Foolishly, I didn’t start watching the Parisian police-and-legal-drama Spiral (aka Engrenages) until the fourth series aired on BBC4, but I recently picked up the first series (2005) on DVD, to see how it all began!
The thing I really love about this show is that there are so many different plots and sub-plots simmering away, that you can never be sure if a crime is going to be a simple case-of-the-week, expand over a couple of episodes, or form the main spine of the series… and while those on the side of justice score enough “wins” to save viewers from total despair, there are still enough losses and screw-ups to keep it from seeming like simple-minded “morality porn”. The Good Guys generally try to do the right thing, but they don’t always succeed, and they aren’t always given the support they require to pull it off… or enough objective information to establish what “the right thing” might be, in every given situation… which keeps you on your toes, both mentally and morally. I also like the way that the main characters zig and zag out of each other’s lives, sometimes colliding head-on, sometimes travelling side-by-side, and sometimes spinning off on their own little solo adventures. Not all of the loose ends were tied up as satisfactorily as I might have liked, but this debut still stands as an impressive statement of intent, and a solid blueprint for the future series.
On the downside, I was a little put-off by some of the wankier directorial choices, regarding how they got into and out of scenes… instead of a simple establishing shot of a location, they’d crash-zoom into office windows, or swoop down at characters, as if the camera were a pigeon about to land on their heads! They also used a lot of shoddy fast-forward dashes down corridors, which added nothing to the scenes, beyond a slight feeling of travel-sickness. I know this sounds petty but it really took me out of the show’s reality, because it drew too much attention to the fact I was looking at actors waiting for the camera to reach them, rather than spying on a genuine conversation. Another complaint I have… well, it’s nobody’s fault, really, but if someone was talking during a gory autopsy scene, it meant I had to look directly at the screen to see the subtitles, and couldn’t avoid any of the blood-and-guts behind them. I also suspect that some swearing was toned down in the subtitles, because in one episode a character was supposedly calling himself “a waster”, but then when clips from that scene were used in a later recap, the translation had changed to “a shit” instead! This leads me to think that some of the criminals who made comments about “Jews” or “black men”, were probably also using offensive racial slurs which were then cleaned up by the BBC’s subtitling/censorship department… which seems a little misleading, really. It makes all those murderers and rapists appear much more polite and respectful than they actually were!
On the double-plus side, the cast were as excellent (and oddly loveable) as ever. Caroline Proust did excellent work, ably mixing and matching the various facets of Police Captain ‘Laure Berthaud’, from tough to flirty to righteous to naive… and Audrey Fleurot was totally mesmerising as the ambitiously amoral lawyer ‘Joséphine Karlsson’. I’m not really sure why her character chose to do half the things she did, but that’s part of the fun with her… the ambiguity! And it was great to see the two of them meet in court, on opposing sides of a trial… the scene didn’t last very long, but clearly it left an antagonistic first impression that echoes through their interactions from that point forward. Meanwhile, the only other major recurring female character was a friendly informant/prostitute played by Mélodie Marcq, who supplied corrupt copper “Gilou” (Thierry Godard) with more cocaine than he knew what to do with. Considering the state he was in by the end of this run of episodes, I find it a little hard to believe that he managed to hang on to his job for another three series!