As a location, Paris draws me. On one hand there is the romantic notion of the city of light, but on the other, the reality is grimy. There is terrible housing, poverty, crime, people (including children) on the streets, and high levels of deprivation, especially as you move out from the center.
Much of the Paris of my Leathan Wilkey novels is set within the 20 arrondissements of the heart of the city bounded by the Périphérique. Crossing this territory and moving beyond is the Paris of Spiral. This other Paris is much grimmer and much grimier. It’s not beyond redemption, but it’s not the Paris of the Eiffel Tower, the mini-break, or the city for lovers.
Spiral (Engrenages, to give it its French title) was first broadcast in 2005, and came to the BBC in 2006 (with subtitles). Its eighth (and final) series was broadcast at the start of this year.
On first glance, Spiral is a French-flavored police procedural where the policing is entwined with the judicial supervision of the investigation in a manner that is distinct from the practice seen in the UK or US.
Each series largely follows a single crime which, as the police investigate, becomes more complex with layered problems being introduced as the police track the sequence of events which have led to the crime they are investigating.
And while you can watch Spiral as a police procedural, it’s so much more than that.
The characters are what make Spiral.
There are three characters who have been constant across all eight series. All three are fallible and human, and their interactions and relationships are reflective of the larger story told across the eight seasons.
Laure Berthaud (played by Caroline Proust) is, to use a cliché, a good cop. She is a talented officer who always tries to do the right thing—and the legal thing.
But Berthaud frays at edges with the stress of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. While solving the crime and trying to achieve some measure of justice for the victim, she has to mollify:
- her team—the petty squabbles and the failures of individuals, which can lead to the crime not being solved and justice not being achieved
- her bosses who have their own ambitions and want to prove their worth to their superiors and the politicians, irrespective of the effect of their decisions on the case
- the judges who are independent…until they have an opportunity for advancement and then apply pressure to the police (usually in the person of Berthaud)
- her own life, including in later series, when she has to care for her baby daughter
Gilles “Gilou” Escoffier (played by Thierry Godard), is another police officer, and Berthaud’s subordinate.
He is a man who messes up and then messes up some more. But he is aware of his own shortcomings and seeks redemption—he always intends to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t succeed. Even when he’s hanging out with prostitutes connected with the case… Even when he’s taking bribes (in the form of drugs) from suspects…
One strength of Escoffier is that he can think like a criminal which gives the team an insight to the criminals. But with his poor impulse control, Escoffier will sometimes/often behave like a criminal. He rarely thinks about legalities before he acts and is always the one to blur the lines
Joséphine Karlsson (played by Audrey Fleurot) is a talented and ambitious lawyer, but with a broken moral compass. She is more interested in winning and personal gain, and less concerned about how she contorts the law to achieve her ends.
To a certain extent, Karlsson is the reason why Escoffier behaves as he does. By equal measure, Escoffier is the reason Karlsson behaves as she does. The pressure to reconcile these two competing angels is what breaks Berthaud.
The final season of Spiral sees the three longest-standing characters reach a fitting conclusion and find some level of redemption.
Season eight begins with the death of a Moroccan street kid.
These street kids are a criminal menace and the system relies on charity to look after them. However, Berthaud’s team is committed to finding the kid’s killer.
The cops want to stop the kids committing crime, but they also want to stop the exploitation and uncover the bigger criminals who are running the kids. Despite being in danger—often mortal danger—the kids see no incentive to help the police bring their exploiters to justice.
Intertwined with this plot line is the other side of the story. Following events at the end of series seven, Escoffier is in jail where he is informing on his fellow inmates. While there was a collective failure by the police, he has declared himself to be solely responsible in order to protect Berthaud. This self-sacrifice is his latest shot at redemption and his informing is his attempt to grasp at a future career.
And from there, the story twists and winds posing a series of moral and emotional dilemmas for the characters and the viewer. To say more would be to add plot spoilers.
Go and Watch
Spiral is one of those series that is worth watching and rewatching. If you haven’t seen it already, search it out.
For those of you in the UK, all eight series of Spiral are still available on the iPlayer. It’s there for the next 7 months, so check it out before it goes. If you’re not in the UK, it’s available on many streaming services.
And once you’ve watched Spiral, if you want more Paris, Leathan Wilkey is still out there.
All the best