Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 3×5-3×6

Is it The Wire or Prime Suspect this time?

In France: Some time last Summer
In the UK: Saturday 16th April, 9pm, BBC4. iPlayer: Episode 5, Episode 6

Well, we’re at the point where the less said about this on the front page, the better, so join me after the jump to discuss episodes 5 and 6 of season 3 of BBC4/Canal+’s Engrenages (Spiral), which is rapidly turning out to be France’s version of The Wire – season 5, or possibly the very first Prime Suspect.

Episode 5: Police manage to get their suspect remanded in custody, but a series of unexpected revelations threatens to jeopardise the solidity of their case. The infamous accused, by now known as the Butcher of La Villette, is defended by none other than the fearsome Josephine Karlsson. Judge Roban’s uncharacteristically hasty actions are thought to compromise his impartiality. Settling in his new role as barrister, Pierre Clement finds himself roped into dealing with an unusual case.

Episode 6: With the main suspect due to be released and an alarming number of procedural blunders stacking up on the record, Captain Berthaud’s team is now on the back foot. When Judge Roban transfers the case to the Crime Squad, Laure’s reaction is surprising, but she remains doggedly determined to catch her killer.

Meanwhile, Gilou is in trouble. A victorious Josephine Karlsson finds no time to gloat, as shady past connections return to haunt her. Judge Roban realises the extent of his brother’s involvement in the Villdieu bribery case.

Pierre Clement (Gregory Fitoussi)
Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust)
Francois Roban (Philippe Duclos)
Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot)
Gilou (Thierry Godard)

Was it any good?
It was a mix, let’s say that. After last week’s return to form, the show started to go a bit strange again this week with Judge Roban burgling his own office so that he could leak information to the press so he could get his investigation going again. Here we have what I like to think of as a “McNulty fakes a serial killer” situation – it’s something the writers probably thought would work, but on screen, it seems implausible and melodramatic. Judges do a lot of things but faking burglaries? Hmm.

We also have the guy who may (or may not) have hacked up his flatmate, the chief suspect’s sister turning out to be his mum then suffocating herself to death in a plastic bag, the head of the rival crime squad not spotting that Laure was up to something, Gilou and Tintin breaking into another police station to avoid Gilou getting arrested, and a whole host of other things that are making me do Scooby Doo double-takes. So after two seasons of relative realism, we’re now in a slightly different, more melodramatic area.

As I’ve said before, Spiral is France’s answer to The Wire – but this time they’re answering season five. Oops.

Plotwise, things are moving along nicely though. Roban’s investigations are proceeding apace, with his brother’s involvement revealed at last. Laure is determined to get her man, although maybe he isn’t the right guy. Karlsson and Clement are now defending Ronaldo. We also have the b-plots: Karlsson’s attempts to leave Szarbo, Clement having to deal with his conscience when it comes to defending a woman who’s committing incest with her father, Gilou’s accidental shooting, Tintin’s problems with Laure and Gilou’s ‘legal flexibility’ and Roban’s dealings with his mother, his former lover, her son and his brother.

We’re also starting on the themes of the media, and the fact that everything can be recorded and stuck on YouTube with relative ease, and of the mistreatment of prostitutes in France. Building on the obvious mistreatment of the serial killer’s victims, we’ve seen their everyday life, how their pimps treat them, how other prostitutes treat them, how pimps set them off against each other, the use of violence, the way their clients regard them and why they don’t trust the police.

This at least offsets the misogyny that’s on display elsewhere. Last season, we had Karlsson sleeping with Szarbo to get what she wanted. This season we have Laure doing the same – and hiding the fact she’s done it from Gilou and Tintin, despite the fact it’s to save Gilou’s career. There seems to be a general message here of women sleeping with men to get what they want, men wanting that but generally the women not actually wanting sex themselves much. We have men who can’t control their sexual desires – serial killers, policemen, lawyers – and women not actually seeming to have many themselves.

I’m also a little dismayed that Karlsson’s been quite so passive in her dealings with violent men. You’d have thought, by now, after so many threats made against her, both of rape and murder, that she’d at least have invested in a mace and some jiu jitsu classes by now. Or have a knife in her desk drawer. Largely though, she just cries a lot and is a bit feeble, which is a bit disappointing.

There is, still, the central mystery – or mysteries – who is the serial killer? Is it Ronaldo? He was in jail, getting his head kicked in by some savate practitioners when the last woman was abducted. So how could it be him? Yet, that woman wasn’t killed in exactly the same way, and we have him looking very shifty and following a woman who looks like the murdered women once he’s out of jail. Do we have a Prime Suspect situation, where we’re supposed to believe Ronaldo is innocent and it turns out he’s guilty all along – once we find the lock-up those keys belong to, we’ll know it’s him for sure? Is he working with a partner, one who isn’t as skilled as him? Or maybe even partners – will the pimps be revealed as being involved somehow or will Roban’s investigations link in somehow?

I’m sure it’ll be even less clear next week…


  • Natalia Romanova

    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.

    View all posts