Engrenages and other endings
There’s a part of me that would like to start a TV blog. Not so much reviews, but thoughts, observations, etc. I always think I’m going to sit down and write my thoughts after I watch an episode or a show. Turns out I like to think about a show after I’ve watched it more than I like I to write about it.
The Lady and I have different viewing habits, and don’t watch things together. She’s much more of a film buff, and likes comedy more than I do. We share a love of The Sopranos, among a few other things. She just started another full series viewing, which we refer to as The Sopranos Biennial since she tends to give it a full viewing once every two years.
A not uncommon part of the morning routine to discuss what we’ve watched the night before. Regaling each other with funny (or annoying) scene tidbits, witty insights, etc. This morning I heard all about the scene where Janice whacks Richie. It never gets old.
This little routine is a fun, and sometimes useful, way to process my thoughts. During the two months it took me to watch Engrenages I had fun telling The Lady, a Francophile who’s lived in Paris, all about it. She seemed to enjoy it. And she’s not one to humor people. Referring to her as Madam la President for a couple of months probably helped.
On with the show
Engrenages / Spiral is a French crime drama that’s widely considered a classic of the genre. It ran from 2005 to 2020 with 8 series (seasons) in total. I started watching in the beginning of August and it’s been almost two months since I finished. It feels good to mark another genre classic in the watched column. Prime Suspect (England) was last year’s classic. My goal is to watch at least one classic a year.
Watching something from just over 15 years ago can be funny. It’s recent enough that doesn’t feel like the distance past, but the differences can be so notable. The early production values of fast wipes, shaky cam and “zany” transitions were chuckleworthy. The causal and unabated police brutality was not.
From a 2011 Guardian interview with star Caroline Proust, who played the main character of Captain Laure Berthaud…
…officers are on set to advise on everything from how to touch a dead body to how to fight with a superior
And apparently how to beat the shit out of suspects. By series 5 in 2014 they had dialed it back, and occasionally referenced it. In one scene Gilou joked that he would hit a child witness if he was uncooperative. Street scenes also included public sentiment.
In the same interview Proust noted that she felt it was good to show the realism…
Occasionally she inserts her own lines, such as a racist insult about couscous while interrogating Arab suspects in the second series. “It’s good to show it, because it happens in real life,” she says.
Another feature of the early series was that each one had a new junior colleague. Series 2 (2008) was my favorite. His main plot purpose seemed to be indicating when senior colleagues were taking it too far.
Warning: Spoiler Alerts
The series and episodic level storylines were a nice mix of garden variety criminal activity with some police corruption thrown in for good measure. The judicial “hierarchy”, career bootlicking and backstabbing also featured prominently, to great effect.
One of the most enjoyable aspects was the complexity and interconnectedness of the characters. And how their well-crafted backstories were doled out throughout the entire show, revealing little explainers for previous actions or attitudes. If I were the TV blogger I wish I could be, they’d each get their own post.
I frequently found Berthaud’s impetuousness and recklessness bothersome, but it played so well against Karlsson’s calculated coolness. For my money, lawyer Joséphine Karlsson was the real anti-hero of the show. Seemingly greedy and ruthless, and to a certain degree she was, but also by far the most moral of the group outside of Juge Roban (who was not without his lapses). I also loved how Karlsson and Berthaud begrudgingly became allies, and even friends, as much as they could.
Generally I don’t like it when main character coworkers become romantically involved, but they really earned it with Berthaud and Gilou by developing their mutual respect and dedication to one another over five series before they became involved. You could argue that Berthaud became a mother because she got involved Brémont as a cover to get Gilou’s fingerprints to keep him out of trouble.
Not that she didn’t enjoy the fling, she had been involved with Brémont before. That aspect of her character was so well done and refreshing. Her sexuality was causal, on her terms, and most importantly without consequence. As it should be.
The title, Engrenages, or Spiral in English speaking countries, is a reference to all the the intertwined “gears” of the justice system. But what made the show so enjoyable was that the gears, or spiral, were within each character and as well as the ecosystem as a whole.
Set decoration and prop styling was not a main aspect of the show, but the styling of one scene was notable.
Machard is the closeted Republic Prosecutor who enjoys wielding the power of his office, especially over Juge Roban. In series 6 he’s caught up in some unsavory business that’s likely to out him. Roban, thinking he can “play the game”, goes to Machard to give him a heads up in hopes that he can use the favor to his advantage in the future (spoiler: he cannot).
Roban tracks down Machard near his apartment as he comes home from a dog walk, Machard invites him in. As Roban walks in he slowly looks around and takes it all in.
On first glance it seems like a run of the mill nicely decorated apartment. Mixed among the tasteful burnt umbra furniture and books are sculptures of nude male torsos, some also tasteful, some fetishistic. Framed pictures of the dogs, ceramic dog statues, and a framed of picture of a younger Machard atop a bookshelf adorn his sanctuary. There’s even a framed picture of Oscar Wilde for good measure.
Machard’s pugs look on lovingly from their chair as the poignant conversation unfolds. The writing and acting alone conveyed the gravity of the situation. But setting the scene in the space Machard created for himself, a space or sensibility he could not share with the world, took it to the next level.
One minor let down is that I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of Paris. Most of the police work outside of the office involved driving. And there was only one scene in the Metro, and that wasn’t until series 7 in 2019.
This is a small nitpick only to say that I would’ve liked to have gotten a better sense of Paris, but I’d take what I got from the show over a better sense of Paris any day.
A couple other shows I watch have come to end since I finished Engrenages, or in the case of Shetland (Scotland), the main character came to end (by retirement).
The good news for Shetland is that it will continue with Ashley Jensen of Agatha Raisin fame as the new Detective Inspector. I’m hopeful the show will continue its good run. The writing and cast are top notch, and Shetland is not a shabby backdrop.
Karppi / Deadwind (Finland) recently released its third and final series on Netflix (trailer). Overall I thought it was a good send off for the show. It was the usual twisty turny, slow yet chaotic storyline mixed in with occasional very low key dark humor.
They wrapped up all the full show storylines in a satisfactory way, but the feel good ending felt like an odd choice. I imagine Karppi and Nurmi driving off into the sunset in Nurmi’s fancy electric car to star in an understated dark humor Finnish rom-com. I would watch it!