'The Fall' Season 3: A Fall in Quality

The six new episodes that form Season 3 of The Fall began streaming Saturday on Netflix. The drama — starring Gillian Anderson in a wonderfully strong, steely, subtly witty performance as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson — is once again obsessed with the show’s pervasive villain, the serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), and it’s an obsession that nearly kills The Fall itself. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

The series picks up right where Season 2 left off, with Paul — suffering from a gunshot wound — headed to the hospital, and his victim, Rose Stagg (Valene Kane), having survived captivity with the sadistic psychopath. There’s a lot of initial catching up with characters we’ve become familiar with, including Paul’s wife and children (especially the heartbreaking little Olivia), as well as Katie (Aisling Franciosi), the teenager who remains transfixed by Paul as a celebrity-serial-killer, deludingly convinced that she’s destined to be his true love.

In the first couple of episodes, the generally quiet, procedural quality of The Fall works in its favor. The opening hour is especially effective — essentially a super-intense episode of ER as it might have been set in Ireland — with close attention paid to every detail of an emergency-room crew trying to save the life of the so-called Belfast Strangler. Creator-writer-director Allan Cubitt does some of his strongest work here.

Related: On the Set of The Fall: Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan Prepare for a Final Showdown

But as the season progresses, Cubitt unaccountably lets the drama go slack. There’s remarkably little action in the middle episodes — just scene after scene of people discussing, or being interrogated about, Paul and his crimes. I assume that what Cubitt wanted to do was to explore what happens after sensational crimes are committed, to get past the usual trope of serial-killer narratives and dive deeper into the effects such crimes have on victims, survivors, their families, and the people who investigate those crimes.

But as good as Anderson is throughout, her Stella suffers from a Season 3 lack of development — we learn nothing about her in this new season that we did not know from the previous two (apart from a couple of small autobiographical details dropped in the final hour). And some characters who had been important to the series — I’m thinking particularly of John Lynch’s cop Burns — recede or fall away in disappointing ways. Spector takes center stage, and as handsome and skilled as Dornan is, the constant close-ups of his brooding face as he murmurs soulfully become, inevitably, tedious. Note: I’m not going to give away one key plot point involving what I’ll call a certain new frame of mind for Paul, and will therefore limit my criticisms to the ones I’ve just stated. But I’ll also add: the new plot wrinkle? Hoo boy, I wasn’t buying it…

In the end, The Fall has become too much about Paul Spector and, as Stella phrases it, “the dreaded black hole of [his] heart.” It is easy to imagine The Fall continuing, but only if any trace of the Paul Spector case is dropped, and a new, different investigation is begun. It’s time for Stella to move on in order for the show to regain momentum.

The Fall is streaming now on Netflix.