Review: Engrenages (Spiral) 4×7-4×8 (France: Canal+; UK: BBC Four)

He's back!

In France: Last autumn
In the UK: Saturday 2 March, 9pm, BBC Four

Prepare yourself for much wailing and gnashing of teeth: I’m away for a week, so I won’t be able to review episodes 9 and 10 until next Thursday or so, I suspect. Of course, given these reviews are only getting as many as one comment each, maybe you’ll all live somehow. Let’s see how many comments this gets by the time I return, anyway.

Either way, let’s look at the two episodes that have just aired, in which Gilou proves that yes, he can be very smart, provided it’s criminal activity rather than police work, Karlsson proves that she’s great at defending everyone except herself – at least, when Pierre’s around – and Laure proves that Spiral will remember past continuity references and characters eventually, even if takes a year or two.

Welcome back, Sami!

Episode 7
Berthault and her team are frustrated by new custody laws which ensure the presence of a lawyer during interviews. Gilou is given three days to ensure that the Sarahoui’s late licence is approved and Roban is warned that Garnier is using underhand tactics to smear him. Meanwhile, Karlsson is pressured by the Special Branch to provide information on the activities of Thomas Riffaut and his gang.

Episode 8
When the police raid the Sarahoui’s flat, Gilou takes the opportunity to break into their nightclub and retrieve incriminating evidence against him. Yussuf cracks under pressure and provides the team with the names of a Kurdish family behind weapons found at Cetin’s house. Karlsson turns the tables on her Special Branch investigators and Judge Roban manages to make even more enemies within the ‘system’.

Was it any good?
As tense as always (my wife had to leave the room during the “Previously on Spiral” at the start of the second episode, it was just too much for her), but a little bit of a plodder in some respects. The main problem is that the terrorists really aren’t that threatening at the moment. Oh no, they’re going to abduct a Belgian prisons official!

I’m hoping for escalation – perhaps they’re going to buy the remaining guns from the Kurds – because although they do commit weird oral rapes on each other, they’re not quite up there with even the other criminals in this season in terms of threat. But then, post season 1, Spiral has preferred menacing ethnic enemies to home-grown villains.

Overall, the show continued rather than instigated new plot strands, with a special guest appearance by some new custody reforms that mean lawyers have to be present when a prisoner is interrogated. For some reason, Laure and co find this difficult to deal with. And certainly, the likes of David Simon, creator of The Wire, has said that the quickest way to spot an inauthentic cop TV show is when you have a serial criminal telling all during an interrogation scene – in real life, they lawyer up and that’s the last you hear from them: cops do their best to get information out of suspects before they ever get to the interrogation room. Spiral is at least being authentic in this regard.

But it’s hard not to feel like Laure and co are merely having a ‘right’ removed that they never should have had because of its obvious potential for abuse, and now they’re merely learning to have to do what every other western police force (that doesn’t resort to brutality – I’m looking at you in particular here, Greece) has to do. But at least Laure and co are adapting – I doubt them over on Braquo are taking it so well – even while Turks are mocking them for their civilised police and prisons, where people are actually fed and can have conjugal visits.

It’s easy to suspect a dual-pronged bit of French anti-Turkish sentiment and a general support for the outmoded rights of police, but equally it’s Spiral: things are never that simple and Laure always manages to bang the crims to rights, without bending the law too much. Besides, we have Pierre’s client Mr Jorkal arguing that French prisons are character-forming for young men, just like the army, so they can’t be that cushy.

Gilou and the Egyptians
Talking of Braquo takes us onto our first plot strand: Gilou and his problems with the Egyptians (season 4 ethnic menace 1). The Egyptians have his pistol shells with his DNA and someone’s been murdered with them. Oh dear. Over on Braquo, Gilou would just tell his brother police officers and they’d go round that night, kill everyone and get the shells back, before retiring to the police station to have some stiff drinks and talk about team loyalty and how the system is against heroic, hard-working cops just doing their jobs.

Spiral gives us something a bit more plausible and a bit more cunning. Not totally plausible, but a bit more plausible. Gilou, who would probably shoot his own feet off if his gun didn’t have a safety, suddenly comes up with a cunning plan, albeit one that relies on his new female admirer in the unit. While the Egyptians are being raided by another police unit, Gilou is off burgling the Egyptians’ barge. Handily, they have the shells in a safe locked with a not very well hidden key. And then, while the police are raiding the barge because he’s triggered the burglar alarm, he jogs off.


Gilou, of course, knows about team loyalty, too, since he’s keeping Tin Tin’s head above water. Tin Tin is making Gilou look competent at the moment: he goes on a stakeout but forgets to bring the binoculars; he’s throwing up before going on raids; and the idea of gun is giving him the serious shakes.

All of which is fair enough, since he nearly died a couple of weeks ago. One would have thought the French police force would have given him some compassionate leave, maybe some intensive therapy to deal with possible PTSD. But I guess France didn’t get to have one of the highest productivity rates in Europe with that kind of namby pamby Anglo-Saxon attitude towards work, so Tin Tin is having to deal with his problems by himself. Well, with the help of Gilou, anyway: Gilou would rather hide from Laure and co that the Kurds (season 4 ethnic menace 2) they’re following have been able to flog some machine guns to some gangsters than for Laure to find out Tin Tin’s a bit traumatised. Misplaced loyalties? I think so.

Pierre and Karlsson
Talking of misplaced loyalties, what is Karlsson doing with those nasty terrorists still? She knows they’re planning kidnappings but it’s only when Special Branch try to blackmail her that she reveals all. And that’s after one of them’s tried it on in a somewhat threatening way with her.

Equally, Karlsson seems to be having Pierre issues. He’s rapidly becoming her Achilles heel in practically all matters. She goes all gooey when he’s around, she’ll do practically anything for anyone who threatens to undermine him or his career, and when he gets the wrong end of the stick – and believes one of the terrorists when she accuses Karlsson of being a ‘salope’ and sleeping with the threatening terrorist – our Jo Jo doesn’t do anything but look a little sad and disheartened, when she’d quite happily rip anyone else a new one. Maybe it’s because she’s so unused to telling the truth – even she doesn’t have a good answer when Pierre reveals he knows all about Special Branch’s threats and wonders why she didn’t just tell him. Either way, Jo needs to learn to stick up for herself more (with the truth), because Pierre’s looking distinctly untrusting and dischuffed towards her at the moment. How long before an inevitable break-up I wonder?

Laure and her love life
Talking of inevitable break-up, let’s talk about Laure and her boyfriends. For starters, Sami’s back. Yay! Okay, his name probably isn’t even Sami (or Samy as the BBC used to call him two seasons ago), but Cool Laure Boyfriend is back. Yay!

He, of course, mysteriously disappeared in between season two and season three after his slightly implausible last-minute rescue from the boot of a car, IIRC. Where he went to, we didn’t know until now, and in his absence, Laure took up with the head of the Robbery Squad. Turns out our Samy’s been undercover, but he’s now been promoted to ‘captain’ (subtitle note: not actually captain, because it’s France) and he wants Laure back. Which is nice, although I’m not totally convinced that Sami would come back for Laure – it’s not like they were together for very long or very passionate.

But Laure is still smarting – she knew as much as we did about why he’d gone. Sure. Because that’s plausible – and is dead against that, particularly now she has her new boyfriend. She’s even having (possibly) thoughts about a family of her own, judging by her reaction to the crying baby at the end of episode 7.

On the other hand, if she keeps giving her boyfriend’s teenage daughters shooting lessons as birthday presents, maybe that won’t be an issue any more, judging by the expression on his face.

Judge Roban
Talking of weird facial expressions, the frog-faced judge is having a fun time with Judge Roban, who is clearly up to something. What it is, I don’t know, if it’s not complete career sabotage, but when he has advance warning from the internal affairs department they’re going to search his office and he actually gets all the incriminating stuff out for them ready, you know he’s either crazy or has a very cunning plan.

Still not sure what’s going on with the rape case, although Judge Garnier is proving to be a worthy adversary for Roban. Getting rid of Marianne was an unsuspected and quite vicious move. What will Roban’s counter-move be? I’m dying to find out.

Unappealing appeals
Talking of judges, this episode, we got to see the appeals court for the first time. This seems a slightly crazy affair from the UK perspective. They actually have regular juries. Regular juries! The president of the court is able to work with the supposedly independent juries to get the verdicts he wants. How insane is that?

Pierre managed to get Jarkal Jr off, though, using obscure rule of the Appeals Court 636, which was impressive and impressed everyone, including Jarkal, who now wants to give him all his business. Pierre, of course, is pretending to Karlsson that he’s not going to stay with Jarkal long. For once, Pierre, it’s time to listen to Jo Jo, because she knows a thing or two about the right sort of criminal to work for, even if she doesn’t follow her own advice.

Final notes
Still a few episodes to go, but things need to start tying up soon. We currently have three separate, more or less unrelated investigations, we’ve lost track of that poor bloke from Mali from the first two episodes, Samy’s back to help them track down the Kurds and even he admits he only knows about Arabs, not Kurds, and Roban’s got his own thing going. There’s a lot of stuff going down and no resolution – or reason, beyond it all involving our beloved characters, to follow these separate cases – in sight.

But I have faith. Even on an average day, Spiral‘s great: there was a lovely bit of direction in the seventh episode when Laure was chasing a suspect, with just a little quiet background music playing. The show always has something interesting to say, even when you disagree with what’s being sad, and you never know what’s going to happen next. And I won’t find out until next Thursday. Damn.

Subtitle note
As always, constant vigilance is needed with the subtitling, if only for a few laughs. This week, straight from the outset, we got a ‘bastard’ instead of a rather long and nasty invective that I won’t republish.

But I also felt a bit sorry for the subtitlers this week, too. There they were having to deal with ‘les gauches’ – you don’t have to be a fluent speaker to see that would translate as more or less as a colloquial form of “people who are politically of the left wing”. Yet, clearly in context it also means people who are extreme left wingers, with all the connotations in modern French history that that brings (violence, attempts to overthrow the government and so on). Translating that is hard: ‘commies’ doesn’t work and isn’t necessarily accurate; ditto ‘socialists’; ‘Trots’ is a bit too flippant and class-laden. So our noble translators went with ‘lefties’, which is about as ineffectual as an English word can be.

So, they’re trying they’re hardest but some things just don’t translate, particularly when you can only fit about 10 words on a screen at once, so let’s sign off feeling a little bit sorry for them as we do.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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