This psychological thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat through the whole series. When one episode ends, you won’t have a choice but to watch the following one. The desire to know what happens next will overtake you and won’t be able to put down your remote. Set in Ireland, Stella Gibson is drafted from England’s Metropolitan police team to help bring down a serial killer who has been stalking the streets of Belfast. The cat and mouse game that is played between the hunter and the hunted is exciting and tantalizing. This very short series has a 5 episodes in season one, 6 episodes in season two, and season three has another 6 episodes. Debuting May 13/2013 this BBC original has found its way to Netflix as well as CBC and other broadcasting networks.
The stars chosen for the thrilling series are the amazing Gillian Anderson and the handsome Jamie Dornan. While the writer Allan Cubitt was writing the series and planning his characters, he envisioned Stella Gibson as Gillian Anderson. Hoping that she would play the role, Allan gave Gillian the first three completed episodes. Once read she couldn’t refuse, after that, Allan finished writing the role for her. She was also the first character to be casted for the series.
The character Paul Spector, had a lot of his characteristics and personality traits based off the Canadian murdered Russell Williams. When writing and researching the role Paul Spector was to portray, Allan found that some of the murderers he was researching came off as what we would consider mentally normal. Which lead him to ask the question “how well do we really know the other person, and how well do you know yourself?” Paul Spector is given the career of psychologist with a wife, daughter and son. He is able to live two completely separate lives; one as a contributing member of society, the other as a sexually hungry murderer.
Season One: Episode One: Dark Descent
The opening to season one gives us a nice layout of the show. Right away you can see the contrast. The opening scene shows Stella preparing herself for travel. She is in pajamas, cleaning her bathroom and possibly getting ready for bed. You see her finish with the bathroom and wash the facemask off her face. Everything is light, even in the shadows. You follow her to the bedroom where everything is still light, she’s setting out clothes, packing a suitcase, pulling out casefiles and looking at articles (we have to assume) related the casefile. The next scene shows darkness. A basement, or garage, a dark cluttered area where no one is meant to be. There is a soft sound and a window opens, then it’s clear, someone is making their way into this secluded area. Someone who shouldn’t be there. Dressed in darks, with a face wrap, hat and gloves. You can see his movements are precise, calculated, and nothing is done without purpose. As you keep watching, you can see him making his way through the darkened house; there are flashes to Stella, to a girl who’s life we spy into, and back to the man in black. Back and forth you can feel the tension building, till all of a sudden she goes home. Once inside, it’s clear that this is the place that has been broken into. The man in black, somewhere in the darkness. Nothing is out of place, no light on that wasn’t already, she’s walked through her place, slowly getting ready for bed, brushing her teeth, putting her clothes away, that is, until she reaches her bed. A pair of her underwear has been laid out in the middle of the bed. Stopping and staring at it, she’s frozen, then she acts. She runs and pulls the keys from her bag and locks herself in the room. Announcing she’s calling the police. We watch the cops clear the house, showing us all the places he was, including how he got in. Shortly after we find out that he’s fled and the scene changes.
Without further details into the shows storyline for episode one, you can see how darkness and light will be used not only as film tools, but as a theme, and as insight into the main characters. Light and dark surrounds the main characters. Stella is almost always adorned in some form of light or white flowy clothing. Light hair and light eyes, she is painted as an avenging angel, gleaming, extinguishing the shadows of evil in the pursuit of peace. Paul Spector, our villain, is usually clad in dark clothes, dark hair, cold eyes and his distant. You can tell he is quite intellectual, every question has an answer, he is focused and able to multi-task in the background. His tone is uniform and you don’t seem him rise to rage or empathy they way a “normal” person would. Watching him and his interactions in the first episode, I just want to recoil from his presents in every scene, even the unmalicious ones, because you know who he really is, even if everyone else doesn’t.
The second theme, control, is also present throughout the series. Stella oozes confidence and control, she is very aware of what’s happening around her, she is respected by her peers and superiors as well as having a deep insight into criminal she’s in pursue of. She is also constantly trying to control how she is viewed by peers, as well as the general public. Being in a role in which she is participating in press releases, and conferences. Stella takes this opportunity to change, there are some scenes where she makes two outfit changes. When talking to the public, she pulls out the silky white button down blouse, every time. Later in the series she takes the opportunity to wear a bolder, more confident colour. She wears a brilliant crimson wrapped blouse while interviewing Spector. In the very beginning even Stella admits that the person who committed the murder is very controlled, and intellectual. It leads to her believe this wasn’t his first murder, which leads to her connect past crimes to the current providing us with the series at hand.
Paul Spector applies control throughout the series with every victim chosen, moment planned, risks evaluated, he never leaves anything to chance. He learns everything about his prey and works his way into their lives. He does this not only with his victims, but also with his clients and family. His wife is always at arm’s length, when you think about how he interacts with her and their friends on their date night; hunched over, looking around, not fully participating in the conversation; when he does it’s in reference to his friend getting caught at a strip club, and how he should have been smarter and destroyed the evidence. Foreshadowing that this is something he does to his own wife, though he may not be hitting strip clubs, he is doing something to which he hides and inevitably destroys the evidence. Direct affirmation of control is shown in the scene following:
Spector is nonchalantly watching a dark haired woman from across the room. He goes to the bar where she’s sitting, knocks her purse to the floor, unnoticed he bends down to steal her ID, and cordially return the purse and leaves.
This poor woman has no idea she was being watched, no idea that anything is missing yet, and has no control over what her future holds. Spector however has everything he wants, subtle close contact, a close up of her face, her ID with name, address and photo. All he needs do now is do is required creepy research, and set up his operation. There are more examples I can pull from in reference to theme, however I don’t want to give away too many plot points or juicy moments.
I will mention that the show does a great job at showing both perspectives of the police, and of Spector. Both leads are extremely strong in their roles. Jillian Anderson is intoxicating, she is a good role model of female empowerment and individuality, showing her strengths as well as her weaknesses. She uses her brain more than her body, though she will use her body for her own gains, and that is her choice. Spector on the other hand is a mix of the good, bad and ugly. In his one role as father and spouse, it is clear that is splits himself and does attempt to be what they expect from them. He is the world to the elder of his children. Though there is distance between him and his wife, there is still a strong sense of trust and devotion. Later in the series there is more stress on Sally Anne and their relationship does start to crumble. Reflecting on his job, he does the right thing for his clients even though sometimes he pushes too many boundaries and goes about it the wrong way. The character does have some fair qualities even though they are just the wrapping of the evil that lays beneath. As a sexual predator, Spector doesn’t speak with his victims, he keeps them alive and tortures them psychologically for hours. He makes sure they’re deaths are drawn out and by never saying a single word, he keeps his victims in their heads. Just another scary tactic during his attacks. I must give Allan Cubbit credit for creating such a tantalizing set of characters and can’t see what he will create next!
Ultimately, this show has a true sense of itself. If you’re looking for a thriller that keeps you watching, this is the show for you. From brilliant acting, to symbolism, to a quality written script, this show has you sitting on the edge hitting the continue watching button till its out of material. I must mention there are some graphic scenes from Spector’s side of the story, I have had my partner make the comment of “You watch messed up TV, you know that?”. With that said, I still recommend the show and would love to others thoughts.