Ever since binge watching the second season of the BBC crime drama tv show, The Fall, broadcast in the US via Netflix, I’ve been trying to figure out how to put together my thoughts on the show.
Luckily, as of Jan 22nd, Madeline Davies on Jezebel has done it for me! See her article here.
Originally, I wasn’t too keen on the show. I originally started watching it because of Gillian Anderson who plays the main character, Stella Gibson— a police detective trying to catch a serial killer who has murdered several women in Northern Ireland. To quote Davies synopsis of the show:
“The Fall‘s ingenious twist is that it’s not a whodunnit. The murderer, Paul Spector (played with terrifying coldness by Jamie Dornan), is identified to the audience in the first episode and the plot is as much his as it is Stella Gibson’s. The tension that drives you to binge watch comes not from suspicion, but from watching Spector and Gibson’s stories as they head towards an intersection, break away from each other, and intersect again.
When I first started watching I couldn’t take the dramatic irony. As the viewer, especially in the first several episodes, you are privy to build up (and follow through) of acts of violence done by Spector without the power to intervene. If only you could jump in and alert Gibson and her colleagues . . . but you can’t. This was too upsetting to me initially and I stopped watching after only a couple episodes.
Skip ahead to about six months later, I learn that Colin Morgan is in the show’s second season, so I decide to give the show another chance. I’m really glad I did. This show is about way more than Colin Morgan showing up halfway through the second season. Because this show— despite maintaining the traditional focus on the dead bodies of women— is a FEMINIST crime show. And it’s more than that. It’s a very cleverly constructed feminist criticism of the detective genre.
I say cleverly constructed because while it has many (wonderful) overt feminist moments, the show and the story are unfolded in a way that (I think) makes it a feminist show masquerading as a typical, serial killer crime drama, seemingly just like all the other crime shows that profit off of the horrific violence perpetrated against female bodies. To a large degree, this is why The Fall is so successful as a feminist show. You get several episodes in when suddenly you realize: Oh s*** this is freaking feminist.
As a Jezebel commenter so perfectly expresses:
Violence against women as entertainment is hugely prevalent in our media. It’s hard to avoid it! I worry that this to an extent normalizes the behavior as something we accept about our culture and communities, as well as desensitizes us to it . . . all under the guise of appreciating the horrors of it via some ‘gritty realism that gets at the dark side of our society.’
It also makes consuming mainstream media and entertainment (something that is important to maintain relevance to and participation in our societies) much harder work for women, and requires them to do emotional work that it doesn’t require of men. To quote another good (short) article by Jessica Valenti (talking specifically about The Walking Dead)
You don’t need to depict extreme sexual violence for millions of people on a television screen in order to maintain the authenticity of a compelling television series.
That rape is a regular part of The Walking Dead’s world is hinted at several times throughout the series: we hear about rapes that have taken place, but we’re not forced to endure watching them. For me, this makes all the difference.
Last year, I wrote about why I was taking a break from most TV dramas: women have to fear violence and sexual assault in their everyday life, so the fear of having to watch it so directly while supposedly being entertained was just too stressful. But knowing I can watch The Walking Dead – a violent, action-packed, drama with great writing, cinematography and one of the best characters on television (Michonne) – and not tense up every time a woman is alone on camera, well, that just makes the show so much more enjoyable to watch.
This is why The Fall seems like such an important show to me. It is designed to seem like a show that promises to give you the same things that all other crime dramas do, but it gives you more. It challenges the reader to move beyond those things, to recognize the feminist realities in those storylines, and to rethink why they are watching those shows and what exactly they are getting out it.
I’m being vague to avoid any spoilers. Davies writes a thorough and somewhat spoilery break down of the great feminist moments and implications of the show, so read her article for more specifics (and also for her thoughts on how the show negotiates depicting violence against women while critiquing it).
But I’ll leave you with what I think the most powerful feminist messages of the show:
- Misogyny exists. It is something that Stella Gibson and the show refuse to let anyone in the show or watching the show forget. No matter how much fun is had delving into the killer’s mind, the fundamental reality is that he is a killer because he hates women. Other male characters in the show mistreat, abuse, and undermine the women (and girls) around them because underneath everything they don’t respect them as much as men and feel women are worthy of blame for things they are not responsible for. AND a lot of these men are quite likable, sympathetic, good men . . . but they are held just as accountable for their misogyny as any criminals on the show.
- This is what a good women living without shame looks like. Stella Gibson (I think) is a historic character. She literally is not ashamed of anything that she should not be ashamed of. Watching her operate like this (and the reactions of those around her to this extraordinary phenomenon) is a beautiful, fascinating thing. That doesn’t mean that she is inhumanly flawless. When she does something wrong or that she regrets, she admits it and deals with it. But “it” is not going to be a one-night-stand or a sexy blouse. Her character begs the question: how does someone like Stella Gibson come to be, and can she be real or can she only live in our dreams?
If any of the above interests you, I urge you to check out the show.