The Impossibility of Being An Übermensch: Some Thoughts on BBC’s “The Fall”

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[Warning: This blog contains some spoilers.]

When I began watching The Fall on Netflix, the last thing I expected to encounter was a challenge to Friedrich W. Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch. But as the show progressed to the end of its second season, it became clearer and clearer that narratival closure would be provided by the explicit denial that Nietzsche’s ideal man (i.e. the Übermensch) is humanly achievable. Let me explain.

What is the Übermensch?

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Nietzsche’s Übermensch (overman, or superman) would be

an exemplary figure and an exception among humans, one “whose inexhaustible fertility and power keep up the faith in man.” […]  (http://www.iep.utm.edu/nietzsch/)

The inexhaustible fertility and power of which Nietzsche speaks are exhibited in the inexhaustible creative activity of such a man in his rejection of moral norms, as well as in the creation and forceful assertion of his own system of values. In other words, the Übermensch is beyond good and evil, specifically as articulated in the system of Christianity, and establishes his own rules.

And this is precisely what Paul Spector, a serial killer played by actor Jamie Dornan, claims to have done. In conversation with Superintendent Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson), Spector claims to have moved beyond good and evil, to have moved beyond the slave-morality of “the herd” (Nietzsche’s characterization of Christian morality). As one blogger notes:

[Later in the series] Paul has called Gibson to mock her for her inability to catch him so far and to tell her that she never will. He then launches into a Nietzschean tirade against morality that for us viewer is rather surprising.

[…]Paul’s Nietzschean musings present a startling portrait of how he actually sees himself; not as a failed family man and sadistic killer but a superman willing to go against the conventional world.

(http://strangesubject.tumblr.com/post/84113447568/after-the-fall, emphasis added)

The Specter of Christian Morality in Spector’s Delusions of Power

Spector’s attempt to exist and act beyond and evil, nevertheless, is ruined by the fact that he sees children as innocent, unworthy of death, and in need of protection. If Spector is beyond good and evil, above the herd morality that views the abuse of children as inherently wrong, and for the same reason Spector gives (i.e. they are innocent), then how does this strong desire to protect his innocent children, as well as his guilt over killing a woman who was pregnant, make any sense?

Gibson plays on this contradiction at the end of season two, once Spector has been caught. And this is the point that drives him to explode with anger. Throughout the series, Spector is quiet, soft-spoken, stealthy, although murderous and violent. Yet it is only this revelation of his inherently contradictory worldview that causes him to violently blurt out expletives at this representative of the very law he claims to have transcended via serial killing.

Spector, in fact, has not transcended the herd morality he thinks he despises. Rather, he has picked and chosen what rules he wants to follow, and the rules by which he will judge others. In refusing to harm his wife and children, he reveals his natural desire to be a father, to be the father/parent that he did not have (this is also revealed in the last episode of the second season). In apologizing to the father of a murder victim who was pregnant, he reveals that he does, in fact, have feelings of guilt.

The Plight of the Natural Man

Scripture teaches that all men are in the state that Paul Spector finds himself in: We are walking contradictions. On the one hand, we desire autonomy, “freedom” from having to obey God’s law, “freedom” to create our own moral values. On the other hand, we dogmatically cling to other divinely bequeathed laws and seek to hold ourselves and others accountable to them. In our desire to prove that we are not created for God and his purposes, we only further corroborate what God’s Word teaches.

Ironically, even in his desire to transcend the authoritative voices of conscience, God, state, and family, Spector must identify these authorities as illegitimate and wrongfully superimposed upon his thoughts, words, and deeds. If the desire to be free to do as one wishes is good, and Spector thinks it is, and that desire is being suppressed by some external authority, then the external authority is bad and demands moral opposition to it.

The identification of God’s law as oppressive and bad is itself wrong, but it is not morally neutral. Therefore, if one wishes to be free from all moral constraints, then one implicitly accepts some authority which legitimates one’s rebellion against those moral constraints, and this is itself a moral constraint on one’s behavior.

Concluding Remarks

While The Fall was most likely not written to explore the fundamental contradiction residing in all men, it does an excellent job of revealing that God’s image is indelibly impressed onto every human being, even the serial killer psychopath who claims to be beyond good and evil.

Man is a creature made in God’s image. Man cannot, no matter how hard he tries to, destroy that image.

-h.

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