Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 2×4

Chantez if you've glad to be gay


In the UK: Sunday 27th September, 10pm, BBC4. Available on the iPlayer

Episode four, and although it was a slightly less involving affair than normal, Engrenages still continues to live up to the hype. This week: just how well are gay men treated in France by society and the police.

Rachid is dead, causing problems for both Karlsson and the police. Gilou has to investigate a murder linked to a gay nightclub.

Was it any good?
I have to say, not as involving as previous weeks, but still mighty fine.

This week, the cogs turn a little tighter. We have, of course, in previous weeks been seeing how our hero, dashing prosecutor Clement has been playing the political game and discarding his morals in order to advance his career.

However, here he sticks to his guns – at the behest of his boss – and follows up on the murder of a gay former rugby player by his lover, a member of the French army. Unfortunately, despite finding the criminal and doing his best to convince him to confess, it all goes pear-shaped for Clement. His boss has been playing a far subtler political game: the soldier’s father is well connected and Clement’s career is practically ruined as a result of his zeal, even though he was trying to keep things as covert as possible. His boss, however, claims he’d given Clement a nod and the wink to keep things hush-hush while giving the orders out and that Clement only has himself to blame.

Evil Karlsson is having serious guilt issues when Rachid is found to have committed suicide after having been raped in prison – his protection had been withdrawn which suggests to Karlsson that it was her phone call to Szabo that caused his death. Szabo denies everything, and to assuage Karlsson’s conscience, he gives her a big pile of money – "you must love only money if you work for me". Then he sends her off to settle some land ownership issues, which naturally involve her having to accompany some very violent men who threaten children – which doesn’t seem to bother her that much, this time.

Like the frog being slowly heated in water, Karlsson is slowly acclimatising to the kind of people she’s going to be dealing with in future, it seems.

Laure and Judge Roban’s team, who are busily trying to track down Aziz now he’s scarpered, are dismayed to discover that their cock-ups aren’t endearing them to their bosses – particularly since they’ve (topically) started riots on an estate. So despite bugging the visiting area in prison and trailing an elusive crim back to his home, they find themselves being pushed aside in favour of the special unit, SIAT, who send them a nice North African police officer – who everyone assumes is a criminal at first. As ways to introduce a character from an ethnic minority to the side of the goodies, this is a pretty clever way to do it, since he’s not going to be anyone’s favourite until he’s proven his mettle.

Laure also the investigation into her allegedly violent behaviour to deal with. Here she faces being on the blunt end of an investigating judge again, with even photographic evidence of her accuser’s impropriety being used against her – along with a tussle with anorexia being used as an indication of her mental instability. Here then, by sticking a goodie on the receiving end of justice, Engrenages tries to demonstrate that maybe too much power is in the hands of an investigating judge in the French system – or that maybe judges need to be less strict when dealing with the police.

The depiction of French attitudes to homosexuality is quite interesting here. Rather than the typical British depiction of gay men as camp, Engrenages‘s gay men are ultra-masculine. They’re into porn, rough sex, and multiple partners, and emotions seem to have little to do with anything – or at least, that’s what the straight characters assume. Engrenages is also far more able to depict male nudity than it seems British TV currently is (despite being more advanced over 10 years ago), with gay porn, and gay erotica prominently displayed on-camera.

In France, Engrenages argues, being gay is tolerated – but only so far. Keep it to yourself, but don’t flaunt it. Clement is able to convince the young soldier to confess, in exchange for keeping his investigation as secret as possible and not inquiring on the soldier’s base about whether anyone knew he was gay or not. The soldier’s motivation for killing his lover? He was too ‘dirty’ for him.

There’s not much of a message from the show. There’s neither condemnation nor praise for these attitudes, although there is the hint that everything would be a lot easier for everyone if it didn’t all have to be kept secret. It’s also noteworthy that none of the male police officers is very confident around gay men, suggesting none of them would even be able to say "I have a friend who’s gay".

On the whole then, a filler episode that doesn’t advance the main plot hugely, but instead positions everything for the second half of the series. A little less involving than normal, but with enough nuggets to keep you watching.


  • Natalia Romanova

    The Gloria Steinem of the jumpsuit set. Russian ballerina-assassin. Redheaded Scarlett Johansson look-alike (yes, really. No, I won't send you photos). TMINE's publisher and Official Movie Reviewer in Residence. I've written for numerous magazines, including Death Ray and Filmstar, and I've been a contributor to TMINE since I was at university and first discovered I really wanted to write about movies, oh so many years ago. Sob.