I imagine that if you tried to market a TV series called “Cogs,” everyone would think it was the bicycle version of Top Gear. Instead, the makers of the French cop drama, Engrenage, currently occupying the Scandi drama slot on BBC 4, have opted for the imperfect English translation, Spiral.
Now broadcasting Season 4, State of Terror, this series reveals a side of Paris that most tourists won’t even know exists and a million miles away from the absurdly sentimental world of Amelie and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Engrenage pits battle-hardened cop, Captain Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) and her team against the likes of lawyers Joséphine Karlsson (Audrey Flouret) and Pierre Clément who are so hooked on money and success that they are drawn to defend high paying underworld criminals.
In Engrenage the cops are forced to pursue their suspects in the kind of car that Jeremy Clarkson wouldn’t be seen dead in. It’s the detailed portrayal of the day to day working lives of police officers that makes this such an engaging series. I don’t know any other cop drama that has got so close to the reality of the level of trust that team members have for their colleagues. Laure and her colleague “Gilou” are always at each other and it must drive their colleague “Tintin” up the wall. But you know that this is just a way of alleviating tension, a release after the stress of the day job. You know that if it came to it, Laure would lay down her life to save Gilou and that he would do the same for her.
Laure and especially Gilou live their professional lives on the edge: when Laure pulled the trigger on a sadistic killer a second too early, it is Gilou and Tintin who are prepared to lie and say that they witnessed the killer aiming his weapon at Laure. It’s just a shame that Gilou, who has got himself in way too deep with the Sarahoui clan – (by providing them with an illegal weapon), can’t ‘fess up to Laure and tell her what’s going on.
Laure is tenacious and brave on the beat but has a tendency to fall apart back in the office. Her bête noir is lawyer Joséphine Karlsson, who has tried on more than one occasion to go after Laure for police brutality. It is Laure’s bad luck to question a suspect and then find out they are being defended by Karlsson.
Josephine reminds me of a female lawyer in Melbourne who made a very good living out of defending one particularly notorious family in the criminal underworld.
These women, with their designer wardrobes and killer heels, seem happy to have made a pact with the devil: they thrive on the power, notoriety and fame that their underworld clients bestow upon them. Their lives are never dull: there’s the danger and excitement that goes with defending the most indefensible of dangerous gangland bosses. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that should they get the wrong result for their clients that their own lives might be in danger. Joséphine, I suspect, probably does know this – and makes darn sure that she doesn’t lose a case.
But the character who is perhaps the most intriguing in Season 4 is Pierre Clément, who has gone into business with Joséphine, and gone from upstanding prosecutor to gun-for-hire defender of low-life. But I suspect that like the title – these two are heading for a fall, spiralling their way down, out of control. It’s compelling stuff.
Engrenage is currently screening on BBC 4 Saturday nights at 9.00pm in double episodes.