Gilian Anderson is Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson on BBC2s The Fall.
  • VALERY HACHE/AFP/GettyImages
  • Gilian Anderson is Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson on BBC2’s The Fall.

Late in the first season of BBC2 drama The Fall, a shaken-up pathologist describes to tough-as-nails lady detective Stella Gibson the often bewildering experience of examining murdered corpses by day and being a mother to her children by night—making their dinner, tucking them in.”It’s called ‘doubling,'” Stella tells her. “We all have to do it.”

The Fall stretches that premise to its extreme by following a serial killer as he stalks and kills women—then returns to his primary life as a husband, doting father, and counselor to the bereaved families of Belfast, Northern Ireland. When his pattern becomes clear, Detective Superintendent Gibson (Chicago native Gillian Anderson doing a convincing British accent) begs to be put on the case.

The five-episode debut season—currently available on Netflix instant—doesn’t necessarily turn the traditional crime drama on its ear, but it plays around with our expectations enough to be sufficiently interesting. Here we have a killer more in the vein of Bundy than Dahmer: the (very) good-looking, outwardly normal guy, rather than the creepy recluse with disembodied corpses tucked away in the freezer (although our killer, Paul Spector, does keep less gruesome souvenirs, which he imprudently stores in his young daughter’s room). There’s also the fact that we know who the murderer is—there’s no mystery to solve. We accompany him in every step of his murder ritual, from selecting dark-haired professional women to his disturbing penchant for bathing then photographing his victims once the deed is done. It doesn’t humanize him so much as it gives us a voyeur’s perspective of a compulsive monster and makes us think twice about the seemingly normal people by whom we’re surrounded every day.

The show’s greatest strength is probably the Stella Gibson character. The writers do a good job of creating a complete person, rather than just “strong woman cop-type.” (It’s like AMC’s crime drama The Killing in this way.) She’s sexually empowered and unashamed of her own femininity—her longish blond hair is worn in loose waves and she’s almost constantly dressed in light-colored silk blouses.

A third plotline, involving the husband of one of the murdered women and his ties to Belfast’s criminal underworld, is the show’s biggest weakness. Hopefully when The Fall returns for a second season (which, annoyingly, won’t be for another year and a half, people are saying), it’ll become clearer why we care.