“The Most Feminist Show On Television”

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 27 2015 @ 1:19pm

That’s what Amy Sullivan calls The Fall:

The show, which stars Gillian Anderson in her first major television role since The X-Files went off the air in 2002, came under heavy criticism when the first season aired in 2013 for complaints that it glamorized violence against women. Serial killer Paul Spector (Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan) revels in the “aestheticism” of posing the nude bodies of his victims, washing their skin and painting their nails after he’s killed them. Some critics thought the show went beyond simply telling a story to the point of sharing Spector’s obsession with the women’s bodies.

I can certainly sympathize with fatigue over the seemingly endless tally of dead women on television. … But the debate over The Fall’s first season obscured the show’s revolutionary treatment of women and the topic of sexual power. In fact, I haven’t seen another program that so directly challenges and rewrites the traditional conventions of crime dramas, starting with Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson, a highly-regarded London cop who gets called to Belfast because investigators there need her expertise on a murder case.

Refreshingly, none of the tropes we’ve been trained to expect in a story about a powerful woman play out. Nobody resents Gibson’s appearance on the scene or questions her authority. Her gender is a non-issue; subordinates hop to when she enters a room and they follow her commands without question. Gibson doesn’t try to submerge her femininity and stomp around barking out orders. In Anderson’s restrained yet compelling performance, Gibson is cool, calm, and always chic, with the most fabulous coat in detectivedom.

I discovered it a couple weeks ago and now just have the final episode to watch. I can’t express how smart the series is, and how superb and commanding Gillian Anderson is as Stella Gibson. This is the feminism I believe in: a woman totally in charge of her life and of her career, whose authority is unquestioned, whose complexity and brilliance are celebrated, who utterly owns her sexuality and deploys it as coolly and as aggressively as any man would. At no point did I fear for a vulnerable Stella Gibson, even as I was deeply moved by her own female take on the victims of rape and murder, and even though she was obviously at times in great danger. I saw instead a master investigator whose nail-biting duel with a disturbed (and way hot) serial murderer became gladiatorial. Somehow gender slipped away from relevance, even as Anderson’s gender was absolutely integrated into her entire character. That’s new and powerful. It makes Girls seem as adolescent as it actually is.

Charlotte Alter is also a fan of the BBC series, now available on Netflix streaming:

[T]here’s little doubt that The Fall is great for women. …

[Stella is] brilliant, unflappable, and sexually liberated — she makes a habit of selecting male co-workers for one-night-stands, then quickly discarding them. When a male colleague questions her about her sexual habits, she coolly points out his double standard by comparing his alarm to the ease with which he handles men doing the same thing. “Woman f—s man. Woman, subject: man, object,” she says. “That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?”

Madeleine Davies joins the chorus of praise:

Gibson is the type of detective who will continue to remember the women murdered as people rather than cases and, when alone, will weep for them. She’s also the type of detective who can break a man’s nose with a quick upper cut or, with calculating detachment, sit across from a dangerous criminal in an interrogation room as he hurls abuse at her. She’s smart, brave, capable and unapologetically sexual—a matinee idol for a modern-day feminist.

Some have said that The Fall—a series that’s second season arrived on Netflix this past weekend—is misogynistic, but it’s a shallow critique. While it’s true that women are frequently treated as objects or lesser in the show, they’re never treated as objects or lesser by the show. In fact, rarely has a series hit back at misogyny so relentlessly, sometimes to the point where it almost feels cruel in its portrayal of male characters, all of whom—even the most innocent—find ways to demean the women in their lives.

Alyssa Rosenberg also examines how the show portrays men:

[The Fall] raises an issue that is a live current in U.S. debates over gender and sexual violence, suggesting that all men are capable of terrible things. That’s the sort of sentiment that anti-feminists accuse feminists of using to smear innocent men, and that most U.S. feminists would aggressively deny believing. But by leaning into it, “The Fall” has made fascinating, discomfiting television.  “I think one of the reasons why ‘The Fall’ has some of the impact that it seems to have is because it posits the notion that Spector is on a continuum of male behavior,” [writer/director Allan] Cubitt told me at the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this month. …

But there’s a subtlety to “The Fall” that prevents it from becoming some sort of railing stereotype. The second season looks hard at what [serial killer] Paul means to his family, particularly his daughter, and the ways in which the skills that make him a killer also make him a good, encouraging father to her. Humans succumb to their worst desires and impulses sometimes. But we also sometimes succeed in overcoming them.

It’s grown-up TV. You should watch it if you can. And that above scene is way hotter when it’s not edited by YouTube.