You know, I was sure I'd talked about this show before, but a quick search through my blog tells me that I actually haven't, which is surprising. While I tend to completely forget about it between series, the BBC's psychological crime drama with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan has consistently been compelling and interesting to watch, and one of the few shows on television that's actually set in Northern Ireland and yet isn't about the Troubles.
So, very briefly, a review of the first two series: The first series was slow to start, but atmospheric, menacing, and very engaging -- it ended on a rather abrupt note, however, with almost none of the story properly wrapped up, and felt less like a complete first series and more like 'as much story as we could fit into six episodes, trailing off part way through.' The second series was a distinct improvement over the first, with better pacing, a more concrete sense of where it wanted to go, and a cliffhanger ending that nevertheless felt like a definitive ending for a second series. In both cases, the cinematography, music, and acting were superb, but the second series probably edges out the first.
Picking up just after the end of series two, which saw the now arrested Belfast Strangler, Paul Spector, shot. After being rushed to hospital, Paul wakes up, claiming that he's suffering from amnesia and can't remember any of his crimes. As Stella and the team start building a case against Paul, the impact of his crimes continues to harm those around him. Worse still, Sean Healy, a skilled defense lawyer, takes up Paul's case, and attempts to get all evidence against him thrown out.
So, while the first two series had a pretty solid focus, this one suffers from not really knowing what it's doing now that Spector is in police custody. As a result, it attempts to juggle seemingly as many balls as possible, with storylines about Spector's supposed amnesia, about Sean Healy attempting to defend him, about an inquiry into Stella, and about the fallout from Spector's crimes, and it doesn't really manage to properly balance them, leading to them all feeling a little light on the ground.
We get to see almost none of the preparations for the trial before that plotline is abruptly cut short, and the inquiry into Stella's behaviour seems to be completely forgotten about part way through. While we get something vaguely like closure on Sally-Anne, Spector's wife, and Katie, the teenager he seduced, it never feels quite like enough.
Instead, most of the storyline is focused on Spector's amnesia, which is probably the least interesting thread the plot has, not least because I don't think anybody watching actually believed that he genuinely had amnesia. The show ends on a deliberately vague note, leaving it in doubt as to whether he ever actually had amnesia, or if his memories returned at some point, or if he had amnesia right up until the end -- and it's completely wasted, because for whatever reason, throughout the series he comes across completely as somebody who's faking it.
Some of that is probably down to how abrupt the ending is. Rather than events building to a natural climax, we instead have Stella rather suddenly get new evidence linking Spector to a crime committed before the period covered by his amnesia -- a crime that we only find out about the episode previously -- and he goes full serial killer again, attacking her and then later killing someone and committing suicide.
It's certainly a violent and shocking ending, but it also feels completely out of place, to the point of being actually quite jarring and bizarre. There's no sense that we, as an audience, have really earned this ending, no sense of there being much build-up to it. Instead, it feels like a series was cut in half, and that we were watching the hasty attempts to tie up the storyline.
Luckily, from a technical standpoint, the series is still pretty solid. The cinematography remains great, the music is still good, the acting still very sound. Gillian Anderson does a superb job as Stella Gibson, and Colin Morgan and Jamie Dornan make excellent supporting cast members in the roles of Tom Anderson and Paul Spector. Dornan's role seems much reduced this series, which I'm not terribly fussed over, since while he's always done an excellent job, I've never find the character of Spector to be an especially interesting or compelling one.
While this series caps off the Paul Spector storyline, both the writer, Allan Cubitt, and Gillian Anderson have expressed an interest in doing a fourth series, and possibly more after that -- although both are said that it would be a concept they'd revisit in a few years, rather than immediately. I rather hope they do, because I do think the tone, aesthetic, and general concept of the series can be applied to different storylines, and taken in different, interesting directions.