If you've been looking for a new feminist TV hero, allow us to present Stella Gibson
There are a lot of shows disappearing from Netflix when February dawns its frosty dawn (goodbye, Jem and the Holograms, our time together was sweet). But one addition to the Netflix universe is an absolute must-watch. The Fall, a BBC drama, was recently released in its entirety on Netflix and it’s a series that you need to put on your sweatpants for and watch right now. It’s a crime show, but it’s not your typical crime show. It’s also a total fan and critical favorite. Two points for The Fall and we’ve barely even gotten started.
The audience is pulled right into the show’s investigation from the start, when Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson of The X-Files fame) is called in from London to look into what turns out to be a serial killer on the loose in Belfast, Ireland.
As the outward observer, we are given glimpses into both sides. We’re privy to the case DS Gibson begins to build, but we are also witnesses to the murders themselves committed by Paul Spector, a somewhat unassuming bereavement counselor (played by Jamie Dornan, who will soon be appearing as Christian Grey in the much talked-about 50 Shades movie). In spite of (or perhaps because of) the show’s intense and often-times dark nature, Stella Gibson is an absolutely phenomenal character and is quickly ascending the ranks as one of our very fave feminist heroines — and with good reason. Here are just a few of the reasons Stella is a new fave.
She is unapologetically confident as a woman of authority
First and foremost, Stella is an outsider. She originally hails from London, and when she’s brought in to review a case in Ireland, there are understandably quite a few ruffled feathers. On the one hand, she’s not there to make friends. On the other, she’s not entirely cold when it comes to having a rapport with her co-workers. From the beginning of the case, Stella finds a common thread with constable Danielle Ferrington and becomes something of a mentor to her. She also bonds with pathologist Paula Reed Smith (played by Archie Panjabi of The Good Wife). In a male-dominated police force, it’s refreshing to see these types of relationships portrayed without cattiness or insincerity.
She calls out the double standard between men and women
In a season two episode, Stella is called out by a co-worker for the basis of her fascination with the case. It’s not the first time she’s had to endure a somewhat sexist line of questioning, and it definitely won’t be the last. Rather than become defensive, she leaves him with food for thought, paraphrasing a quote by Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” It’s an unrepentant viewpoint — blunt, harsh, polarizing, and (once again) unapologetic. It is a perspective made even more striking by the knowledge that The Fall is a program primarily created, written, and directed by a male showrunner. There are several nuggets of truth like this dropped throughout the show by Stella’s character, a true feminist.
She isn’t afraid to acknowledge the misrepresentation of women in the media
It’s plain to see that this case means more to Stella than what’s just on the surface. She clearly cares about each victim, assigning them each their own unique identity that would be overlooked by most detectives. When a peer would rather lump them all together based on their looks, or age range, Stella shuts down the idea. If the next victim was to break the pattern somehow, it wouldn’t be fair to imply that she doesn’t fit the mold. Each individual deserves the respect of being remembered.
She doesn’t feel compelled to pursue a traditional career path
Stella isn’t a typical slave to her job. She’s a competent professional in her field, but she doesn’t shy away from pursuing a social life. She isn’t married and she doesn’t have children — but she doesn’t pine for either or mourn for what might have been. It’s a refreshing take on the trope of the driven career woman who secretly longs to have a family. She’s simply at the point in her life where she’s focused on her job and her capability to do that job, and the show doesn’t see that as a problem.
She stands up for herself, but we see her vulnerability too
There are several instances where Stella’s internal strength just can’t be kept subtle anymore and seeps through to the external. When a co-worker makes a drunken advance on her in spite of her refusals, she promptly punches him in the nose. When she’s threatened by a group of thugs after revisiting a crime scene, she calmly asserts herself before getting into her car and driving away. However, she’s visibly rattled — and with good reason — when she realizes that killer Paul Spector has been in her hotel room after she finds a note he’s left for her in her journal. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for Stella, but it reveals that there’s more to her than just the seemingly cold exterior. Women can have vulnerabilities, and feelings, and still be loud and proud feminists.
So who is Stella Gibson? Well even Gillian Anderson, in a piece she wrote for Yahoo! TV, said that she’s still trying to answer that question. We’ve been offered pieces here and there, but we still haven’t gotten the full picture. I for one am eagerly anticipating the announcement of The Fall being renewed for a third season — if only to give this powerful woman more opportunities to drop her feminist truth bombs. And in the meantime thank you Netflix for the gift of seasons one and two. We are so ready to deep dive.