Engrenages ( Cog or Gear in French ) is a French cops and robbers and lawyers drama series , the first three seasons ( 28 episodes , 2005-2010) of which are now available on Netflix Streaming. For American viewers , the series is being marketed under the name Spiral .It is a very interesting series , not least because it shows us how different the French justice system is from what we are accustomed to in the U.S.
Not having seen The Wire , I at first thought that Spiral was a knock-off of Law and Order. I am a big fan of Law and Order and I know that its producer -creator Dick Wolf was planning foreign versions in England , France and Russia. I’ve seen the English version, available only on Netflix DVDs ,and it is interestingly different from the U.S original . The French and Russian versions of L & O I know nothing about.
Almost all the characters in Spiral are flawed and one can’t think of heroes or heroines. The main protagonists are:
Captain Laure Berthaud ,a conscientious , driven policewoman who is consumed by her job at great cost to her private life. She is fanatically loyal to the members of her squad who include Police Lt. Gilles Escoffier ( ” Gillou’) , similarly driven , but addicted to drugs and consorting with whores. And Police Lt. Frederic Fromentin ( ” Tintin “) , more by the book , more a regular guy .Also very loyal to Laure and Gillou.
Other main characters are Pierre Clement ,(a rising young prosecutor ,very righteous and incorruptible ); Judge Francois Roban, the examining prosecutor ( hardworking , relentless and willing to bend the rules in his pursuit of justice) and Josephine Carlsson, ( a skilled lawyer ,beautiful , fundamentally decent but very mercenary).
The series is set in Paris , but this Paris is a very different Paris from the one that tourists love . In all three seasons of the series , I think I saw perhaps one long-distance shot of the Eiffel Tower. What we see in Spiral is the seedy underbelly of Paris . The crimes that are investigated are similarly sordid : drugs , female trafficking and white slavery , murder. In each season there is one major crime which provides the common link for all the episodes before it is solved in the season finale .There are also smaller crimes which get solved in the course of a single episode.
Many of the crimes are committed by immigrants ( East Europeans , Arabs , Latins ) but , unlike some viewers who claim racism, I think it is an accurate representation of the reality ; there are plenty of French lowlifes too. Except for a few of the main characters , the entire system ( police , judiciary ) is portrayed as highly corrupted . Even the ” good” characters have their weaknesses and occasionally fall from grace.Highly believable.
What is most interesting to me is the way the French system differs from ours. In France , as in most of Europe , the police and the prosecutors work closely together. During every step of the investigation , the police are under the direction of the examining magistrate .In the U.S , the DAs get involved with a case only at the indictment stage ; before that they work very loosely with the police who have a free hand except that they need court orders for searches or wire-taps .
In France , the police apparently use force with suspects , routinely beating them , slapping them on the face and otherwise physically threatening them to get a confession . This is a contrast with the U.S where such intimidation is not the norm and where suspects are quick to claim police brutality at every turn . I have felt that the suspects rights have gone too far and that the police are seriously hobbled in their pursuit of perps ; after the detectives in Spiral beat up suspects , I am not so sure.
American viewers will be turned off by the gory scenes in Spiral , scenes which make CSI look like family viewing. There are frequent scenes of dismembered corpses ( mostly female and nude) spread out in rubbish dumps and morgue dissecting tables . There is also graphic violence and flashes of nudity . One other shortcoming is that there is a disconnect at the end of each season ; the crimes are solved and the perpetrators brought to justice, but major characters and plot threads disappear with no explanation .
On the other hand , the acting is first-rate , the characters are engaging , the plots are full of twists and turns and the series has its share of pulse pounding suspense. You will have to decide for yourself , whether you are going to look past the gore and the violence to watch a riveting series.
Me , I am looking forward to the fourth season . I think .