SPOILER alert: if you watched the recent TV crime drama The
Fall, but missed the final episode, look away now. If you did
not watch The Fall, feel free to proceed. Prior knowledge
is not essential for the enjoyment of this piece.
The BBC2 drama was a success with everyone, until the end, when
everyone got angry. It did not have a happy ending, you see, and
many thought that that was the least they deserved, after the
scenes they had witnessed on screen.
The story is simple: a young attractive male, a family man,
attacks and murders young attractive women. But we witness the
horror of the assaults without the reassuring denouement of
capture; for, in The Fall, the killer evades justice and
gets away - with the police some distance behind. And, as the final
credits rolled, the nation was furious, more shocked by this than
the murders themselves.
So, was the writer of the programme, Allan Cubitt, surprised at
the reaction? He expected "that the ending would divide people", he
says, "possibly frustrating those who like things neatly sewn up.
But I also thought that there would be people who would find it
exciting, and truer to the nature of such crimes and the attendant
police work." And, in a way, it is.
Most women who are murdered are killed by someone known to them.
On average, two women a week are killed in the UK by a violent
partner or ex-partner - which comprises nearly 40 per cent of all
female murders. Such crimes are quickly solved by the police,
usually within 48 hours. But "strange murders", as Cubitt calls
them, are a great deal harder. "To that degree," he says, "given
the commission was for five parts, I felt it was the only ending
the series could have."
Hardly: Marple, Poirot, and Morse do not need five parts; with
them, everything is sorted out within a couple of hours. But Cubitt
is uncomfortable with happy endings. "Episodic TV has to wrap
things up in an hour, which never seems very real. More usual, with
a longer-running series, is a bitter-sweet ending: the bad person
is defeated, but the lead police officer has to do some
soul-searching as a result of the things they've done to nail the
perpetrator. It's hard to make such endings genuinely
I am reminded of Goethe asking preachers not to share their
doubts because he had enough of his own; with so much in our lives
unresolved, we do not need crime dramas to add to the list: we want
resolution. I suspect, however, that Cubitt feels a sneaking guilt,
holding out a tantalising promise: "I probably robbed the
Fall audience of their catharsis, but I hope they'll come
back for more in season two."
Ah, there's a sequel. But do we catharsis junkies risk it?
Simon Parke is the author of A Vicar, Crucified