Spiral: Season 2 DVD Review: A Superb, Layered French Crime Drama

The original title for this French crime drama is Engrenages which literally translates to “gears.” That’s fitting as the show is comprised of many smaller parts that sometimes fit (and sometimes grind) together to create a larger machine. The English translation of Spiral works better if you add on spiral of violence as it concentrates on the ever-downward spiral that crime and corruption causes.

I have not watched any of season one so I must admit up front that there may be intricacies of plot and nuances of character that I have completely missed within season two. This season is an intense, dense, layered, dark, and multi-faceted crime drama set in Paris. Its focus is on a police squad, led by Captain Laure (Caroline Proust), and the criminals they are after. It has been called the French Wire and that’s not far off the mark. Like that show, Spiral contains several overreaching seasonal arcs as well as smaller stories told within one or two episodes. It also takes a non-flinching look at the world of crime, drugs, and the flawed systems that try to stop it. Spiral never quite captures the depth and scope of The Wire, but it is a truly excellent show.

And intense. Within the first episode we see someone burned alive in the trunk of a car. This horror is filmed by a young boy who perhaps thinks he’s just watching another action sequence like those he sees on the movies and TV and doesn’t realize the real trouble he can cause. This murder becomes the first seasonal story we’ll follow all the way through. Not long thereafter, we travel with Laure and her colleagues into a shady auto shop where she is assaulted by one of the gangsters. Laure fights back with a baton, busting the gangsters knees in the process. Being that the baton is unregistered for use as a police weapon, Laure and her colleagues falsify their report and note that she simply shoved the assailant, causing him to fall down the stairs.

The crook hires Joséphine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot) an unscrupulous, extremely ambitious attorney who then sues Laure for police brutality. With that, we have our second seasonal arc. Burrowing between those two major plot points lies several smaller crimes and problems that weave in and out the season. This includes several other characters including two brothers who are big-time drug dealers, various cops, a few prosecutors, and a judge.

Spiral weaves these characters and stories together seamlessly. The crimes are brutal, but realistic. The cops are dedicated but flawed. We often see them slapping, pushing and hitting suspects out of anger, and a desire to get answers. Those on the judiciary side are ambitious which often causes them to work from their own desires, not necessarily the laws. Yet the characters are very human, interesting and we learn to care for them on an emotional level.

The show is shot in monochrome which heightens the realism and grittiness of the stories. The camera never flinches from the violence, often lingering on a battered or charred body. It is an unflinching look at the dark side of Paris and a layered, utterly fascinating show.

Spiral: Season 2 is fantastic television. Its dark grittiness isn’t for everyone. But for those who enjoy multi-faceted, deeply layered and realistic crime dramas, Spiral is one of the best.

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Mat Brewster

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