Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Maybe you saw this coming, maybe you didn’t but whatever the case, “Falling” is one of the most devastatingly brilliant hours of television I have seen in recent years.
“Falling” begins with one of Camille’s dreams. This time it’s of the dollhouse that Amma spends a lot of time tending to. This is a perfect replica of their own house. In early episodes we saw that Camille’s room had no floor, therefore uninhabitable for her. As she looks in through the windows, a shadow walks by. This creepy image awakens her from her slumber. She finds herself in bed, undressed, scars on display for the world, which inevitably leaves her feeling vulnerable. Adora lurks in the corner of the room, always watching.
Adora plays the part of doting mother now, pretending to care for Camille now that she’s injured after taking a nasty fall, apparently while saving Amma’s life. Her ankle is swollen, her elbows scuffed, she has indeed become Amma’s protector, and this must be a threat to Adora, certainly upon learning the secrets that are revealed today. She needs to keep Camille down and tries to give her some medicine from an ominous blue bottle, but Camille won’t take it. She always refused, that’s why she is alive today — broken into little pieces but alive.
Knowing that she won’t be able to play the “poor me” card with Camille, she turns to the alternative — the way she has been killing Camille for years — with cruelty of the mental kind. Adora tells her, “This has been coming for a while. Your health is not a debt you just cancel. The body collects.” Camille collected Adora’s cruelty in the form of scars and alcoholism.
Amma is a different story. Camille goes to see her in her room where she’s playing with the dollhouse and she tells Camille that the best part of getting wasted is that Momma takes care of her. But Amma knows what her mother is doing to her. She tries to refuse the poison but gives in quickly when Adora pulls her “woe is me” act. This is not the rebellious girl we’ve seen skating the streets. It appears that Amma is torn between not wanting to die — she asks her mother if she’ll ever grow up, a question that Adora diverts from answering — and wanting the attention her mother gives her whilst she’s being “treated.” Amma is perhaps developing Munchausen’s herself, taking drugs on purpose, knowing full well what will happen next. Perhaps subconsciously Camille has been doing the same, but not for her mother’s love. I find it hard to believe that Camille made all those cuts herself, in the hard to reach places, the words faced towards an audience — did Adora write the first words and Camille carry on the pattern? It is almost as if Adora is proud of her work, wanting to display it for the world to see. We saw it in the dressing room when she forced her to show her half-naked body, and again when she disrobed her and put her in a revealing nightgown.
Amma refuses to allow Camille to put a doll in her mother’s bedroom within the dollhouse, barred entry inside even there. Why? Does Amma really follow her mother’s rules that closely? I can’t help but feel there is something more to this. What is in that room that is off limits to Camille?
Detective Willis’s interest in Camille becomes more of a priority than finding the killer after a tip from Jackie leads him to a Nurse Beverley, now working at a Methadone clinic having being fired from her job at the hospital for alerting the police to the truth — the truth that Police Chief Vickery certainly didn’t want getting out. Marian’s medical files are littered with admissions, proving that she’d seen several different physicians for various illnesses over a number of years, with Adora playing it off well enough to deflect suspicion by strangers. It is only strangers, after all, who have no loyalty to Adora; the rest of the town is complicit.
Adora is slowly killing her children. But why? What drove her to this? Is it purely the need for attention, to be seen as the doting parent of a suffering child? Is it true that her own mother used to pinch her, and probably much worse, as a child? It is often the case that MBPS runs through generations, being passed from mother (usually) to a child who never knows any different. Watching Adora delight in creating her concoction, crushing the tablets ritualistically, dancing with joy to Alan’s music as she prepares to kill again, is beyond disturbing. She’s never been happier than in this moment. If she enjoys hurting those she’s supposed to love, is the pulling of her eyelashes to cause crocodile tears?
Back in town, poor John Keene is being set up for the murders of his sister and Ann Nash. The evidence is stacked against him. A false witness saw him dump Ann’s bike in the waters of his former place of work, then during a raid of his girlfriend Ashley’s house, she is quickly and easily encouraged by Vickery to give him up in exchange for the fame and notoriety it will give her. She glances at the carpet under the bed where a bloodstain was found — most likely planted, but by whom? Amma and friends? They’re there often enough — and then tells Vickery that John won’t have sex with her. The killer not sexually assaulting the girls before their deaths seals John’s fate. So, it appears that Ashley is not involved in the killings, but she is truly awful.
News travels fast in Wind Gap and now that it appears they know who the killer is, despite John not being arrested yet, the townsfolk let their kids out to play. Camille tracks down John at a Mexican watering hole out of sight of the police. What exactly she was looking for in trying to find him is hard to say as this is way more than a news story to her now. They share the same hurt — the loss of their little sisters and the blame for their sisters’ deaths — and John is someone she can find solace in and maybe some understanding. John tries and fails to make her believe he did it, telling the story of their murder pretty convincingly, but it doesn’t convince Camille. He then turns to the truth of the matter — that Ann and Natalie were two girls with minds of their own who were swallowed up by the town. He admits he didn’t do it, but knows what fate awaits him and says he wants to die. He gives Camille one snippet of information that may help his case: that Natalie’s nails were painted when they found her body, and she’d never do that.
What happened next though I really wasn’t expecting.
John tells Camille she is beautiful, and the conversation takes a flirtatious twist. Her face both incredulous and doubtful in response, she is drawn to him and tells him he is beautiful too. She follows him to his motel room; the lure of harming herself in one way or another is something she cannot resist. This is definitely a bad idea. He’s 18, a high school kid, and he’s about to be arrested for the murder she has been reporting on. Nevertheless, she allows him to undress her, something she has likely never let happen before. “You read me,” she says as he speaks words etched into her skin. Drained. Cherry. Sick. Gone. Wrong. Wicked. He does read her, in every sense. Drawn to her pain because it reflects his own. In an achingly beautiful moment, he kisses the word “Mercy” carved into her back and she lets him in.
While he may not have been able to go there with Ashley, John had no problems finding passion for Camille, something that may just help his cause further down the line. But for now all hell is going to break loose, for him and maybe more so for Camille. The pair lay awake in bed talking about Ann and Natalie. He has scars from a bite his sister gave him. She bit a lot of people and I suspect it was she who caused the damage to Ashley’s ear. He tells Camille that her mother was the only person who cared about Ann and Natalie, that she took them in, wanted to solve them. It begins to dawn on Camille just what her mother has done. “She couldn’t solve me,” she says and realises that Adora couldn’t solve the girls either. Was this enough to make her kill?
Camille attempts to dress quickly to leave, but it’s too late. The police arrive, Vickery and Willis leading the way, kicking the door in and discovering the pair in an obvious tryst. Devastating. My heart broke for both Willis and Camille in this moment. There’s no way of explaining this away. In almost silent raging chaos John is arrested and led away. Camille huddles under the covers, wishing it away, shame filling the air. It was never going to turn out well for Camille and Willis. It seems that she is just not able to hold a happy and healthy relationship — her scars are too deep for that — but I had real hope for them.
Left alone in a suffocatingly tense moment she tries, somewhat pathetically, to tell him that it’s not what it looks like. His response is intimately humiliating: “This room stinks of you. Believe me I know that smell.” She begs him to understand, tries to kiss him, then drops to her knees to offer him pleasure — whatever she can do in her desperation for him not to hate her. He can only respond with cruelty. He is hurt, and I totally understand that, but his words cut deep. He tells her, “I don’t think you’re bad, okay. I think one bad thing happened and you blamed the rest of your shitty life on it. People really buy it… your sad story. But really you’re just a drunk and a slut.”
I felt defeated just watching but somehow Camille finds the strength to carry on, to get to her sister before Adora goes too far. I am not sure if it was out of kindness or cruelty, maybe both, but Willis leaves the medical records he’d compiled on her sisters in Camille’s car. As Jackie had been the person who had requested the records, Camille drives straight to her house to get some answers. She gets them, and it’s not good news. The people she should trust the most — her friend, her stepfather, the chief of police — they all knew and did nothing.
While it certainly seems that Adora is suspect number 1 in this case now, I can’t shake the feeling that there is more to this. MBPS doesn’t usually bleed out further than within the family and while Adora may have taken these girls in, they were not her daughters. They lived firmly within their own families, albeit wildly. Mystery still surrounds what happened to Ann Nash’s mother. Secondly, everything Adora does is with grace and beauty. I cannot imagine her getting her hands dirty or having the strength to pull teeth. She may well have someone doing her work for her, which would, once again, leave pretty much anyone in the town under suspicion.
Everything is falling apart for Camille now, but not just for her. Alan, who is quietly aware of what his wife is doing, slowly killing a second daughter of his, weeps as he remembers dancing and singing with Amma in happier and healthier times. Can he bear to lose another child? Will he do the right thing this time? And can Vickery, who clearly loves Adora, really allow this to happen on his watch again? While he may have let her get away with it once, presumably out of infatuation — a place where Adora keeps him safely — he does feel protective of his townsfolk, even the troublesome roller skaters who drive him crazy. Then there’s Jackie. The weight of this secret has driven her to self-medicate with alcohol and pills for years. Will she say enough is enough? Just what hold does Adora have over them all? Do they keep her secret to protect their own?
Camille is perhaps the only person strong enough, despite all her weaknesses, to serve justice on her mother now and fight for her sister. In the final moments, Amma rises, her head adorned with a crown of flowers and a murderous look on her face, but who is in for trouble? Just whose side is Amma on?
Marian looks on from the shadows, the green urn containing her ashes sitting on the landing that she haunts, lit up like a trophy. For Adora, that’s exactly what she is.