Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 3×7-3×8

So many twists and turns

Laure in Spiral

In France: Some time last Summer
In the UK: Saturday 23rd April, 9pm, BBC4. iPlayer: Episode 7, Episode 8

Never distrust Spiral. That appears to be the moral of this week’s episodes. After my doubts last week, episodes seven and eight seemed designed purely to make me feel a little silly in all my reservations, those crafty writers.

Let’s talk about bluffs, double bluffs and general wheels within wheels after the jump – and a gratuitous picture of Karlsson.


7/12: In spite of the evidence, and of protestations from members of her team, Captain Berthaud continues to believe that the Butcher of La Villette remains at large. At the same time, Bremont grows suspcious of her affections. Clement defends a young offender with a troubled past and feels sorry for him, while Judge Roban ploughs on with his corruption enquiry, sparing no-one in the process.

8/12: With strong new evidence to back Captain Berthaud’s theories, Judge Roban asks the CID team to become involved in the investigation again. But how will Laure deal with having to play second fiddle to work rival and lover Superintendent Bremont?

Police are out to substantiate a link between the leader of an international prostitution ring and their main murder suspect. Pierre goes above and beyond the call of duty to help his troubled young client, and Judge Roban’s pupil Arnaud finds himself the target of blackmail.

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

Was it any good?
A definite improvement over last week, with far less melodrama and implausible events in favour of some far more interesting detective work.

As predicted, Jesus turned out to be a double bluff and Ronaldo was revealed as the true killer of the girls, in league with Nico the pimp, the new focus of the investigations. Laure’s obvious manipulation of the head of the crime squad, Bremont, turned out to be obvious enough for him to spot and work to his advantage – and she turned out to be more interested in him than vice versa, since he’s more interested in Tintin, while Gilou is getting jealous or at least a bit worried that Laure is turning. He, of course, has the worry that the crime squad are going to find out he accidentally shot that drug dealer.

Meanwhile, Roban’s quarries are turning the tables on him. His protege is being blackmailed into spying on him after (accidentally) having sex with an under-age prostitute. Clement – in a typical Spiral “what’s wrong with the justice system” move of the week – has found himself looking after a boy who’s stuck in a children’s home: anyone want to predict if he’s going to regret that move? Karlsson is finding being good a bit less than lucrative so is embezzling money from her clients, after invoking Szarbo’s name with some of his old associates.

In terms of character, it’s nice to see Laure stabilising, even if she does end up unlucky in love again, and for Gilou, Tintin and Laure to be on slightly better terms by the end of it all. It’s a little hard to see where Karlsson and Clement are going – is Karlsson going to end up miring Clement in God knows what? Is Clement going to reform her? Are they both going to end up getting a kicking, Karlsson from Szarbo’s pals or one of her clients, and Clement from his new charge? Is Roban finally going to get the girl and expose the Mayor’s corruption, or are his quarries going to destroy him, just as Clement was destroyed by his enemies?

As always with Spiral, it’s hard to know what’s going to be a double bluff. For example, it was obvious that The Shark was going to be a police officer who would betray the girl, although you have to respect the writers for showing that level of police corruption and unconcern. But is it going to turn out to have more levels, just as we all knew Ronaldo was going to turn out to be the real killer but that was merely going to lead us to the prostitution ring?

But overall, this week’s episodes have made me more confident about the season as a whole. It’s shaping up to be less season five of The Wire than I feared and we’ve passed the point where Prime Suspect comparisons are valid (currently £2.99 for the first series in iTunes – started watching them again last night and I almost cried at how good they are in comparison to current British TV programming). I’d like Karlsson and Clement to be a bit more central to the plot and Laure to be a little bit more stable, Gilou less like a pouty, jealous teenage girl. But the strength of the prostitute plot, the horrific discoveries in Ronaldo’s garage and Roban’s always interesting political machinations are reminding me just how brilliant Spiral is.

Well, you’ve been asking for it, so let’s chat a little about the subtitles again. Or at least about the swearing. As I’ve remarked before, the translation of the dialogue is somewhat variable. Sometimes there’s a translation who’ll censor everything, sometimes there’ll be one who censors a little, and sometimes there’ll be one who throws in a completely random translation.

Usually, you can predict a few things: those ‘merdes’ (shits) will mysteriously become “bastards”, even though ‘bésterd’ rather than the more popular ‘salaud’ is used pretty freely as well; whatever Karlsson says will be downgraded to something innocuous, usually to ‘you idiot’ (this week, she called her bank manager ‘cou’, which could be translated as arse or arsehole at a pinch, but which emerged as ‘idiot’) ; and the absolute worst words will never get translated at all.

Sometimes, you have to accept a certain degree of latitude on the part of the translators. For example, ‘putain’ or ‘pute’ gets used a lot in Spiral, sometimes as ‘fuck’, sometimes not at all. And that’s its equivalent usage. But it actually means whore.

And then there’s ‘con’. Now ‘con’ literally means vagina – it’s the c word my friends and it gets used in Spiral quite a bit. However, that’s its old meaning. These days, it’s taken on a completely different life of its own and can mean all sorts of additional things. But importantly, you can use it in conjunction with other words: ‘petit con’, ‘gros con’ or even ‘pauvre con’ and it’s actually quite innocuous. Why even Mr Sarcozy was caught calling a member of the public a ‘pauvre con’. But these handy little phrases are just ways of calling someone an idiot in varying degrees, and so the translators quite rightly downgrade what could be translated as the c-word to their usual catch-all of ‘idiots’. So, let’s not always castigate them.

Right, swearing lesson over. This week’s translation efforts weren’t actually too bad. There were a number of occasions were the translation was clearly truncated because the last thing you want is the entire screen filled with subtitles or the subtitles going passed so quickly no one can read them. So, for example, we lost the fact that the office Roban wanted to raid was on the Champ Elysées, but that was no big loss. But since it’s an even week, the translation was actually okay.

One other thing I’ll leave you with though: the translators are actually trying to be helpful. But helpful isn’t always helpful. Laure, Clement, Karlsson et al all have French job titles. But since the French legal system is so different to ours, the translators ‘helpfully’ have converted the job titles to their closest English equivalents. So while Laure is actually a Captain of police (even the BBC4 web site points that out), the subtitles will have us believe she’s an Inspector. Similarly, we have a reference to the Director of police this week that got translated as Chief Constable.

To be honest, I don’t think that helps, but it’s nice that they’re trying.


  • 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.