crime scene finery, walking around Sarah's body is so outrageous, it's actually lavish. That kind of image is -- I mean -- has it ever even been seen before? And it's so powerful. Because its source, cause and origin is femininity. But like so much of the visual composition of The Fall, there is an economy of remarkable images. Ever practical, the show meters out the over the top glorious moments so that the scenes and the storytelling may still dot every i and cross every t. Much of the screen time is made up of beats stretched out too long for comfort, or paradoxically, a glimpse into something seemingly mundane, not to mention rarely seen because it might come off as superfluous -- non-essential. So for every searing reflection, the camera lingers on something like Sarah Kay's body inside the morgue refrigerator alone, Paul washing his daughter's hair or Stella and Reed sitting in silence, staring straight ahead, with their styrofoam cups in hand.

And there is so much grief. And time given for and to it. Even characters we have only seen in passing are given the time as they process loss. The show doesn't differentiate between Sarah's sister, the lawyer who chatted her up at the bar in the series' opening scenes, even a brand new mother lamenting the frailty of her daughter's existence in an incubator, or my favorite, Ferrington's (re)entry into Sarah's house as the first officer on the scene again with this new awful circumstance with which to contend. All of it is as highly individualized as it is universal. These are real expressions of shock, sadness and anguish and it all lands with incredible effectiveness. The candor and sincerity is purely undeniable.

After episode two, it's clear now that one commonality with Paul and Stella is a rapacious creditor. Paul's, the much more sinister of the two, ups the ante of his own darkness as he succeeds in each step toward the actualization of his journal. And Stella's, well, Stella's is a lot harder to distill. She's unquestionably appropriate in every situation imaginable, as mechanical as a clock, almost transcendentally human in her precision. Everything she says and does is measured. That's a compulsion, too, surfacing.

The Devil Is In The Details:

* A mobile of butterflies hits Paul in the arm as he puts his backpack back up on the attic over her daughter's bed.

* It's Ferrington, acting on her intuition when she puts the call into Sarah's office, hoping in her heart of heart's that Sarah is there, but knowing somewhere inside she's not.

* The show continues to shock and amaze me in how it subverts expectations. It's beyond masterful -- it might actually be elevating the concept to something else altogether.

* A word about the casting of Jamie Dornan: Anyone ever see a movie called Fish Tank? Michael Fassbender plays a deeply disturbed predator of sorts. Casting Dornan has a similar effect in that it's a challenge to see him as only inhuman.

* There are so many flashes of humanity that resonate in these episodes, I am hard-pressed to narrow it down to a few. Because the show is so comfortable in its own skin, it takes its time to portray our more sublime experiences of ourselves. Sarah's dad seeing his daughter in the morgue, Stella speaking to Marion about nail polish, the emergency operator systematically walking Marion through what, by all accounts, should be a complete and total meltdown are some of the most memorable to me.


Olson: “I wasn't sure if this is what you meant.”
Stella: “It's what I meant.”

Ferrington: "We should have never left her alone that night. We failed her utterly."

Stella: "I thought I was good at reading people. It seems I read you wrong."

Katie: (to Paul) "I bet you sit in here playing air guitar."


  1. The stuff with the killer and the babysitter bothered me most about this one. She's playing with her own life and has absolutely no idea. I also found the parallel between the mother wanting to touch her preemie in the NICU and the father with his murdered daughter upsetting. This is an upsetting series.

  2. This is definitely an upsetting series. I was impressed with the slowness, the attention to detail, the various parallels drawn between characters and situations, and the way the show gave the process and the grief its due. But all that made it very difficult to watch. I remember the show had a pretty intense psychological impact on me when I watched it last year, and I couldn't watch more than one episode a day, or too close to bed. Even now, I'm totally going to watch the second season when it comes out in January, but I can't bring myself to watch S1 again. No matter how wonderful Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan are. I just can't go back to that place. (Yes, apparently some things are too dark for me. I can handle the gore and whatnot, but some levels of emotional intensity exceed even my limits.)

    So thank you for the reviews, Heather! They're helping to refresh me on the 'road so far' without making me take the journey again.

  3. Billie and Jess:
    I am honestly so glad you are both here participating in these comments/reviews. This show is borderline unwatchable based on the subject material and we're only at episode two. I'm thrilled (and comforted) we'll all be watching together for S2.

  4. The juxtapositions are what gets me in this episode. Sarah's father with his "baby" and the new mother with hers, both wanting to touch their children. The cut between Sarah's body and Stella lying on the bed. The tenderness with which Paul bathes Sarah (who is naked) with the remote sex that Stella has (while still clothed).

    Like Billie, it is the babysitter who I fear for, but it makes me wonder. Why would Sally leave a 15-year-old with her husband who is about to give the girl a beer? Does Sally know, at least on some level, that something is terribly wrong with Paul?

  5. Chris:
    I know, it's so weird that Sally has no idea, not even the slightest, that something is way off with Paul. I love that choice though because it's the opposite of what we're used to seeing in this kind of story, and the creatives do such a good job fleshing her out that I guess it just adds even more to the creepy/astonishing dread factor.


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