We need to talk about Stella. Again. As the conclusion of series three of The Fall (BBC iPlayer) looms, the audience, though bloodied and battered, is almost in a position to take a position on the merits of Allan Cubitt’s inverted murder drama. Curiously, for a thriller which gave away the killer’s identity right at the start, series three has been all about suspense. It has been unbelievable, but tense. At all times, it has been perverse. Tense, as in: you have the man known as the Belfast Strangler in custody and you don’t restrain him. You send in a gullible nurse to fall in love with him, after a wee chat about his faulty memory, because women can’t help falling for the psycho’s lost lamb eyes. Perverse, as in: you fetishise the killer in a slo-mo shower scene, the better to appraise his ripped, scarred abdominals. And your heroine, starry-eyed Stella with the phone sex whisper, operates as a premium rate fantasist, indulging and encouraging the thing she fears most, almost as if she really wants it.
And what is “it”? Well, Stella’s fascination with Spector is quite strange, because on one level - actually, on most levels - she seems to be pining for the soft-spoken brute, to the point where it’s not clear whether she wants to be murdered, or just have sex and then sling the man in jail, having first made a meal of getting him measured for furry handcuffs. Stella, we know, is damaged, but brilliant, like all television coppers, but broken in a way that makes her seem like the product of freak-friendly fan fiction, a moralistic sub-section of murder porn in which participants get to have their cake and then be eaten by it.
Can we sum up? Stella’s colleagues are trying to. Stella, one says, “didn’t really use any standard interview techniques. She didn’t offer psychological excuses or minimise the seriousness of Spector’s crimes. She didn’t praise or flatter, She even used leading questions that elicited one-word answers. Almost not like a police interview at all. More like an intimate conversation.”
Let’s look at Stella’s face. A ventriloquist’s features are more animated. She’s sleeping, perchance to dream of a time when her laryngitis will clear up and this dark, twisted fantasy will end. It will soon, possibly with a bang and a whimper.
Paula Milne’s Him (ITV Player) is Carrie, reinvented as an English boy. That’s odd, because it removes the layer of horror in which paranormal powers are related somehow to the monstrous puberty of an adolescent girl. And, since no one really needs reminding of the crusty contours of male pubescence, this boy, Him (Ffion Whitehead) is a 17 year-old who can make things levitate and do damage just by applying his mind to it, which he does, quite frequently. So far, he seems inspired to acts of supernatural destruction by his disdain for his divorced parents, particularly his merchant banker of a dad, and his evil stepmother who is pregnant with twins. If the horror stays rooted in domestic disgust it may get somewhere. But things look a bit more ominous than that.
In the Sunday night drama Tutankhamun (ITV Player), the colonial baloney is stifling, but the “undomesticated” explorer, Carter (Irons) has a moustache and a hunch. Will it be enough? Will he develop social skills, and notice that the nice American lady from the museum is in love with him? Or will he wander into the desert to hang with the naked man who lives in a hell hole with diarrhetic bats?
Meanwhile, in The Missing (BBC iPlayer) the broken jigsaw plot is beginning to fall into place, though the true nature of the nastiness has not yet been revealed. There is, it seems, a dodgy brigadier, who knows more about the disappearance (and true identity) of the blank-eyed girl. David Morrissey’s soldier, who may be guilty of something, continues to act shiftily. And dear old Julien Baptiste, the dying detective, has decided to cross from his bucket list the bit where he wanders aimlessly into an ISIS stronghold. Not as much fun as he’d hoped, actually. The bits, surely, will fit together. So far, the drama coheres largely by virtue of the charisma of the cast. There is much birdsong on the soundtrack, and a parable involving a flying turtle.
First published in the London Evening Standard on 21 October, 2016