In Which We Recoil From Our Partner After Wintercourse

Sex Life


It Follows
dir. David Robert Mitchell
100 minutes

The two beings at the center of David Robert Mitchell’s horror movie could not be more alike. Each is slow-moving, frequently contemplative, constantly changing and disturbingly mysterious. One is a 17 year old girl named Jay (Maika Monroe) and the other is an invisible monstrosity that haunts said teenager, assuming the form of the people she does and does not love.

Hugh (a brilliant Jake Weary) seduces Jay with coy promises when It Follows begins in suburban Detroit. Hugh and Jay finally have the sex in his automobile, after which he chloroforms her and ties her lithe, peering form up in a wheelchair. This is all for her own good, however, because he has passed on the sinister interest of the invisible creature through hot penetration. If the monster kills Jay, it will go looking for Hugh again, so he shows her the predator in order to let her know the problem he infected her with is real.

Set in a meager Detroit neighborhood that is amazingly the nicer part of the city, It Follows exists outside of any time and place. None of the teenagers that help Jay confront this monster have cell-phones, although one has an e-reader shaped like a clamshell. The teens themselves watch 50s movies and adopt fashions from decades later — their originality comes from being rather general.

The monster follows Jay at an infinitesimal pace. We know, very quickly, that it is preternaturally strong and not unintelligent. Still there are barriers and places that it cannot cross — water, for example. It’s odd that no one ever thinks of getting on a plane or building a super strong cage, but this kind of quick-thinking is difficult in a panic. The main move Jay and her friend Kelly (Lili Sepe), along with Kelly’s brother Paul (Keir Gilchrist), decide to make, is get a gun. This is the only thing they do that is completely easy.

The captivating score by Disasterpiece hammers home the dread Jay feels at every moment. It is, in fact, a dread that predates her sex with Hugh, which turns It Follows into the most important American film about abstinence since Kids. Jay’s sexual encounters are all quiet humping at a slow pace. There is the sense that because she does not really seem to be enjoying sex, it is even more unfair that she has contracted the monster.

Eventually the teens concoct a decent plan to rid Jay of her tailing scourge. They hole up in a spooky school that features a massive, Olympic-sized swimming pool, and things develop from there. There is a sadness about all physicality and the intimacy that follows from it, Mitchell seems to be suggesting. This is a major theme in horror, but it has never been explored so literally.

The cleansing pool at the end of It Follows is the only moment that doesn’t ring entirely true, and Mitchell takes great care to undermine the certainty of the film’s ending. There is a dissatisfaction, or perhaps more of an emptiness, that comes after sex happens. Personifying our own disgust just adds to the vacuum.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Bottom of the Sea Blues” – Johnny Flynn (mp3)

“Einstein’s Idea” – Johnny Flynn (mp3)

In Which We Do Not Wish We Were Djuna Barnes

This is the third in a series.

The Vicious Age

The diaries of Charles Henri Ford culminate in a tremendous amount of unhappiness. In his primary relationship with the painter Pavlik Tchelitchew and the other affairs he consummated in full view of his partner, Henri Ford brings the sex life of his period into full and magnificent display in all its decadence, glory and shame. The older Ford became, the more reluctant he became to settle on any determinative theory of art or life, so he spent most of time bouncing from muse to muse.

The entries that follow are highly excerpted from the original manuscript, which you can purchase here.

“Santa Claus,” I replied to the man in the movie house on whose lap I sat, as he fingered my penis he’d whispered in my ear, “What’s that” and simultaneously a slide with the image of St. Nick was flashed on the screen. My earliest memory of sex.

This time twenty years ago I was visiting Getrude Stein at Bilignin. The first thing she’d asked me was if there’d been sex between Carmita and me in Morocco. Raspberries were in season. A big fresh bowl of them, a generous serving of cream, arrived on the breakfast tray. Alice B. Toklas had picked them that morning. Gertrude let me read a MS-copy of her book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, to be brought out in September. “I’ve given you a boost,” she told me.

One night, by lamplight, I complimented Gertrude on her looks. “You look handsome in that light,” I said, her profile being towards me. “Yes,” she said, “we’re both very handsome.” She predicted “success” for me in Paris – warned me that I should work, work, not let personal success spoil me. She said I showed a”three-year” development in character in maturity since she’d seen me in the spring of 1932 – when I’d gone to her to repay a small loan. That repayment fetched me a line in the Autobiography: “He is also honest which is also a pleasure.”


It is as a natural for a poet to want to draw as it is for an eleven year old boy to want to masturbate a man.

How I shall enjoy leaving Pavlik one day – how free I shall feel. But everything must be set first, both for him and for me. It will be like leaving a parent – but the time must come.

Babies are no more impossible than human beings.

Pavlik’s arrogance, childishness, infantilism, narcissism — all combine into his personality, take a personal form — as does my arrogance, childishness, infantilism, narcissism.


I go out now to have the car insured against fire and theft. Pavlik has gone, without breakfast, to deposit his stool for examination.

Writing is writing, nothing else. Gertrude Stein was convinced of this, it was her chief conviction. That’s why she used so many words trying to convince others.

I went to Harlem one night with an extraordinary woman: beautiful, famous, elegant, witty, worldly. To her I was a naif, pretty, bright little boy with a Southern accent. But if I had been her, I too, would have kissed that little boy, in the taxi returning from Harlem to Greenwich Village.

The next day I was in another taxi, on the way to the French Line Pier, but I stopped by the lady’s Washington Square apartment, to pick up the gift of a book — her own — which she’d promised me. “To Little Charles — With love,” it was inscribed – and the offering was sealed with a kiss. She told me later – in Paris – that she’d wanted to kiss me sober, so as to show her drunken kisses were meant. Her name was Djuna Barnes.


Last night, high, I disclosed to Mayo the three types of females who attract my imagination: the little girl, the somnambule, and the cadaver.

Ape’s face on a bird’s body.

Where is the Equinox: the day of the conscious, the night of the unconscious? “Rhymes, too, come from the unconscious,” Auden told me. “They should stay there,” I said.

We laugh at the childish, the inappropriate, the unfortunate. At this point, 1954, the United States is much too full of its own enjoyment.

“You should show it something,” said Pavlik, of the new moon, as we walked on the starlit, moonlit roof terrace.

“I show my eyes of silver blue.”


My birthday. At the next post office, made of rocks and rills, there may be a package, postmarked Eternity (that inconceivable town), addressed to one of us, tied with strings that meet at a touch, wrapped in the skin of a transparent creature, holding an egg to explode the magic tooth which shines when the moon shines, only.

The landscape is covered with a blanket of snow. All this whiteness adds to the sense of being isolated, enclosed, one feels stimulated sexually.

Don G. was telling us how in the winter season the Italians make love less — even among the peasants — their sexual nature sleeps, like trees and such, wakes up again in the spring. And that’s why, he says, an Italian man of sixty may still appear young. I know one thing: I’m sex-starved. Any age is the vicious age.

I met Isak Dinesen. She was wearing a deep cloche of tobacco-colored straw. She talks rhythmically, and sounds as if she were reading one of her own stories. She said I am like what she expected me to be. I said, “You are beyond my expectations.”


As much of humanity in me as I can stand.


In Which We Have Gabriel And Damascus

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


My boyfriend Marcus O’Neill and I have a great sex life, averaging about five times a week if we are able to see each other that frequently with our schedules. Marcus recently confessed that he still masturbates himself to orgasm on a dialy basis whether we have sex or not.

I was pretty shocked by this. Is that kind of frequency normal for someone in a relationship, and should I be worried that I am not satisfying Marcus O’Neill’s needs? (I asked him what he thinks about when he does it, and he says me/pornography.)

Ashley T.

Dear Dinah,

Some people use masturbation as a panacea for a variety of common problems: sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, reaction trauma, boredom or if there is not a fresh juice box on hand.

Habits are developed early on, and are sometimes hard to reliably break. You might think that Marcus should be completed by what you do together, but it’s possible you are just making him more enervated and aroused. This may not altogether be a bad thing.

If he does have this much tester one floating around in the ether, then it is also good he has found a way to express it that doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, except of course the victims of the Los Angeles-based pornography industry.

We get a lot of questions about pornography, most of them suggesting that it is terrible and should not exist. There is no easy reply to this sentiment, because it will always exist as long as the human body is titillating and easy to display.

If he hasn’t already, suggesting Marcus do this in front of you may assuage some of your fears. He may believe you are not interested in his private time, so reassure him with soft comments like, “That’s an impressive grip!” or “You’re actually good at this?” The only person in the world who does not benefit from encouragement is Howard Schultz.


I’ve been in a relationship with this guy for less than a month and he wants me to meet his parents and entire family over passover, but I’m feeling a bit reluctant about going. I haven’t given him an answer yet, and it would mean the world to him if I went. What should I do?

Annie S.

Dear Annie,

Are you reluctant because you think it’s too soon to meet his parents or because you’re not that into him and the thought of spending a holiday with him AND his family has you wishing for a chance to wander 40 years in the desert? If it’s the former, just go with it. It’s probably not that big of a deal, unless the guy’s intense in other ways, too. (If he is, just tell him to tone it down.) If it’s the latter, then maybe this is a sign that you should get out of this relaysh.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s main site at


“Yesterday’s Tapes” – Telepath (mp3)

In Which We Receive Perfect Kindness And Courage


Where The Sidewalk Ends


dir. Kenneth Branagh
105 minutes


There was an episode of ABC’s The Bachelor where, in a cross-promotional opportunity with Cinderella that was rather shameless, even for Disney, former Playboy centerfold Jade Roper went on a princess date with Chris. Jade received a new dress and, as a mode of pre-gaming, was permitted to watch an “exclusive clip” from the movie on an iPad. It’s possibly the least exciting moment of the season, but I did note that Lady Rose (Lily James) from Downton Abbey was to be Cinderella. What I didn’t realize until I settled into my seat at the theater, right on time for the 2 p.m. showing, was that Downton Abbey‘s sous chef Daisy (Sophie McShera) was in it as well. She plays a stepsister. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The other night, happily strolling the streets of Manhattan, I saw a rat crawling cautiously in the middle of the sidewalk. In New York rats are ubiquitous, but only in the subways, so you can imagine my fear/curiosity. A nearby child also noted the animal and was eager to investigate, but his mother pulled him away saying, “It’s probably sick.” I mean, it had to be sick, right, to venture above ground, away from the roaring express trains, relentless mysterious puddles, and expired metro cards peppering gum-speckled platforms? I took at least two showers when I got back to my apartment and still felt like I had caught some sort of rat disease, or that it had followed me inside my building, or that it now resided in my hair.

In Cinderella, the notion of rodents doesn’t repel — in fact, the rodents are named and revered, not unlike Micky Mouse himself. Cinderella speaks to them more than she speaks to anyone else in the film, and the narrator (who is actually the fairy godmother, obviously played by Helena Bonham Carter) notes, unnecessarily, that they’re her bffs.

When Cinderella is a child (back then she’s just known as Ella), her mother assures her that animals speak, listen, and understand humans, but it’s implied you have to be blonde, clad in blue, and somewhat earthy for that to work. In Disney’s 1950 animated version of Cinderella, Gus Gus the mouse is adorable, partially because he is pristinely animated, wears a cute t-shirt, talks, is fully capable of preparing his own meals, helps Cinderella with chores, and is just an adorable, nonthreatening human in mouse form. In this live action version, Gus is played by that rat I saw on the sidewalk.

A big take-away from the film is animal rights, or, as they say in academia, animal studies. As a vegetarian, an addict of breeching whale videos on youtube, and someone who enjoys having my feet warmed by soft golden retrievers, I like to smugly profess my love and respect for animals. Unfortunately, it was hard to get past the filthy mice that were permitted and in fact invited inside Cinderella’s home, which can only be described as the interior of your corner Anthropologie (you could practically smell the $24 Santiago huckleberry candles, and they let rats in that haven of shabby chic?).

When Cinderella first meets the prince, they are in the woods. She is galloping away from the cruelty of Daisy, Cate Blanchett, and the other stepsister (Holliday Grainger) and finds herself in the midst of a royal hunt. The gentlemen on horseback are after a CGI stag. “Run away,” Cinderella whispers to the deer in much the same way she communicates with the mice. Shortly thereafter, the prince gallops up and mansplains that hunting is “what’s done,” to which Cinderella replies, “just because it’s done doesn’t mean it’s right,” or something, and he is visibly moved.

During this meet-cute, their horses are circling each other dizzyingly, but they stop suddenly after she tells him of her acquaintance with the stag. The camera focuses deeply on his soulless blue eyes, and we see that their entire romance hinges on her defense of the animal, which she tells the prince “has a lot more life to live.” We never see Cinderella eat meat.

The other thing is that the stepsisters and stepmother (Cate Blanchett) are incredibly coiffed, their nails painted, lips vibrantly red, and yet they are the most ‘animal.’ They laugh like hyenas at Cinderella’s soot-covered face and try their hardest to eradicate her sense of self. They rename her and tell her she’s worthless because of their thinly veiled jealousy. The irony is perhaps a bit too heavy-handed, but the joy of clear irony is that nobody misses it, and in politics, you can never be too clear.

“I forgive you,” Cinderella finally says to her stepmother after her foot fits inside the glass slipper, and we recognize the power of good over evil and the freedom of forgiveness, those hopeful ideas that fairy tales so beautifully deliver to even the most cynical audiences. The message is solid, and it goes against criticism that Cinderella, or at least the 2015 imagining, is sexist. In this version, the protagonist is not a pushover who needs a prince to validate her.

The fact of the matter is that yes, Cinderella is treated like a servant and takes forever to finally speak up, but she’s unbreakable in a dazzling Kimmy Schmidt sense. It’s pretty clear she likes the prince for political reasons — by marrying him, we can expect a ban on ruthless hunts for blameless deer and, hopefully, vegetarianism for all of the kingdom. She listens to her mother, who on her deathbed makes her promise to “have courage and be kind.” She’s a regular liberal, and she achieves her goals subtly, by leaning the fuck in.

In one scene, Cinderella’s twice-widowed stepmother explains the tragedy of her first two marriages. Can we blame her for being pissed that her new husband really only cares about his spawn from his first wife, who died in a gloriously Victorian way — suddenly and gracefully, after a single faint followed by foreboding, indistinct murmurings from a country doctor? If it weren’t for her cruelty and monetary greediness, we would nearly pity Cinderella’s stepmother, and plus it’s Cate Blanchett, who is lovely. We get perfect kindness and courage from Lady Rose, obvi, and perhaps most intriguingly a real outside-of-the-box Daisy, who prances around in a hoop skirt like she’s never worked dinner at Downton in her life.

Like Downton Abbey’s obsession with the changing times (I swear, if I hear Carson lament bygone days one more time, I’m giving up on everything, including knowing whether or not Thomas finds love), this is a Cinderella about a changing society — about a commoner shockingly marrying royalty, about a kingdom transformed by a woman’s insistence on being kind to animals, even rats, and about a man being open with his foot fetish.

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

“How Can I” – Laura Marling (mp3)

“Divine” – Laura Marling (mp3)

In Which We Exercise Materialism To The Extreme

The Point of Tears


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock

With a spirit of a whimsical middle schooler, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) skips throughout New York City armed with a purple Jansport backpack and two paperback books in Netflix’s new comedic series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. After being held captive for 15 years in an underground bunker with three other women, Kimmy forges a path of her own with minimal survival skills.

For Kimmy, starting anew means shedding her identity as one of the Indiana mole woman. The prospect of putting behind the trauma of Durnsville, Indiana puts Kimmy at ease. Along with adjusting herself to metropolitan life, Kimmy makes grand discoveries in the 21st century like a child peering into a treasure chest for the first time. The show doesn’t belittle Kimmy’s traumatic experiences, whether they would be sexual or physical abuse from cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm).

Behind Kimmy’s infectious, pearly white smile, there lies a thick veil of darkness to her backstory. The underground bunker provided a place for her fears to fester. The sound of velcro makes Kimmy cringe outrageously to the point of tears.

Unlike the other three women, Kimmy has no desire to return to a place that slashed 15 years off her precious life. To start a new life in a new city, one must secure the necessities: job security and shelter. In reality, apartment hunting is stressfull; this stress is almost absent in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy scours the classifieds and finds an apartment she’s interested in. She is greeted by Lillian (Carol Kane), an eccentric and spaced out landlord for a potential apartment.

Lillian introduces Kimmy to her downstairs tenant, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), an aspiring actor who is trying hard to make it big on Broadway and has been for a long time. As a New Yorker, Titus is a resilient improviser when it comes to handling difficult situations head-on. In an episode, Titus constructs a chic and Oscar-winning outfit for Kimmy by using everyday household products: bathroom mat, toilet hardware, among many others.

Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), an Upper East Side Manhattanite, employs Kimmy as a nanny. While working in the Voorhees’ household, she changes her last name from “Schmidt” to “Smith” to prevent anyone from discovering her Indiana mole women status. As a nanny, Kimmy excels in interacting with Mrs. Voorhees’ moody teenage stepdaughter, Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula) who is under the full suspicion that Kimmy has something to hide. Kimmy naturally becomes her confidant while on the job throughout the series.

Mrs. Voorhees exercises materialism to the extreme and has a refrigerator stocked with off-brand FIJI water labeled “diet water.” Wealthy people always have an abundance of white towels and a fridge stocked with the same items. When she offers Kimmy a bottle to hydrate, Kimmy politely declines, and she proceeds to toss it into the waste basket. As a teenager, Mrs. Voorhees dyed her hair blonde and moved away from her home of South Dakota. Her origins and backstory appear to have broken elements that will hopefully appear in the second season.

Creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock successfully build a successful female heroine with a group of equally charming, eccentric supporting actors. Along with the diversity of the cast, the comedic one-liners make audience members fall to their knees. The range of racial stereotypes represented on the show aren’t intended to be mean spirited. Kimmy’s GED study partner Dong (Ki Hong Lee) is a Chinese delivery guy who wins the affection of Kimmy. One of the character faults is his character being built around sexual jokes surrounding the origins of his Vietnamese name, which has sexual connotations. It’s a cheap comedy trope, and Fey has been criticized for this kind of stuff before.

The show features the upbeat pace and cadence of Fey’s 30 Rock, ensuring its appeal to existing fans of Fey and Carlock’s work. Watching the entire series in one sitting closely resembles the feeling of witnessing a stream of candy fall out from a paper mâché piñata at a child’s birthday party. It’s rewarding and sweet. We glimmer at her childlike freedom. Something we wished we still had.

Mia Nguyen is the features editor of This Recording. You can find her website here.

“Hold No Guns” – Death Cab for Cutie (mp3)

In Which We Came To Expect The Answers



Your life is not what you thought it would be. You thought by now you would have a best-selling book or a house or at least a baby. When did you first think these things? Eighteen? Nineteen? Always? After you turned twenty-five life started to feel unreal, like you’d be getting a do-over button any day now. Your peers started settling down and sorting out and you felt misplaced.

Adulthood only mixed things up for you. Responsibilities disrupted the idea of dreams, which were never very clear to you anyway. A book, a house, a baby. You still think about that king-sized bed in Boston and how you discovered your body could roll away from him twice and you still didn’t reach the edge. You still think about driving drunk down the street you lived on, going five miles per hour, sobbing and pleading he would be waiting at your place. Using the rules of The Secret to will it into existence, but you didn’t see him again for another three years and, by then, good riddance. You wandered New York City and cried in crosswalks for one full month and slept with friends of friends and boyfriends of friends. You bought platform shoes.

first ofsoedfrewrw

Your cheeks became surfaces of tiny bumps and your mother tells you, Rosacea. Your mother assures you, Rosacea. Just like her. You plan trips and you travel and it feels good to have something the rest do not. Books, houses, babies do not travel well, but you do. In Nice, you yell “I’m leaving” at the British geologist who asks whether you’ll sleep on the beach with him. You yell it at least twice before you realize there is no tram service or taxis and the inquiring man has thrown his hands up and walked away backwards like it’s a stick-up.

You plod the length of the tram, looking down side streets until you find a driver willing to take you back to your hostel. He takes all of your European money and your American money as fare. It’s late, he explains. In the morning you write the British man an e-mail to apologize and he responds that he enjoyed you. Was intrigued. Will you meet him by the beach you first met on a few days earlier? Whole paragraphs and you never write back. You picture him standing on all of the rocks and squinting into the sun as he tries to look for you. He probably went swimming. He probably met someone else.

In Barcelona your host expects that you’ll be like the other Americans who have come to stay. Party, party, party he explains and tells you a story in broken English about two girls pretending to be “Funny Bunnies”. You stare blankly back at his expectant face when he is finished. “That’s not an American thing, sorry. I’m not sure.” You feel old. Dislocated. You travel. You travel. When you do not, you rotate around routines. Farmer’s market eggs on Saturday, Kramerbooks on Sunday, at least one Smithsonian museum a week. You count the escalator steps, you guess what people will eat for lunch.

the second of the

You apply to creative writing MFA programs for fiction and you are not a fiction writer. You are rejected from every single one and you wonder whether that was exactly what you wanted. Your stories make no sense to you a year later. You decide to forgive everyone who has ever hurt you. You decide to quit your job. You decide to be happy. Decisions are not your strength — wavering is. So, you waver. You seek the ocean. You come expecting answers and you get waves. They’re no longer the metaphorical things they used to be, but they are still beautiful. You try to see yourself in that, but you’re tired of metaphors and similes and anything that might be related to writing or poems.

You listen to the same song on repeat and words come, but they are not your own. You have written the lyrics. You finally get glasses and you stop traveling so much. You commit to a person and a place. You bake bread and wash the dishes in the sink. Loading the dishwasher will never be your thing. You buy a box of records and only listen to The Carpenters and John Denver. You think about buying a car or a moped or some form of transportation that you cannot sell for 50 dollars on Craigslist when you leave again. You walk every day and use a face scrub on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Your desk piles with new books and you miss several hundred others in boxes back east.

the first of the

You write, but it is no longer a way of discovering yourself. It is for paying credit card bills and achieving notoriety or at least a Google alert. You write, but you can never decide on endings. You seek endings, but you can never settle. You have memories, but it feels like you weren’t there at all. Like you are remembering stories someone told you when you were little, half-heard whisperings just before you gave into sleep. You commit to a group climbing Mount Kilamanjaro. You look for the cheapest flights to Alaska. Your life is not what you thought it would be.

Amanda Oliver is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Photographs by the author.

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In Which There Are Times He Resembles A Penny Loafer

Color Me Grey


The Fall
creator Alan Cubitt

When Jamie Dornan isn’t murdering brunettes in Belfast, he’s busy slinging Dakota Johnson over his knee to spank her. Now that BBC’s The Fall has been renewed for a third season, in which he’ll (presumably) pick up the role of serial killer Paul Spector, Dornan will likely continue his spree as one of the most disturbing televised turn-ons. It isn’t much of a surprise: with his breathy brogue, Dornan could resemble a penny loafer and still drop every pair of panties west of the Atlantic. What is ironic, however, is the fact that his serial killer, Paul Spector, is ten times sexier than his billionaire sadist, Christian Grey. Whether that says more about Dornan’s abilities, Fifty Shades of Grey, or human desire, I’m not sure.

The Fall, created by Allan Cubitt, follows Spector as he commits a string of murders around Belfast, and focuses on the local police force, led by Detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), as they attempt to catch him.


As far as crime dramas go, The Fall doesn’t offer much novelty. The narrative zeroes in on both the killer and the detectives pursuing him, which is refreshing, but hardly new — remember Dexter?  The Fall pounds the point home yet again that nobody’s innocent. Detectives stalk Spector in much the same way that Spector stalks his female victims. Spector’s young daughter Olivia and his wife lie to the police. Spector is just as capable of accomplishing positive things (raising children, helping a woman escape her abusive spouse) as the detectives are capable of doing negative things (becoming media informants, beating up women). We get it: everybody’s terrible!

Thankfully, the series doesn’t spend too much time on this theme. It’s more concerned with the gritty present, not its characters’ tragic pasts, and this lends a sort of clinical agnosticism to its moral judgments, not to mention its characterization. Since Spector’s — not to mention the detectives’ — motives are cloudy, we can only judge them by their actions. And this is where The Fall really shines.

Take Detective Stella Gibson, for example. We know almost nothing about her except that she’s from London, she’s competent, and, like her spiritual predecessor, Dana Scully, she’s logical to the extreme. The problem? She’s also attractive. Her boss, Jim (John Lynch), can barely control himself around her, even though their affair ended years ago. When she leaves a button undone on her blouse during a press conference, it’s all anybody can talk about — not the fact that she’s the one who answers all the questions with poise. After a one-night stand with a colleague who happens to be married — and later gets killed — Gibson gains a reputation as a loose woman who doesn’t respect conventions like marriage or professional distance.

This is the uneasy truce men have made with women: they won’t question your professional prowess, as long as you shed it (along with your clothes) once they visit your hotel room. If not, they’ll get sullen — or predictably, violent.

Paul Spector kills successful women for reasons that The Fall’s first two seasons only begin to untangle. But it’s not a stretch to imagine that Spector shares a similar history with Jamie Dornan’s other character, Christian Grey, whose “dark side” involves silk ties and a riding crop.

Sure, there’s a huge, and perhaps categorical, difference between those who like it rough and those who rough women up, but the stories are the same: they ask us to look into the character’s past to decipher why he has become like this, what has brought him to this point — so that we can empathize, perhaps forgive, and in poor, spanked Dakota Johnson’s case, even love the perpetrator.

At one point in The Fall, Spector breaks into Detective Gibson’s hotel room and steals her journal. Although its contents aren’t revealed in any great detail to viewers, Spector later taunts Stella about what she has written concerning her father, hinting at a twisted relationship.

He means to prove that he’s not the only one with twisted sexual desires, but instead, he reveals a tragic point: in Stella’s case, nobody will forgive. Nobody will empathize. Nobody will love. A man’s past justifies his end; a woman’s condemns hers.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording.

“Mona Lisa” – Goodbyemotel (mp3)