The phrase ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’ springs immediately to mind when describing the fifth series of the fantastic French import Spiral (Engrenages), which documents the efforts of an embattled Parisian police team and the lawyers of the Palais de Justice as they attempt to solve various (often grisly) cases.
With flawed but likeable characters, involving plots and an admirable willingness to plunge into the murky depths of French society, the show is usually a reliable bet for intriguing, thought-provoking entertainment. This series, which finished airing over on BBC Four last week, proves no exception, and may well be among the best yet.
A particularly shocking crime is at the heart of the plot this time around – the murder of a mother and daughter who are found in a canal, which leads to a barrage of subplots (as ever) and an interesting focus on parents and children and the often complicated relationships between them.
There was also more than enough personal intrigue going on to satisfy those interested in that sort of thing. Police Chief Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) was pregnant and didn’t know the father, with weary team member Gilou (Thierry Godard) on hand to support her. The usually level-headed cop Tintin (Fred Bianconi) was barely going home because he couldn’t bear to be around his infant children. Lawyer Pierre Clément (Grégory Fitoussi) was trying for the bar council, and the ever-cranky but brilliant Judge François Roban (Philippe Duclos) kept having stress nosebleeds and was generally being even more stubborn than usual. All of the above is, for them, just a normal day at the office.
However, surprisingly, some characters have also changed for the better this series. Laure and Pierre’s lawyer girlfriend Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot), who had previously hated each other, come to an understanding, and Commissioner Herville (Nicolas Briançon), the police team’s boss, formerly a snarky twit par excellence, turns into an unexpectedly likeable, principled, even valued individual, proving that improved workplace relations could actually exist.
But the brilliance lies in that the show has always been able to balance the characters’ personal issues with the frequently nasty crimes which form the basis of the plot – unlike, say, Scott and Bailey, which found personal dramas turning into the plot. Here, they merely add to the engrossing panorama of Parisian darkness. With the show being in its fifth series, the characters also feel much more lived in, and are able to put across the depth of their feelings with just a glance or a gesture. They truly feel like people now, and all have their own pain or regrets.
But one very welcome difference to the precursory four series of Spiral is that this time, the culprit behind the main crime is neither predictable nor revealed to the viewer early on, as in previous outings, where it was done for effect. Here we are kept guessing until pretty much the end of the twelve-episode run, and one could be forgiven for having even the vaguest sympathy for the person responsible in the end.
In my experience, Spiral is not one to let its viewers rest on its laurels, but this time around the stakes seem even higher than usual. Especially for those who are long-time watchers and fans of the show, there is one undeniably massive shock at a certain point in the series which could leave viewers reeling, which is only made more powerful by the fact that the relationships between the characters remain so well-drawn out.
The emotional intensity is prolonged over a manner of weeks, and by the last scene of the twelfth and final episode (and incidentally, I am fuming at precisely where they ended it), it’s easy to have shed a tear or ten. That’s how good (and unpredictable) Spiral is. This twisty crime drama hasn’t had a bad run yet, and this one for me must rank as the best after series 3.
The characters are all in various different situations by the end of proceedings, some good and some bad, with many occupying the moral grey area that Spiral examines so well. So, it’ll be interesting to see where it all turns to next, but resolutions are needed pronto the next time its credits uncoil.
Series 4 of Spiral is currently available on Netflix. Episodes 5-12 of Series 5 are still available to watch on BBC iPlayer.