In the UK: Sunday 1st November 2009, 10pm, BBC4. Available on the iPlayer
Well, it’s over now. Time for a collective snivel by viewers of quality TV in Britain. Please, Sir, can we have some more? Etc, etc.
Let’s face facts, season two of Spiral aka Engrenages has just finished on BBC4. So let’s look over the final episode and the season as a whole, because until season three pops along, this is all we’re getting.
French police drama series. As the police sting reaches its endgame the stakes are incredibly high for Samy – will the Larbi brothers become suspicious?
Pierre Clement (Gregory Fitoussi)
Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust)
Francois Roban (Philippe Duclos)
Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot)
Fromentin (Fred Bianconi)
Gilou (Thierry Godard)
Aziz (Reda Kateb)
Samy (Samir Boitard)
Was it any good?
Episode eight pretty much went hell for leather on the undercover operation, touching only briefing on certain unresolved plot threads that will no doubt be looked at in season three (fingers crossed).
So Karlsson, having been overheard last episode admitting to smuggling a SIM card into jail for the Larbis, gets blackmailed by Laure into dropping the charges against her – which she duly does. As predicted, however, she does use her knowledge of Samy’s true identity to negotiate herself a cushty deal with Szabo. And that was that for Karlsson. Damn. I’m going to miss her.
Clement more or less sat around and did nothing beyond get snogged by Laure after a little bit of play acting to help get that case against her dropped by Judge Wagner. Sorry Clement fans.
Instead, this was the Samy and Laure show. Samy, still undercover with the Larbis, goes with them to Spain to pick up the dope. While there, the an informant tells the Mustapha Larbi (by phone) that Samy is an informant, and Samy ends up getting beaten and (possibly) murdered. Unfortunately, since they’re on foreign territory, the cops can do nothing.
That leaves it to Laure and co to go all Jack Bauer on Farouk Larbi and reveal to him (thanks to Samy’s investigations) that Mus has been sleeping with his wife. Farouk pretends to help interrogate Mus about Samy’s location, only for him to take Laure’s gun and shoot Mustapha. Good job she hadn’t buttoned up her holster, hey?
Laure is then able to convince Mus’s henchman to reveal all, which he promptly does. The police go to the location and hey presto, who’s in the trunk? It’s Samy. Big smiles all round.
To me, this all robbed Engrenages of one of its biggest assets: reality. Call me mad, but if I were international drug smugglers overseas in Spain and I found out that one of my number was a cop, I wouldn’t take him all the way back to Paris with me then leave him in a car.
Bang. Bullet to the head, preferably on something plastic, then ditch the body somewhere, before heading off somewhere the police can’t find me. Hell, if a French minister can do it in season one, you’d have thought ruthless drug dealers would be up to the task.
It was basically a way to keep a new favourite character, ensure Laure has a boyfriend next season, and give a happy ending to a piece which should have had a very unhappy ending, judging from the usual police incompetence on display.
As an episode though, it still packed tension, the subtitles were only half neutered this week, and there were fine performances all round. I just wish the ending hadn’t been quite so pat.
Overall, as good as season two, it wasn’t quite as good as season one. Dropping Aziz midway slightly neutered the show of its raw vitality and took the show away from the politics of the banlieus and immigration to a simple drug-dealing plot.
But I think it’s the character developments that have been the main problem for me.
While Karlsson was used well most of the time, her character arc is still obviously only half complete – although it’s nice to see she gets rewarded for her evil with a promotion. I’d have liked her to be a little bit more feisty when dealing with Laure, but you can’t have everything.
Clement has been thrown from situation without much sign of a game play (season three again?), and Roban has veered between incompetence and dazzling brilliance. Gilou has also been mostly background, just there to service the plot.
In fact, it’s basically been the Laure and Samy show for the last few weeks, not just this episode. I’m not really hugely intrigued by Laure as a character, but Samy has been an interesting development, even if – again – all the dark stuff in his past looks like it’s all been put there for season three’s benefit.
However, the exposure of certain aspects of French society and the French legal system have once again been highlights of the show. The horror of the rape investigation was traumatic even for viewers, as was Karlsson’s casual saving of the wife-beater in episode one. If anything, there hasn’t been enough of that this season, with that feature of the show being dropped in the last few episodes to allow for the drug-dealing plot to be expanded.
Nevertheless, a slightly inferior Engrenages is still head and shoulders above most television. Clearly, we’re going to have to wait until season three (BBC4, I’m giving you a long hard stare now. Don’t make me come over there. You won’t like it) before we can judge how well the plot strands of season two worked. It would have been nice to get proper resolution on certain strands this season, and to have a darker ending than the one we got, but we still had some excellent moments and classic television along the way.