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After a compelling first series, the serial killer thriller began to lose its grip. What followed was a cavalcade of preposterousness

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When Allan Cubitt’s intense British-Irish psychological crime drama The Fall arrived in 2013, its initial five episodes proved darkly compelling and intelligent. It was so sophisticated that French television snapped it up for a remake, so creepy it won an Edgar Allan Poe award. Gillian Anderson, hypnotically cool as DSI Stella Gibson, arrived in Belfast styled in pristine white shirts unbuttoned to the precise point at which her seductiveness undid some male colleagues. She was seconded by the Met to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) to review the progress – or lack thereof – in a murder investigation and quickly deduced that several unsolved rapes and murders were connected.

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Gillian Anderson returns to TV as Stella Gibson in "The Fall" – video

This was not a whodunnit but a whydunnit; we knew from the outset that the killer was handsome family man and caring social worker Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). An intricate game of cat and mouse ensued between Gibson and Spector, who both kept diaries – hers a record of her twisted dreams, his a chronicle of his sick fantasies and murders – to give a disturbing spin to the familiar notion that to hunt a killer one must share some kind of rapport with them.

Playwright Cubitt, celebrated for Prime Suspect 2, was inspired by his research on the BTK Killer – who terrified Kansas between 1974 and 1991 – and gave his show a title referencing TS Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men (“Between the idea/ And the reality/ Between the motion/ And the act/ Falls the Shadow”); lines from which Spector writes in his journal. As Spector’s interwoven “normal” life and secret sins unravelled and he went on the run, we were ready for the second season.

Alas, the second series started losing its grip while Spector groomed his troubled tearaway teen babysitter to unnerving purpose. But the unintended theme emphatically remained Remind Me Never to Get Kidnapped in Northern Ireland as the cops bungled surveillance operations and the handling of a surviving witness.

Then came The Fall’s appalling fall. Having been led by Spector to the woods where his victim Rose was close to death in a car boot, the cops left the killer on the periphery with Stella’s latest bit of muscular relief DS Tom Anderson (Colin Morgan, hunked up nicely since Merlin). A dim-bulb gunman, who resented Spector’s efforts to help his abused wife, located them. Responding to the gunfire, it’s Spector to whom Stella runs (a slight that would make the wounded Tom a tad cool to her in series three). And she’s all but keening over the killer, wailing “Noooo!” and pleading for medical attention. Stelll-aaaahhh! Really? It felt positively indecent. Plus, of course, wouldn’t it have been better if he had died there?

There was no coming back. Series three was a cavalcade of preposterousness. Poor Rose, the eyewitness plucked from the jaws of death, is hospitalised just feet from her tormentor. Spector comes round with convenient amnesia. His nurse knows he’s a monster but warms to him and slips him a little something when he’s finally borne away to a facility where the shrink lets him groom a new patsy. And the only explanation for the ending — with a bang, admittedly, but whimpers from more than a few disappointed viewers — was that Spector was abused in boyhood. Oh. Dear.

Did the BBC think Jamie Dornan purring at nurses would make up for a total absence of plot? Photograph: BBC/The Fall 3 Ltd/Helen Sloan