Saturday, February 21, 2015

Morven Museum's Schoolgirl Needlework Exhibit

Today I joined the Central New Jersey region of the Jane Austen Society of North America to tour the "Hail Specimen of Female Art! New Jersey Schoolgirl Needlework, 1726-1860" temporary exhibit at the Morven Museum in Princeton, NJ. Luckily one of the region's members read The New York Times review of the exhibit and suggested we visit or I would have completely missed out on this gem. To be entirely truthful, I wasn't sure exactly how much interest this exhibit would hold for me, but happily I ended up absolutely loving it. The exhibit displays embroideries in silk and wool that were completed by young, relatively wealthy girls as part of their formal education during the 18th and 19th centuries. All of the pieces reflect the work of girls from New Jersey, although in some cases the girls were sent to nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware to be taught at a prestigious girls' schools. These needlework samplers were generally meant to be displays of how privileged and talented these girls were.
“It is amazing to me, how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are. ... They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses.” - Charles Bingley in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 
As we had a relatively large group and made plans some time in advance, we were able to secure a special PowerPoint presentation by two of the exhibit's co-curators as well as a semi-guided tour of the exhibit with them. The presentation helped a great deal in putting the exhibit into context. The co-curators described how there were regional differences evident in the needlework. Some counties had heavy influences from their Quaker founders, for instance. They also noted how even though there were distinct variations that could be largely attributed to one area or county, there was definitely cross-over as teachers moved from one school to another and brought their knowledge to a new set of schoolgirls. Another neat fact I learned from the presentation that I might not have gleaned readily from the exhibit was that not only did the exhibit cover more than 100 years of works, it also reflected needlework pieces from girls as young as 5 and as old as 29. Seeing the impressive needlework of 5- and 7-year-old girls was kind of mind blowing!

The needlework pieces themselves are astounding. Some show their wear while others have stood the test of time pretty well, still showing off bright colors and clearly legible text. Designs vary but are often of a similar nature: animals (particularly birds and deer), simple buildings, landscapes with a person or two, and alphabets and verses abound. Some pieces were used as a way to delineated a family tree/family historical record. Other more complicated works presented maps of the state or country. One sample contains the poem whose first line inspired the exhibit's title:
“Hail specimen of female art / The needle’s magic power to show / To canvas various hues impart / And make a mimic world to grow / A sampler then with care peruse / An emblem sage you may find there / The canvas takes what forms you choose / So education forms the mind.” - Anne Rickey
A few of the exhibit pieces also mixed media by having the needlework sent out for painting by an artist. Usually this done with silk-embroidered pieces rather than wool. After the schoolgirl completed her embroidering of the piece, then a painter would add in details or a landscape background to complete the piece. Finally, the piece would be framed, which was unusual for many of these samplers. The effect was stunning, and one of my favorite pieces in the whole exhibit was one of these samplers.

The talent and patience that went in to stitching these elaborate pieces are clearly evident. One thing I really appreciated about this exhibit is how it's elevated to the level of art something that was essentially homework and hung up only in the way that a proud parent posts an A-plus paper on the family fridge in our time. Nowadays, needlework is generally considered more in the line of a hobby than anything else. Viewing these works reminded me of all the embroideries my grandmother so lovingly made as something 'to keep her hands busy' when she had some down time, so this exhibit gave me a happy feeling of nostalgia as well as history lesson. At any rate, these pieces were certainly not items that were planned to be part of a museum exhibit originally! While museums by and large highlight the history of men (for better or worse), this exhibit gives a voice (metaphorically speaking) to a population that is traditionally in the background of history.

A companion catalog book available at the museum's gift shop provides more details about the exhibit and its historical background for those interested in learning even more. As it is, the exhibit's plaques contain more information than I could completely absorb in one relatively short visit, so this is a gallery worth re-visiting.

Speaking of re-visiting, I'd love to return to the Morven again some other time to spend additional time with the permanent collection and participate in one of their usual hourly guided tours to learn more about the history of the place. I did learn in my brief walkthrough on my own that the museum was originally a mansion whose celebrated residents include the president of the Continental Congress from 1782-1783. The building later became the state Governor's Mansion and was home to five governors. It is now a National Historic Landmark. And to think that I've driven past this place numerous, numerous times before and never once even gave it a second glance.

Another trip to the Morven Museum is definitely in my future and I hope in yours as well. The "Hail Specimen of Female Art! New Jersey Schoolgirl Needlework, 1726-1860" is only on display for roughly another month, closing on March 29, so don't delay in checking it out!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Killing's Intensely Focused, Dark Drama

Some time ago, a member of my book club recommended the show The Killing to me, guessing that I would like it given its slower pace and psychological focus after I talked about how much I enjoyed the first season of BBC's The Fall. On her suggestion, I began watching the show and was immediately absorbed in its world.

Rather than the usual procedural TV show wherein a new case is tackled each week, The Killing's first two seasons are focused on a single mystery: the murder of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen. The daughter of a working-class family, Rosie's drowning death doesn't seem like a high-profile case but various leads soon (possibly) connect her murder to terrorism, city politics, and organized crime. As the investigation delves deeper, Rosie's death incites family tension, hate-based racial violence, and political corruption. This one case certainly has more than enough to grip the viewer for week after week with a total of 26 episodes devoted to the Larsen files.

While the case itself is plenty interesting, it's not the only thing holding the viewer's attention: that task falls on our leads. The Larsen case first appears on the desk of Sarah Linden, a veteran homicide detective who is about to retire when some of Rosie's effects show up in an empty field, and the police force must begin looking for a missing girl. Linden is joined by Stephen Holder, her soon-to-be replacement, who has just been promoted from County Narcotics to City Homicide. Holder, a former undercover cop who ended up getting hooked on meth, is willing to play hard and fast a little with the regular police rules and protocols, having no problem with roughing up a suspect or witness some or using rather indelicate language (to put it lightly) during interrogations. Detective Holder also seems to be channeling Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman to some degree, slumming about in hoodies and jeans, employing colorful ghettoized speech patterns, and in general belying his intelligence behind the charade of a stereotypical junkie.

Linden herself is another minefield of emotional and psychological depth. She's a single mother who is willing to do anything for her 13-year-old son Jack ... except put his well-being above her relentless pursuit of solving her latest case. In general, Linden seems to be hellbent on getting in the way of her own happiness. When the show opens, it is her last day of work before she heads down to Sonoma, where she and Jack will meet up with her fiance and presumably have a "happily ever after" life in sunny California. Rosie Larsen's murder changes her plans a little bit when her boss asks her to stay on an extra 24 hours to help Holder jump start the case. But soon it is Linden who is repeatedly missing her flights to California and choosing to stay for just a few more hours or days so that she can wrap up the case, despite her fiance's repeated protestations that there will always be another case, so she needs to learn to let go already. There are repeated hints from the fiance and others that a past case slammed Linden hard, and she suffered a huge emotional toll as a result. The unraveling of that mystery is another piece that keeps the viewer entirely absorbed in the show and wondering if Linden will get too involved in this case as well.

While Linden isn't the feminist icon that many see in The Fall's Stella Gibson, I found her to be an exceptional female lead in a crime drama. Linden's presence is so unlike characters in some TV shows where it feels like the female detective there is only to be a looker or simply to fill a quota (even though she does appear to be the only woman in the Seattle police force, though luckily not the only woman of substance on the show). She doesn't fall into traditional depictions of she's a good detective because she uses her female intuition and/or because she's more in tune with the emotions of the victims. Nor do the creators/writers swing to the other extreme and make her such a badass, almost despite her femininity (e.g., Ziva David on CBS's NCIS). Linden's characterization does fall a little bit into the stereotypical trap of she's a career woman so she doesn't have any other life, but to be honest this seems to be largely true of Holder as well. At any rate, Linden is not in any way one-dimensional nor does anything about her seem to be a reflection of her gender, any more than anything about Holder is a reflection of his gender. They come across as complex characters with complicated backstories and motivations trying to do their best in a troubling world.

Holder and Linden are both interesting characters in their own right but adding them together makes for an infinitely more compelling show. The pair in many ways seem like opposites to being with - beyond obvious physicalities (e.g., female v. male, short v. tall), Sarah is quiet and withdrawn while Holder is nonstop with the verbal diarrhea and seems to open up pretty quickly; Linden seems to initially have her life in order while Holder is a little more in flux; and so on. But these somewhat superficial details hide what the two do have in common: painful secrets in their past, abandonment issues, and feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. It's these deeper selves that allow Linden and Holder to find kindred spirits in each other, even if they butt heads often and occasionally lose sight of the trust they have in each other. In many respects, the two have a Scully and Mulder-type relationship that is endearing, with the way they look out for one another and each puts their trust fully in the other when no one else can be trusted. To go back to physicalities for a moment, they even look a little like Scully and Mulder with a short, red-headed female officer paired with a lanky male officer. And, of course, there's enough tension around the main characters to give plenty of fodder for shippers, who just can't have a man and a woman both be in a show without wanting something romantic to come out of it.

Besides the two leads, the show spends a lot of time focusing in on Rosie's family as they deal with the painful reality of losing a daughter/sister/niece. In your typical crime procedural, there's a maybe a minute or two where you get to see the family react to hearing the news of their loss. They cry, they wonder who would want to hurt their wife/child/aunt/brother/father/etc., and they provide one useful clue that the fearless crime fighters use to track down the killer. With The Killing, the Larsens are fully developed characters in their own right, who are layered with complex backstories and emotional epiphanies. While the Larsens aren't perfect, I really enjoyed getting to know all the family members and seeing how each chose to deal with their grief. This could change alternately from person to person (and day to day) from abandoning everything, expressing rage and violence, bargaining, revenge-seeking, questioning, and overcompensating trying to make everything wonderful for Rosie's younger brothers. Seeing the Larsens and how they tried to move forward with their lives from the day the teenaged Rosie disappeared was a huge part of what made The Killing's first two seasons such a success for me.

In addition to the police and the family, The Killing also spends a lot of time with the first good suspect that the police have. Rosie's body is found in the trunk of a car belonging to the mayoral campaign of Seattle City Council's president Darren Richmond. Even though it's quickly ascertained that the car was previously reported stolen, from this point on, we become intimately involved with Richmond and close members of his campaign staff. The politics of the race for Seattle's next mayor become inextricably interwoven into the fabric of the show and become one more reason to be invested in the series. These campaign characters are also given involved back stories and complex motivations, which are constantly causing the viewers to re-evaluate their opinions about them.

Although many were unhappy that the murder of Rosie Lawson was not solved by the end of the first season, I for one thought it was appropriate to extend that mystery and let the writers fully delve the deep of all those characters and the various plotlines that were presented throughout the course of the case. When the mystery was finally solved, I have to admit to being entirely shocked at finding out the identity of Rosie's killer. It was such an emotional rollercoaster all along and the ultimate reveal was like a gut punch on top of that all. A few loose ends are tied up with the remaining characters as we see everyone move forward after this traumatic murder. The show could have ended there on a high note and been a short-lived but fantastic drama.

But unfortunately, it didn't do that. Sometimes quitting while you're ahead is not understood by TV creators/writers/execs. The Killing went on for another two seasons, with each worse than the previous one. Season 3 starts out reasonably enough, with a year having past between Rosie's murder and the current events, giving Linden and Holder enough time to get a handle on their lives. Holder is in a serious relationship and doing well in the homicide department paired with a new partner. Linden has left the force and settled into a quiet job, has a new home, and is in a romantic relationship of her own. This all changes when a series of murders start occurring with links to a past homicide investigated by Linden. Of course, she has to get involved and once again becomes completely absorbed in her work to the point of losing everything she gained in the last year.

Season 3 lost a lot of the charm of the previous two seasons. The Larsens are gone as are all the members of the Richmond campaign. While this makes sense, I had been so invested in these characters and come to enjoy their part of the show so much that it was disappointing to hear nothing of them again. (We do have one brief cameo of Richmond eventually, but it would have been nice to have been given a few more Easter eggs, like a Larsen moving van in the background on the street somewhere at the very least.) This season presented new characters, but I didn't find them as compelling, complex, or interesting. For starters, there's the significant others of Linden and Holder, although Linden's would-be lover is hardly even given the time of day in terms of characterization. Holder's girlfriend is a little more involved in terms of characterization, although it's hard to see the attraction between the two of them without fully exploring her past. On the police home front, we meet Holder's new partner, the seemingly chump-like Carl Reddick who has manages to have quite the nose for investigations once his suspicions are aroused, as well as a new boss in James Skinner, who Linden apparently had an affair with years ago, although it's somewhat hard to buy the supposed chemistry between them.

Meanwhile, the original similar case that Linden had worked on had resulted in a conviction with a death row sentence, which seems a rather unlikely result to a case of spousal murder. The show spends a long time lingering on the wrongly convicted man's time in jail on the death row watch, including spiraling off to learn more about the prison wardens and their personal lives. It was interesting to see how the show could go off on these divergent storylines again and still keep the viewer gripped. However, it once again didn't work as well. While well played by Peter Sarsgaard, the character of Ray Seward, the man accused of brutally murdering his wife, was such an arrogant bastard in jail that you could only rarely sympathize with him. This may have been an effort to keep the viewer guessing as to whether his wife's death was truly part of the serial murders occurring now or not, but the end result was spending a lot of time with a character that just wasn't as compelling as those we had seen in the first two seasons. In addition, some je ne sais quoi about these long prison sequences often felt like they belonged to an entirely different show.

The serial murders are largely of young teenagers living on the streets, so we start to meet a number of homeless youth in this season, including characters with names like Bullet, Lyric, and Twitch. While it would seem like this would be a fertile ground for creating characters even more complex than those we saw in the first two seasons, this turned out not to be the case. Lyric and Twitch were largely one-note characters caught up in their personal teenaged angst dramas and occasionally remembering to be afraid of the serial killer prowling in their area. Bullet was more developed than the others and yet still somehow lacking. For myself, I think it would have been more interesting to learn more about how and why these kids ended up in the streets to begin with than in, say, needlessly having Bullet raped and seeing her react to that only briefly before acting like nothing happened.

By following the lives of these teens, the show took on an even darker underbelly of the city than that seen in the first season, introducing us to abusive/neglectful parents, drug dens, and child pornographers/rapists. While it was certainly disconcerting, there was nothing surprising about this. Youth with no support systems are taken advantage of in horrible ways; we see this play out across the globe in the real world every day. It's doesn't have the unexpected twists that the Rosie Larsen case took and it's just a reminder of how awful the world can be toward those that are considered easy prey. When the murderer was revealed for this mystery, not only was I not surprised, but I had pretty much predicted it early on in the season.

Season 4 picks up with the fallout of Linden shooting the unarmed murderer of the homeless teenagers and Holder deciding to help her cover it up. This was probably the weakest of the storylines as I just couldn't buy it. It seemed to me like they could have explained away the shooting (i.e., claimed that the murderer was in fact armed at the time) and moved on without it becoming a huge thing they needed to hide. The cover-up resulted in the two characters becoming so paranoid that they started mistrusting one another and turning their backs on each other. As the relationship between the two of them was such a vital part of the show previously, this development was incredibly frustrating. At this point, the show was becoming like the proverbial train wreck - horrible to see but somehow you just had to keep looking at it to see how it all plays out.

Even with all this going on, the creators/writers decided to also introduce yet another mystery - that of the murder of a wealthy family in which only the teenaged son survives. This story was so half-baked that it really was not only uninteresting, but it was also entirely bizarre, and yet the conclusion was so obvious that it was hardly worth calling it a mystery. This would not be a bad thing if the characters were interesting, but all of the new characters introduced were so lacking in any depth that they're wasn't anything worth noting about them. Add in that Holder and Linden were a mess, and there really wasn't anything redeemable about this season.

And, now that the show moved off of cable and on to a streaming format solely, the creators/writers decided to let lose with the language. As I've said before, I'm not a fan of when shows decide that the best way to push the envelope is to throw in a bunch of choice four-letter words. I'm not a prude, I'm not a saint, and I certainly don't have any beef with the occasional foul language. The Killing presents a dark world that is constantly full of abandonment and brutality, so it's reasonable that Linden, Holder, and others would spew out invectives some of the time. But when your finely tuned writing turns into scenes in which literally the two main characters just hurl "f--- you"s at each other, it's hard to argue that the quality of the show has improved by the lack of inhibition.

After everything shakes out with the season four cases, we get a flash forward to five years in the future, and the show ends with a tacked-on happy ending, which is so out of touch with the rest of the series that it's almost comical. Sure, it's nice to have the characters you've come to care about have a ending has some uplifting potential. But that would have been appropriate at the end of season 2 when there was more hope to spread around amongst the various characters. But by this time, so much more has gone on and happened between the lead characters that it doesn't seem in the least bit realistic, a damning charge for a show that was built on being tough, gritty, and no holds barred. It's almost like an element of magical realism being added in at the last minute.

In conclusion, watch the first two seasons of The Killing if you're interested in a tightly wound mystery packed into divergent storylines, replete with complicated, compelling, and deeply human characters. Then do yourself a favor and leave well enough alone but not wasting your time with the latter two seasons. You'll thank me later.

A Look at the Darkest Side of Humanity with BBC's The Fall

The Fall is a powerful, intense, challenging, and disturbing show that is most definitely worth the watch. In a world where there seems to be a police procedural and/or crime drama on every night on every station, it may seem redundant to have yet another show about a serial killer and the police search to capture him. And while boiled down this is exactly what The Fall is about, the show is far more artistic and serious than the many more sensationalist cookie cutter criminal-based programs out there already.

To step back a moment, The Fall is a BBC-produced drama taking place in recent years in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When the daughter of a prominent (and wealthy) businessman is brutally murdered, the local police launch a ramped-up investigation to catch her killer. To head up this task force, they bring in Stella Gibson, a detective inspector from London with a stellar (couldn't resist the pun!) track record for understanding and thus bringing in criminals. Gibson almost immediately sees a link between this murder and those of other women in Belfast who share similar characteristics (although, alas, the rest don't have the moneyed fame so their deaths weren't originally given the same high status treatment). Behavioral profiling of the murderer, painstakingly intensive forensic studies, and round-the-clock monitoring of tip lines and potential suspects' movements consume the task force's time as they pursue the serial killings.

Meanwhile, the viewers are given the position of knowing far more than the police as we soon enter into the world of the killer himself. A grief counselor with a wife and two young children, Paul Spector is mundane enough for most people to not notice him or suspect him of being guilty of anything more egregious than perhaps a speeding ticket. But underneath this calm demeanor lies a troubled psyche that finds fulfillment in others' misery and feels powerful only by destroying lives. Besides his unrepentant need to stalk and murder pretty women, Spector has a host of various other problems to deal with in his life, ranging from fairly typical parenting issues to a teenaged babysitter who is infatuated with him to a client case in which an extremely violent man is abusing his wife.

This last issue brings up an important part about what makes The Fall such a fascinating show. The cat-and-mouse between the police and the killer makes for plot-driven suspense and, as always for me, well-developed characters finish the job of sucking the viewer into the drama. But The Fall goes a step further by looking into a major cultural issue of times - and one that is sadly, often rather divisive - that of gender roles and gender equality/inequality. The issue of violence against women in particular is a large part of The Fall, and the show explores it in a number of ways, while also examining women's implicit and explicit roles in combating both crime and cultural stereotypes about their gender.

The Fall starts with presenting a female main character that is a wonderful example of a feminist hero. Stella Gibson is certainly not perfect and she's not necessarily "kick ass" in a superhero sort of way (although you wouldn't want to get on her wrong side either), but she's tough, smart, and confident. Her personality at first appears a bit cold because she isn't passionate in terms of raising up a fuss or otherwise getting bowled over by her emotions. But it's soon obvious that Gibson does indeed feel strongly at appropriate moments and while she is guided mainly by her intellect and sense of morality, her emotions also play a role in why she does what she does. She feels deep empathy for the victims and their families and is remorseful when she fears she's made a mistake that comprises a woman's safety.

Just like she is not devoid of emotion, she is also not a nun despite not being in a traditional relationship. Gibson has no problem clearly and plainly putting out her intentions when she finds someone of sexual interest - and when she does not. No part of Gibson's personality is tied up in any particular man or even in proving herself in a workplace historically populated by men. The show thankfully does not fall into the trap of turning Gibson into a "bitch" because she is a woman in a supervisory capacity or of making strong assertions about how Gibson has chosen being a career woman rather than a wife or mother, as thought it always needs to be an either/or choice. Clearly, the creators/writers here were not interested in presenting a stereotypical "women's intuition" type of female police detective who will inevitably end up in a long-term romantic relationship with her male partner. Gibson is simply living her life - sometimes making mistakes, sometimes shining (again, can't resist the puns based on her first name!) with insights not picked up by anyone else.

While The Fall certainly isn't alone in presenting a female lead - or even a strong female lead at that, the show doesn't just stop there. Gibson isn't a lone voice in the wilderness; the Belfast police and their attendant associates have a fairly equal amount of male and female employees. Even though she has a previous relationship with Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns, on reaching Belfast, Gibson quickly aligns herself with two other women in particular - Dani Ferrington, a beat cop who becomes the right-hand woman to Gibson, and Professor Reed Smith, a pathologist who reports various insights to Gibson. In the world outside of the police force, we also get to know an array of female characters of various importance (and ensuing screen time) from Spector's wife to his victims to victims' family members and so on. The Fall presents women of all kinds: from the fiercely tough and professional detective constable Gail McNally to the busy and rather clueless (and thus, in a way, very sympathetic) Sally-Ann Spector to the clearly emotionally needy/disturbed young babysitter for the Spectors. With the exception of the babysitter Katie, who is a little one-note in terms of her motivations, all of the women - and indeed, all of the characters - are believable, well-rounded characters who have their individuals highs and lows.

But The Fall does more than simply present strong and believable female characters (not to say that isn't an accomplishment enough in a world where plenty of other shows and films struggle to have even a fair number of women in prominent roles). It also delves deep into a variety of issues surrounding women and how our culture treats women. It touches on how women are objectified, thus dehumanizing them to predators, specifically stating this through Gibson's words, but also showing it in other ways (i.e., using the visual medium of TV well to make the point). At one point when Spector tapes the torture of a victim, he ends his homemade video by asking why it's being watched. It's an uncomfortable moment of pointing out the viewer's own voyeurism and implicit role in this cultural problem of allowing women's rapes and murders to become lazy plot points to propel forward male heroes.

Nevertheless, the show is not without its detractors who criticize it for being misogynistic because of the female murder victims and for seeing from the killer's point of view. While I see their point about how displaying the corpses of dead women is troubling (it's something I felt with other crime shows), I don't find that to be the case here. Even though we see from the killer's eyes frequently, at no point are his actions condoned or held up as something to model/mimic. Meanwhile, there is so much empathy put out for the victims, the families, and even the community at large, that I don't feel like the dead women are simply props held up for their shocking entertainment value.

(Speaking of sensationalist shock value entertainment, I could not help thinking about the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey movie, which stars Jamie Dornan as the BDSM-loving protagonist Christian Grey. I'm not sure how anyone could watch Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector subjecting a teenaged girl to bondage and other "grooming" acts, stalking women in his neighborhood, holding a woman hostage, violently murdering women, etc. and still come away thinking that a book series/movie about a dominant wealthy businessman introducing a young, na├»ve college student to sadomasochism is romantic.)

The Fall also has gained some critics because of its pacing; the show is certainly slow moving and lingers where other shows rush full speed ahead. Unlike the myriad of procedural shows on the air that fill up 20-plus episodes a year with largely one-off mysteries with sometimes poorly explained motivations, The Fall has chosen to focus the first two seasons (a total of 11 episodes) to this one case. Viewers come to intimately know all the characters and see the continuing effects of the crime on the police members tracking the killer, the killer's family, the surviving victims, and the victims' families. While there are still some motivations that could be more fully explored (e.g., the babysitter), it's a good change of pace to be reminded of the humanity (and lack of it in the killer's case) behind crimes rather than just the next thrilling plot move. For me (and many other viewers), the slower pace was not an impairment to appreciating in the show; in fact, it in many ways made it a more suspenseful watch. As a viewer, you care much more about the fate of a character once you've become invested in that person's life.

The breadcrumbs thrown out about whether nature or nurture created the psychopathic killer is another interesting component to the show. As the story develops and we learn more about Spector's troubled past, there are plenty of opportunities to reflect on how and why this man became a narcissistic sociopath turned violent offender, even if the script doesn't always explicitly state his motivations. And while there are certainly many references to Spector and his deeds as monstrous, the show through Gibson often reminds viewers how life exists on a continuum and everyone has elements of good and bad in them. In one scene I found particularly poignant in this regard, Gibson takes Burns to task for trying to weasel his way into her bed after she repeatedly says no. While she does make certain to maintain a distinction between him and the killer, she still manages to remind Burns (and the audience) that the treatment of women as mere sex objects is an easy trap to fall into that quickly becomes a slippery slope.

Like any TV show or other artistic expression, The Fall is of course not perfect. There is a secondary plot about police corruption that almost entirely fades in the background of the serial killing storyline. At times, there are scenes that feel unnecessary or not fully explained. On occasion, the police seem woefully behind the serial killer despite the tremendous amount of money and effort being spent on this case, including some scenes that just seemed ridiculous in how slow the police were responding, which hurt some of the credibility of the show. But overall, I found the first two seasons of the show to be fully engaging and thought-provoking in terms of plot and themes. They were also all extremely well acted, with an array of interesting, complex characters being presented and explored. The end of the season two finale was a bit bizarre in my opinion (and I am not alone), but I'm hoping that the third season slated for release in fall 2015 will help to smooth over those ragged edges and provide a satisfying conclusion to this thoroughly captivating show.