The Bureau is a French geopolitical thriller from Canal+ brought to the U.S. by the SundanceTV. It concerns the inner workings of the DGSE (which is France’s equivalent to the CIA). It is a densely plotted show that weaves multiple storylines together with over a dozen regular characters. It is probably easiest to compare it to Homeland, but I’d argue it shares more DNA with The Wire. Like Homeland, it deals with escalating terror threats from the Middle East but where Homeland tended to jump the rails (and eventually the shark) in its never-ceasing need to raise the stakes (and the viewers’ blood pressure), The Bureau takes a much more leisurely pace and adheres more carefully to its realism. Like The Wire, it takes a broad look at society while still painting a very detailed picture of its characters.
Season Three begins with Guillaume (Mathieu Kassovitz) living as an ISIS hostage. Most of his team work diligently to get him free, but this is complicated by some things he did, I presume, in a previous season. The higher-ups are unwilling to risk resources on a man they see as a fugitive from justice. They certainly don’t want to risk the mission or the lives of their undercover agents.
Elsewhere, Nadia El Mansour (Zineb Triki) has taken a role at the European Council in Brussels attempting to help solve the crisis in Syria. As Guillaume’s former lover, the DGSE uses her to broker meetings with ISIS and works on an exchange of hostages.
Back at headquarters, Marina Loiseu (Sara Giraudeau) is suffering panic attacks stemming from her previous undercover mission (which presumably occurred last season). At first, it is uncertain if she will be able to keep her position at the Bureau, but when someone approaches her pretending to be an agent of the DGSE and tries to recruit her, she knows she’s found a mission she can transform into.
On the front lines, Raymond (Jonathan Zaccai) is in Syria working with the Kurds hoping they can help locate Guillaume. While there, he befriends a woman soldier and tries to recruit her to the DGSE. She then recruits her cousins to help with some pretty dicey missions in hopes they may be able to turn an ISIS leader into an informant.
I told you this show is densely plotted. I’ve not even mentioned half a dozen home-office agents, or Guillaume’s daughter, or any number of other characters who prove important to the multiple stories being told. I feel like to fully comprehend what is going on one would need to make a plethora of charts and graphs. This is not to say the series is not enjoyable or understandable, for it is very much both of those things, but that it has a lot of depth and layers.
As you might gather from my vague notions of what has happened previously, I have not seen either of the first two seasons of The Bureau. I was given the first three episodes of the first season to review, but had not watched anything beyond that until completing Season Three. Because of this, there are certainly nuances that I missed and character relationships that slipped over my head, but the show does a good job of keeping new viewers filled at least partially in. So while I may not understand exactly what Guillaume did to piss off the higher-ups, I completely understood that something transpired, making his extraction more complicated than it might otherwise be.
The Bureau is so carefully written, so precise in its storytelling, that it is a joy to watch. The acting is across the board fantastic. It kept me breathless waiting to see what would happen next and thinking about exactly what had transpired long after each episode rolled.
You can purchase all three seasons of The Bureau on DVD or stream in on Sundance Now. Now if you will excuse me I have to go talk my wife into subscribing now so I can catch up on it.