Television: ‘The Fall’ sets itself up for one – or a riveting finale

Review: ‘The Fall’, ‘50 Ways to Kill Your Mammies’, ‘John Connors: The Travellers’, ‘Damned’

Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) hovers between life and death in the third series of “The Fall”.

Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) hovers between life and death in the third series of “The Fall”.


So, Det Supt Stella Gibson has got her man. Paul Spector, the handsomest serial killer on our screens, is in custody, and he’s singing like a bird, confessing to all his crimes and even leading Gibson to the spot deep in the woods where he left Rose Stagg, the last person he abducted. Case closed.

Except, as viewers of the last series of The Fall (Sunday, RTÉ One) know, it didn’t end so tidily. Not when you’ve got a hit series on your hands that pulls in a huge viewership in the UK and Ireland, and has been sold in 200 countries, including the US via Netflix. Just as the police found Rose (in the boot of a car, still alive but in critical condition), a vengeful Jimmy Tyler, who had followed the police party to the woods, shot Spector several times before being killed by police. The series ended with Spector cradled in Gibson’s arms as she desperately called for medical help for her prisoner.

Now we’re at the start of series three, and wondering where on earth can scriptwriter Allan Cubitt go from here. We’ve been told this is the final act, and we’re promised the cat-and-mouse game between Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and Spector (Jamie Dornan) will take some more twists and turns before it all ends.

Series three opens with Spector being rushed by ambulance to Belfast General Hospital, where an ICU team is waiting to tend to his horrific injuries. What follows is far from your cliched emergency department sequence. No doctors shouting “clear!” or “dammit, we need more morphine now!” The medical staff speak like real medical staff – the actors (including Richard Coyle, Hugh O’Conor and Aisling Bea) should be up for an award just for learning these lines.

We are taken clinically through every gory step of Spector’s treatment (queasy viewers beware: spleens and viscera in full HD). But it all feels like a delaying tactic while the writer decides where to go with the story arc.

In the interim between the second and third series, Jamie Dornan has become big box-office, starring in 50 Shades of Grey (he’s also in the new Netflix film The Siege of Jadotville, about an Irish battalion in the Congo in the 1960s). He doesn’t get much to do here as Spector, being unconscious for the entire episode, but we do see him running through a symbolic tunnel as his life hangs in the balance.

It’s a totally unnecessary scene, but hey, viewers need to be reminded how handsome Dornan is under all that blood. As for Anderson, she recently returned to her role as Dana Scully in a new series of The X-Files, but this is the part that really fits her well.

So, an engaging enough opening, if treading blood a bit, but hopefully the show is setting the scene for a gripping endgame and not setting itself up for a fall.  

There comes a point in every business when you need to expand or fall by the wayside. Baz Ashmawy has reached this point with his successful TV series 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy. The 41-year-old Dubliner has been throwing his poor aul’ mammy out of aeroplanes, over waterfalls and down cliffs for two series, but now it’s time to recruit four more to join the adventure and increase the odds of one mammy getting killed for real.

50 Ways to Kill Your Mammies (Monday, Sky 1) features Ann (77) from London, Ros (65) from Singapore, Grace (73) from Scotland, and Joy (73) from Jamaica. You can see the problem right away, can’t you? That’s right, none of these newbies is Irish, so you can’t really call them mammies. (Ann is so posh, you’d probably address her as mater.)

That small quibble aside, the addition of extra mums is a shot of adrenaline for the series. It would have become boring with just Baz and Nancy again, so widening the circle of fear injects a bit more fun into the proceedings. Now Baz has to manage five older women grumbling about being put through extreme tests of courage and nerve.

In this first episode, Ann and Ros travel with Baz and Nancy to Costa Rica, where Baz has lined up some serious tests of mammy mettle. First they have to trudge through the rainforest and abseil down a vertiginous waterfall. Then they go tubing down the rapids in a “flotilla of fear”. Finally they are tasked with a dizzying bungee jump high above the treeline.

Needless to say, everybody “mams up” and faces the Baz challenges – well, almost everybody. With extra mammies to take up the slack, Nancy grabs her chance to take a raincheck on one of the challenges.  

This could be the start of something even bigger for Baz: a global business catering to thrill-seeking widows and daredevil grannies. I know my mammy would sign up in a heartbeat.

Programmes about Travellers can range from clinical sociological study to exploitative reality show, but John Connors: The Travellers (Wednesday, RTÉ One) looks at the Travelling community from a surprisingly unique perspective: through the eyes of Travellers themselves.

Connors is a well-known actor (he’s the one who shot Nidge in Love/Hate) who also happens to be a Traveller. In this three-part series he takes on the gargantuan task of gathering and documenting Traveller history and folklore on behalf of the National Folklore Collection at UCD.

Travellers’ rich oral history is in danger of getting lost as time passes. What little written material exists has been compiled by members of the settled community, says Connors, so he has gathered a Traveller research team: mother and daughter Geraldine and Annemarie McDonnell, who both have BAs in youth and community work; Sindy Joyce, who has a master’s in sociology and lectures at UCD; and Michael Collins, who manages health programmes for Traveller men at Pavee Point. That these credentials are considered unusual is telling in itself.

The team sally forth to gather Travellers’ tales, beginning with their own extended families. Connors learns about how his great-grandfather Patrick Ward was shot dead by a Co Mayo farmer – who got 12 months for manslaughter. We hear snippets of the secret language of cant, and we hear about the Travellers’ own bogeyman, the Cruelty Man, their name for social workers who took Traveller children from their parents and put them into industrial schools.

We also learn of the horrific scale of child abuse in those industrial schools, and about the twilight generation that came out of these schools lacking the skills to survive in either the Traveller or settled communities.

So, Travellers taking ownership of their own history – that has the ring of truth to it.

Aisling Bea is having a busy week. The comedian and actor from Kildare is in the cast of The Fall as well as the new comedy Damned (Tuesday, Channel 4). Damned, set in a children’s services department somewhere in England, is written by and stars Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks.

Brand says she wanted to portray social workers as real people dealing with impossible situations, rather than beardy do-gooders or buttoned-up matrons hellbent on taking children from their parents. The cast also features comic reliables Alan Davies, Kevin Eldon and Isy Suttie, but this ain’t Peep Show. Sure, there is plenty of cruel office banter, but there are also scenes of families in crisis, and many of the jokes end in a grim punchline.

A shaky hand-held camera tries too hard to give it a chaotic, reality-doc feel, and stock characters creep in (the office clown, the office lick-arse), but Brand and Banks get the message home that social workers in modern Britain really are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

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