“Spiral” – The Maelstrom [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Neely Swanson
Still atop the New York Times list of must-see TV, “Spiral” (“Engrenages”), the police drama from France, launches its eighth and final season on January 5 on MHz Choice, with a release of a new episode each week. Marine Francou supervised the writing staff on what was her plotline for this season. She doesn’t disappoint.
As explained in the review of Season 7, “Spiral” is an intense look at the French justice system from all the intermeshed points of view. Beloved and complicated judge advocate Roban is no longer part of the team. His forced retirement has removed him from the central role he played in years past when adjudicating the solution of the crimes the police of the Second District were tasked with solving.
More importantly, and this is something of a spoiler if you haven’t seen Season 7, Commandant Gilou Escoffier has been sent to prison as he awaits his trial for corruption. Lucie Bourdieu, a new, arrogant, defensive, beautiful, and very young judge, has been appointed to his case and despite the pleas of his commander, Commissioner Beckriche, she will not release him on bail because she suspects (rightfully as it turns out) that he is shielding his former partner, Laure Berthaud.
Beckriche has grown enormously as a leader and now understands his team and how he needs to work with them. It is Captain Ali Amrani who chafes at working under the ethically challenged Commandant Berthaud. Eager for advancement, he makes his desires crystal clear to Beckriche who is hesitant to promote Amrani with too little experience. The team’s case under team leader Berthaud involves a young Moroccan boy found dead in a laundromat. Suspecting a drug overdose, they wait for the coroner’s report. Drugs were present but the boy had been bludgeoned to death.
When Judge Bourdieu is assigned this murder, she immediately tries to hand it over to a different group because she cannot work with the highly compromised Berthaud. Beckriche argues for his team and she relents provided he becomes the liaison and not Berthaud as would be protocol.
Diving into the subculture of illegal and underage North African boys who eke out a violent living in purse snatching, they discover their prime suspect in Souleymane, a 14-year-old multiple offender who was caught on CCTV fighting with the deceased. Enter the morally and ethically compromised lawyer Josephine Karlsson, who has refashioned herself as a lawyer acting on behalf of rape victims. She is at the jail just when Souleymane is being charged. She immediately takes him on as a client and gets him remanded to her custody when she “proves” he was 13, an age too young to hold. She will believe in him long past the time he has proven unworthy of such faith.
What Berthaud’s team finds in the squatter’s camp is a highly chaotic subculture of thieving children fueled by illegal drugs and prescription opioids, and seemingly without a leader – a vicious Dickensian underage gang without a Fagin. But there must be one and the team discover the fence who takes in their stolen goods, primarily phones. It is Amrani who feels he can turn this fence into an informer. It would be a coup for him. Berthaud is skeptical but allows Amrani to run with it.
But Escoffier is still in prison and is given what might be called a “Hobson’s Choice,” that is, take what’s offered or take nothing at all. If he can unofficially infiltrate the gang of Cisco, a hardcore criminal suspected of the murder of a high profile witness, he’ll get out of jail and possibly, but only possibly, get a favorable disposition of his conviction and regain his badge.
What the writers do exceptionally well is tie all the story arcs together at the end without defying credulity. To give you more information than this would reveal too much and that would be sinful. This last season holds up to all the others. It will leave an ever-expanding knot in your stomach as the episodes reveal new hazards. In a series that basks in revealing the moral and ethical complexities of the daily lives of its characters, Season 8 ups the stakes.
The acting, as always, is superb. The new judge, Bourdieu, played by Clara Bonnet, is supercilious and self-impressed with a naivety that is life-threatening. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing returns as Maître Eric Edelman, the one lawyer who may actually have been more ethically compromised than Karlsson. Formerly her mentor, Edelman finds himself unable to say no to her requests, from defending her former prison mate to watching over Souleymane. De Lencquesaing has a hangdog look that belies his sharpness and it’s a pleasure to watch him work.
Tewfik Jallab as Ali Amrani was new to the cast in Season 7 and grows ever more complex in this season as his ego and self-delusion hand him the lesson he needs in order to be a team player in all its permutations. Handsome, brooding, vulnerable, and edgy, it is amazing that Jallab has not yet made the leap to more international fare.
And then there are the big three. Audrey Fleurot as Josephine Karlsson is as gorgeous and compelling as ever. It is truly entertaining to see her try (not always successfully) to evolve into someone who does good without recompense to herself. Her struggle is as evident as the color of her hair, a red that exists only in France.
Thierry Godard as Gilou Escoffier will be the primary cause of your anxiety and tension. Like most of the cast of characters, he has been and continues to straddle the line of right and wrong where he becomes the judge of where the line exists. Godard is especially good this season because the stakes are truly life and death, not only for him but for those around him.
Caroline Proust, Laure Berthaud, has been the heart and soul of this series. It would have been easy to have dismissed her early on as just another telegenic beauty in a cop show. Beautiful though she may be, Proust has always brought out the moral ambiguity and grit behind her character. Her inability to deal with normal day-to-day tasks is underscored by the adrenaline rush she craves through work. She is her work.
I love these characters, as dark as a coming storm, conflicted, lawless, and often despicable. I am in mourning for the end of the series and these roles I have come to know so well.
In French with subtitles.
Premiering on MHz Choice on Tuesday, January 5.