Revealing Spector's Past Abuse Ends 'The Fall' Season 3 In A Troubling Way That Doesn't Fit Its Tone
Spoilers for The Fall Season 3, including the finale, ahead. After three bleak seasons, it wasn't much of a surprise that happy endings were hard to come by in The Fall Season 3 finale. When the season began, Paul Spector's life hung in the balance after he was shot by a former client and Stella asserted repeatedly that she was determined to keep him alive so he could "be tried and sentenced and spend the rest of his life in prison." None of those things happened and, worse yet, Paul determined the cause and manner of his own death by asphyxiating himself. But, before the extremely violent finale, the season's plot was largely driven by conversation rather than action — and Paul Spector's abusive past was revealed on The Fall .
I never expected to walk away from The Fall feeling satisfied or as though justice had been served — so, in that sense, I thought the finale was brilliant and realistic. It also left some lingering questions, such as the origin and meaning of the mysterious 20 pound note that read "He that loves not abides in death," which Stella retrieved after seeing CCTV footage of Paul dropping it on the ground. In the finale's last moments, she stands alone in her London apartment drinking wine, looking simultaneously mystified and defeated because she feels she failed to bring Paul to justice. Here, the brutal sense of dissatisfaction and elusive justice was spot-on. But I felt dissatisfied and chagrined with a finale for a different reason.
The Fall, a series that clearly has no problem being both brutal and ambiguous, essentially handed viewers an explanation for why Paul turned into the monster we met in the pilot, and humanized him in the process.
As Paul tells his psychiatrist, his mother hanged herself when he was 8 years old because his love "wasn't enough for her." But that was just the beginning of his tragic past — he was sent to a home where all the boys were abused by priests. As we learned from a combination of physical evidence and the words of Alvarez, Paul was singled out for a year of "special treatment," which meant that he was relentlessly abused day and night for one year straight. When his year was over, Paul was ordered to pick his successor. The priest clearly had his sights set on Alvarez, but Paul walked straight past him and protected his friend — and Alvarez was so eternally grateful that he took the blame for Paul's first murder when they were reunited in London years later.
Although it's not unusual for serial killers to have an abusive past, the strong focus on Paul's horrific childhood as an explanation for his behavior humanized him a little bit too much for my liking. Certain moments appeared to be an effort to generate viewer sympathy for Paul — especially because he was in a state of amnesia that left him seemingly baffled and repulsed when he was told about the series of crimes that he'd committed over the past year. (How much of this confusion was faked? Although his amnesia was real, Paul's emotions surrounding his own killing spree are left open to interpretation.)
Admittedly, these humanizing moments were fleeting. After the abuse was discussed in the finale, it was immediately followed by a shocking, brutally violent scene in which Paul attacked and beat Stella after she baited him by saying that he still feels the compulsive need to be the center of attention and receive "special treatment." I'd venture a guess that, despite his horrible childhood, few viewers were left feeling much sympathy for his character after watching such a graphic scene of violence.
Still, I think The Fall would have been better off leaving Paul's past ambiguous — I would have rather been left wondering if he was pure evil or if his violent side was brought out by something we'll never know about. For a show that has brilliantly side-stepped stereotypes throughout its three seasons, it seemed cliché to hand us a detailed (and not especially original, in terms of past depictions of serial killers in media) explanation for why Paul grew up to be a sociopath who brutally rapes and kills women.
I also wish more attention had been given to other characters. We learn more about Stella and her own troubled past, beginning when she's in the hospital recovering from the injuries Paul inflicted on her. The doctor, who stays with her throughout the night, asks her a series of questions ranging from her favorite season to whether or not she's ever been happy — and Stella tells him (and us) that she hasn't been happy since her father's death when she was a child. Later in the episode, Stella visits Katie Benedetto and manages to break through the teen's tough exterior when she tells her that she, too, self harmed after her father's death. Still, Stella's path from troubled teen to brilliant detective is left unexplained.
The show arguably belongs more to Stella than it does to Paul, so more attention could have been given to her character development rather than his. Even Katie, who still has a chance for redemption, doesn't get the screen time she deserves — the origins of her anger aren't revealed until the eleventh hour when Stella is informed of her self-harm and decides to visit Katie. Their conversation is one of the most deep, moving scenes of the season and I found it far more compelling and interesting than the focus on Paul's traumatic childhood.
The unrelenting violence Paul inflicts on everyone around him during the finale certainly doesn't leave us feeling as though he's a sympathetic character — and those graphic scenes leave a more lasting impression than the confirmation that he was abused as a child. But I would have preferred to not have any moments that attempted to paint Paul as a victim-turned-killer, especially when they were part of a trope so often found in movies and TV series about killers.
As Stella stands in her kitchen staring at the 20 pound note, it's impossible to know exactly what she's thinking — at this point, she might be more mysterious than Paul. Not every loose end is tied up by the end of The Fall Season 3, and that's OK. I just wish that Paul's past had been one of those mysterious loose ends.
Images: Des Willie (3); Helen Sloan/Netflix