The Fall: why were we ever excited / about this dead dog of a show?

Once, The Fall was a sexy, unbearably tense thriller. Now, it’s proof that everyone is stupid and nobody learns anything. It really stings when good TV goes bad

This is my image
Did the BBC think Jamie Dornan purring at nurses would make up for a total absence of plot? Photograph: BBC/The Fall 3 Ltd/Helen Sloan

Stuart Heritage

Fri 28 Oct 2016 22.00 BST Last modified on Tue 19 Dec 2017 21.00 GMT

Bad TV shows are ten-a-penny. The world is overrun with them, their births barely acknowledged, their deaths unmourned. There is nothing special about a bad TV show. But a good TV show that turns bad is a different matter. When a once-promising show like Broadchurch or Dexter or True Detective rewards your devotion by dissolving into a soggy morass of nothing, that really stings. When that happens, it hard not to take it personally.

I trying not to take The Fall personally.

Even by most recent standards, The Fall was dire this year. Now that it's done, and Paul Spector is dead and Stella Gibson is back enigmatically muttering like a woman who lost her keys, it hard to fathom why anyone was ever excited about this dreary puddle of a show in the first place.

I think I remember. In it's first series, The Fall was a taut game of cat and mouse. It was a horror story, about a normal family man with a monstrous secret, tracked by a mysterious police officer who couldn't explain her attraction to the case. Every episode, as Spector murders grew more brutal and the circle closed in around him, was even more unbearably tense than the last. It was a proper, grownup, sexy, scary thriller.

This used to be a taut game of cat and mouse … Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson. Photograph: BBC/The Fall 3/Helen Sloan

And then it wasn't.

Like anyone else who watched it, I can pinpoint the exact moment The Fall fell apart. It was the very last scene of the first series. Gibson was finally supposed to come face-to-face with Spector, allowing us to see all the violence and chemistry that had long been promised. Except that didn't happen. What happened was Gibson phoned Spector, muttered something noncommittal about being on to him, then a title card popped up telling us to wait until next year.

It was a painful anti-climax that stank of commercial forces. It felt like a tight, compact one-series show had been blasted wide open so that BBC Two could brag about having Gillian Anderson on its books for the longterm. Which would have been fine, had the second series retained the quality of the first. But it did not. Finally exposed as a murderer, Spector suddenly gained the superpower of route-one exposition, eroding his mystique with one tedious monologue about his motivations after another. And then he was shot dead. And then he came back to life, because everyone is stupid and nobody learns anything.

This year series has been the natural conclusion of the race to the bottom. Entire episodes have passed where literally nothing at all happened. Somewhere along the line The Fall traded intrigue for atmosphere, hoping that a string of genuinely tedious scenes where Jamie Dornan purrs at nurses would make up for a total absence of plot. It didn't, but that didn't stop the show from pulling out a Greatest Hits of Inexplicable Dramatic Cliches in its bid to look as if it knew what it was doing. There was amnesia. There was a confusingly understaffed psychiatric care unit. And there was Krister Henriksson, playing Mads Mikkelsen, playing Hannibal.

Jim Burns (John Lynch) with DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) in The Fall. Photograph: BBC/Helen Sloan

You get the sense that even the BBC understood what a dead dog of a series this has been, since it been thrown out at the same time as The Apprentice, with tonight finale flung about the schedules like an unloved American sitcom. You can understand its embarrassment. Watching The Fall from start to finish has been like watching a bouncy castle deflate. I annoyed that it ever reeled me in to begin with. Everyone in the cast is better than what this show became, and at least now it over they might actually find work worthy of their talents.

That if it is actually over. Let not discount the possibility of a new series where Dornan, plastic bag still over his head, sits up in the police morgue and starts strangling janitors like billy-o. This is likely because this is The Fall, and everyone is stupid and nobody learns anything.