Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 3×9-3×10

The end is nearly nigh!

Bremont in BBC4's Spiral

In France: Some time last Summer
In the UK: Saturday 30th April, 9pm, BBC4. iPlayer: Episode 9, Episode 10

And so it is that as we enter the penultimate week of season 3 of Spiral, the show enters into something of a – how you say? – a high gear?

So let’s talk about alleged rape, unsuspecting rape, planned rape, prostitution rings and mistranslations from the French after the jump – and two gratuitous pictures of Josephine Karlsson (the BBC4 web site knows what it likes) and a teaser trailer that Canal+ put out where the most popular characters describe themselves, which I thought was quite interesting so decided to share.

Karlsson in Engrenages

Karlsson in Engrenages

9/12: Police concentrate their efforts on putting Niko’s prostitution ring under surveillance, in the hope of tracking down the man who is now an essential link in the investigation. Bremont puts the pressure on Gilou, and Laure jeopardises everything to help her colleague. Roban starts to suspect that someone may have betrayed him. Pierre attempts to distance himself from Dylan, but is in for a nasty surprise.

10/12: When he unwittingly finds himself on the wrong side of the law, former public prosecutor Pierre Clement turns to none other than the best – and most unscrupulous – lawyer he knows. Police tighten their surveillance operation on Niko’s prostitution ring, while the Butcher of La Villette prepares to strike again. And Judge Roban finally discovers hard evidence to support his enquiry into municipal corruption.

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

Laure in Spiral

Was it any good?
Although this week’s episodes had just as many plot strands as last week’s, they felt a bit more fast-paced and focused, as the various twists and turns that have been building have begun to reveal themselves.

Laure (who’s moved from sleeping in her car to her sofa) continues to pursue Ronaldo through Niko and this week she and her team finally hit pay dirt, spotting Niko and trailing him back to the hotel where he and the girls stay. Gilou is getting more and more pouty and jealous, as Bremont and Laure circle each other, trying to work out new schemes to double-cross and then shag each other. Bremont is closing in on Gilou as well.

Over in the lawyers’ corner, Clement finds himself having to cover up for Karlsson after last week’s embezzlement is revealed by a stranger getting into his car. He then decides to part ways with her, but soon discovers he needs her when his client, Dylan, alleges that Clement raped him.

And Roban, after searching the Mayor’s home and discovering precisely nothing, works out that his protege has been spying on him and gets Laure to turn the tables, eventually leading to a safety deposit box containing some useful material to get the Mayor with.

Now, a lot of what happened we could see coming. No good deed goes unpunished on Spiral, so naturally Clement’s kindness to his client was going to end up coming back to bite him. It was hinted at last week, but it wasn’t obvious exactly what was going to happen until the “Previously…” at the start of this week’s first episode nicely montaged the whole lot together to make it obvious. The Clement/Karlsson split/reunion was always going to happen. Ronaldo’s return and hunting of women was always going to happen, although it seems strange he would revert to his compulsion while on the run.

There were also a lot of convenient occurrences. Laure happening to know not just the head of the security firm blackmailing Arnaud but remembering from eight years previously the name of his girlfriend? That’s handy.

But despite all that, I can forgive it since there was enough unexpected revelations, great touches and delightful character moments to lift the episode. I didn’t see the return of Szarbo, which was delicious. Laure’s concern for Clement and her and Karlsson bonding over the latter’s frightening legal skills being used for good for once were lovely. Gilou giving the others the finger while on stakeout as he guesses how long a car driver will be with a prostitute was amusing, and Laure and Bremont’s blighted relationship of crosses and double crosses was enough to give anyone a headache. I’m loving Bremont though.

Magnificently, we also got the return of Laure’s nemesis, Judge Wagner, from season two (which nearly made me cheer) and Clement’s championing of gay rights in episode one has come back to haunt him in typical Spiral fashion – good things will always come back to haunt you. It’s also nice to see Clement is the character who’s demonstrating what it’s like being on the wrong end of the French justice system.

So what can we expect next week in the finale (my hasn’t time flown)? Will Gilou and Laure finally get it together or will Gilou leave for Special Branch? Will Clement and Karlsson finally get it together, assuming Clement dumps his principles? Will Roban get his man and will his case be revealed to be linked to Laure’s in some way? Will Ronaldo get caught in time and will Niko’s prostitution ring get rounded up?

There’s a lot of loose threads, too, such as The Shark and the paedophile from the first episode, so I doubt everything will get sorted. But I’m more confident than I was at this point in season two that there’s going to be a satisfying conclusion to the series this year.

It’s an odd-numbered week so in contrast to last week’s more even-handed translator, we’re getting “the censorious translator with an occasionally shaky, occasionally very colloquial grasp of the English language” (aka The Prim Maiden Aunt).

Swearing-wise (skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know), we have the usual weird disappearance of swearwords and mistranslations: ‘pute’ becomes ‘shit’, ‘petit con’ became ‘brat’, and ‘le merde’ weirdly became ‘trainee’ at one point. ‘Putain de merde’ (fucking hell) disappeared, as did multiple ‘cons’, as did a ‘bordel’ or too (technically, a brothel, but essentially ‘everything’s gone to shit’). ‘Pute’ being used literally to mean prostitute for a change only came over as ‘girl’ most of the time. ‘Occule’ (which I know isn’t the right spelling, but I can’t actually find the right spelling anywhere, since I’ve only heard it) which I’m told roughly means ‘fucker’ but with gay overtones, got reduced down to bastard.

But we also had some strange Englishisms and translation choices. Impressively, the translator interpreted ‘j’ai reçu’ as ‘I’m reading you’ on a radio conversation, but Gilou gets called a pratt at one point, which was slightly weird, Laure tells someone to move ‘chop, chop’ (apparently, she’s from some upper class 1950s English family) and the translator actually gave up trying to translate ‘lettre rogatory’ (which does exist in English, but ‘letter of request’ would be more understandable). We got ‘having sex with a minor’ in English, but in French, Arnaud had sex with a 15-year-old (presumably because there’s no way the actress actually looked 15). But I was thoroughly entertained – and I’m not sure if this was deliberate or not – that the translator translated ‘we’ll verify your story’ as ‘we’ll get to the bottom of this’ while Clement was having a full body search.

Unfortunately, we also lost out – thanks to the problems of translation – on a bit of fun with the Albanians’ conversation. Calling Ronaldo ‘the footballer’ while on the phone, they talked about the need for papers to get him out the country. Except in French, the verb they used was ‘transferer’ – to transfer.

Next week, for the finale, we’ll be back with the more literal translator. Can’t wait!

  • Chloe

    For me this week especially the second episode was some tense watching, mostly because, as you said I could see it coming. The scenes showing Laure’s concern for Clement was lovely and the conversation between her and Josephine honestly made me want to hug someone.
    I was also happy to see Laure and Roban back to planning a way around the justice system instead of running into walls as they have done previously this season, Laure especially.
    On the subject of the subtitles, I have noticed that I’m picking up more and more French words that I can actually recognise and translate so I’m beginning to understand just how poor some of the translations are. If nothing else this has definitely improved my ability to swear in French, which is always handy.

  • The other David

    While I have enjoyed this series as much as the previous ones, I have had to question the translator’s use of the terms ‘CID’ and ‘Special Branch’. I can’t seem to pick out in the dialogue the actual French names for the agencies. I realize that the translators are trying to couch the these French agencies in terms that UK viewers can get a handle on, I’m wondering what the actual names are of the division Laure leads and the office that Gilou is trying to get transferred to. So, if you would be so kind, what are the real (i.e., French) names of the division that Laure heads and the one that Gilou is try to go to?

  • MediumRob

    @chloe: I know what you mean. I love watching Engrenages because it’s a bit of a refresher course in French, since I don’t get to speak it as much as I speak German or Greek, and I find myself going “Oh, I remember that verb!” As you say, swearing in particular is a big thing and I’m busily trying to work out whether Bremont said “Tu me merde” (you’re shitting me?), “Tu m’en merde” (you’ve put me in the shit) or tu m’emmerde (you’re fucking with me), none of which I realised was a valid construction in French.
    @mark: now you’re putting me on the spot. As far as I know, Laure is the head of a group of detectives, but there’s no specific name, only that they work for the DPJ (Divisions de Police Judiciaire); I think Gilou said he was heading off to the Syndicat Super or Syndicat de Super(s), but my biggest problem with French is actually hearing what people say – it’s such a breathed language. With German or Greek, you can pretty much hear every syllable but French is just one big sigh at times.

  • Brilliantly tense stuff: am eagerly awaiting the finale! (So soon!)

  • Jean Roussel

    I have enjoyed the egde and pace to this production, and marvelling at how different police and judicial procedure in France is … searching without any paperwork to legalise the search, almost blackmailing confessions out of people (its done here too, isn’t it?!?!?!?), but most of all (if its simply not a dramatic device) rough-handling – near to the point of abusing – suspects as though they are already guilty and are simply one step away from being strung-up! This was particularly predominant when the suspects were not French… horribly so, the shadow of le Pen and the FN loom strong even in my favourite French television show with its xenophobia-as-entertainment subtext, or am I just overly sensitive? Perhaps I might even enjoy the frisson that French law might not be wholly committed to ‘innocent until proven guilty’ which is so much the mode Brittanique… hum-ho, but great, passionate, stylish TV drama, vying with my all-time foreign detective thriller Wallander for pride of place in my heart. And Paris is such a great backdrop too.

  • Chloe

    @ Rob don’t know if you’ve seen this interview with Caroline Proust in the Guardian but it has some small details about season four:

  • Someone tweeted it to me yesterday, but thanks! Interesting, huh?

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