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TV review - The Fall (BBC2) paints an alarmingly intimate portrait of a killer

Simon Hopkinson Cooks, More4
  • @tds153

"You try and establish a rapport," said Stella Gibson, explaining her interrogation technique to a young colleague in The Fall last night. Well, you shouldn't have too much trouble with that, Stella, should you ever come face to face with Paul, the serial killer at the heart of Allan Cubitt's drama. Not an episode has passed so far without a pointed reminder that there's a kinship between the two of you.

Last night it was exercise, the camera cutting between Stella cleaving the water at a local swimming pool and Paul jogging along a local river bank. Both of them driven, self-disciplined people, you see, who like to keep in trim. Should I really be first-naming either of them, though? DS Gibson would seem more appropriate for Gillian Anderson's character, unnervingly indifferent to her own beauty and unnervingly in control of it. And the killer perhaps doesn't deserve that intimacy at all, except that our sense of him as something more than a mere monster is precisely why The Fall has so gripped its viewers.

There were two scenes last night that distilled the quality of the thing. The first occurred shortly after Rob Breedlove, Jimmy Olson's police partner, had been brought in for questioning about his moonlighting work for one of Belfast's power brokers. And what a tangle it was. Not only was he implicated in prostitution and drugs but the phone records showed that he'd almost certainly been having an affair with Olson's wife, adding to his guilt and grief. Rather than live with either, he shot himself (always a hazardous moment, getting a disgraced policeman's gun off him).

And the aftermath of that event was beautifully done, the interrogating policeman shocked into catatonia and Gibson briskly commanding, ticking off what needed to be done in a way that showed you exactly why she'd risen in the ranks. His emotional vulnerability and her efficient strength were a knowing inversion of standard procedure in such fictions, in which men overwhelmingly comfort women.

The second scene was another mirroring, in a way, the killer Paul counselling a client about her abuse at the hands of her violent husband. And what a tangle this was too, in the most unsettling way. A man who we already know to be guilty of the worst abuse of all against women gently steered this woman towards safety, his voice soft and urgently tender. "I'm offering you a lifeline... take it," he said.

But was this ambivalence in his character – good fighting with bad – or just another facet of an appetite for control? Cubitt nudged you towards the darker reading with the scene that followed, in which Paul reacted to a dressing-down from his boss with a childish aping of everything he said, and a sudden flash of mad arrogance. We've seen some of the things in The Fall far too many times already, the moments that turn us into mere voyeurs of female distress. But these things we haven't seen before are why we keep watching.

Simon Hopkinson Cooks was, I regret to say, composed mostly of clichés. Regret because there are good reasons why Simon Hopkinson is the cook's cook and because there's limited scope for invention with the chef-presented cookery programme. They make something delicious, you watch them do it, you think, "Ooh, that would be perfect for when X and Y come round for dinner," then you don't bother.

But I wish someone would come up with some alternative to the most tiresome cliché, which is the bit where the chef tastes the dish and goes into raptures. Hopkinson's negroni cocktails were "brilliant", his gnudi were "insanely good" and his paella was "fantastic". This relentless self-praise simply doesn't honour the experience of all cooks (however good), which is that things don't always turn out perfectly. Dare I point out that his crème caramel didn't look quite as "smooth and silky" as he said it was?