The French television series Spiral stands out in a TV schedule awash with stories of maverick and heroic cops.
In most police thrillers the hero is a moral centre away from the corruption around them.
Here captain Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) plants evidence without a second thought, and exists one step away from suspension. Her right hand man Gilou (Thierry Godard) dealt drugs and was an addict—while on duty. Berthaud covered up for him. So it is a surprise that in this season he has the clearest head.
The scariest thing is how the show makes you identify with the cops as they carry out their form of “justice”.
Beating up suspects and framing people they (usually) think are guilty are par for the course. Berthaud and her team also racially abuse prisoners from north African backgrounds.
In a filthy, grey and entirely unromantic Paris, they investigate murder—usually the misogynistic killing of women.
The fifth season, The Double Murder, opened on BBC4 last Saturday. Each series follows a single crime. This one builds from the discovery of the bound corpses of a woman and her young daughter in a canal.
As events escalate Berthaud’s unpleasant, utterly corrupt boss offers her the “manpower, budget, equipment” to solve the case—if she’ll help improve his sullied reputation.
Berthaud’s own private life is spiralling out of control. Spiral is not about exposing corruption.
The background to the team’s investigations is a system where all levels of the state and society are entirely corrupted. The producers say that each of the crimes investigated is based on a real investigation.
The police work in the system with lawyers Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot) and Pierre Clement (Gregory Fitoussi). This time Karlsson is caught up in the case of police officers who appear to be framing a young man for the death of another cop that they caused themselves.
Finally prosecuting judge Francois Roban (Philippe Duclos), lectures new lawyers on how the most successful of them will be the ones who accept being dragged along by the system. “Are you trying to put us off?” one asks.
In France it is called Engrenages, which keeps the idea of spiralling out of control but also means “gears” or “cogs”. All these cogs are slowly but surely corrupted by a corrupt system.
The showing of the first season of Spiral on British TV in 2006 started the fashion for foreign language police shows, but few watched it until after the success of Wallander and The Killing.
To date it has kept up its quality, even if it leaves you feeling dirty for watching.