Watching Spiral is like being at an intimate dinner party where the starters and main course have been so sublime that you beg off the dessert, telling your host that you have had an elegant sufficiency – then he brings in a sumptuous-looking pavlova that you just can’t resist. The first of last week’s episodes started out with a sad but seemingly pedestrian open-and-shut case of family murder of Sandrine and Lucie Jaulin, a mother and young daughter who have been beaten to death and tossed in a canal, probably by husband and father Stéphane Jaulin, because of a custody row. Small beer for a squad that is used to dealing with terrorists, drug cartels and international people trafficking. Going into episode two, a possible case of police corruption landed on their desks. Two officers in a car pursuit accuse hapless civilian Kevin Leseuer of running down and killing their colleague – but is Leseuer being set up as the fall guy for bent cops? Photos taken of the damaged vehicles seem to support Leseuer’s story – but his car has been sent to the crusher. Two plotlines? So far so CSI.
But this series is oh, so much cleverer than that. This week brought several unexpected and alarming twists.
The incompetent and blustering Commissioner Herville (Nicolas Briançon), still nominally head of the CID, is still fighting against being moved sideways after the terrorist blast debacle of last series. His chance comes when the department is tasked with catching a team of teenage muggers targeting rich tourists for their bling and endangering the city’s tourist trade. Herville insists that Captain Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) and her squad Gilou (Thierry Godard) and Tintin (Fred Bianconi) should shift their focus to what they see as a sideshow.
Far more pressing, as far as Berthaud is concerned, is intercepting a group of cashpoint ram-raiders – CCTV footage allows them to watch the raiders in action – and the kicker is that one hijacked car used bears the same fingerprint as found on one of dead little Lucie Jaulin’s shoes. Could Stéphane Jaulin be tied up somehow with the ram-raiders – and could that account for all the cash found on him when he was arrested? In inferior scripts this kind of coincidence would set off a groan of disbelief among the audience – but remember, the city of Paris has a population of just over two million – tiny against the context of, say, London or New York City, so it is not inconceivable that the crimes could be connected.
The stolen car’s owner says a waitress hoodwinked him at a bar while his car was taken, so the trio stakes out her workplace. When Berthaud tries to apprehend the waitress on her way home, the girl and her and her friends kick seven bells out of her. Astonishingly, this ferocious attack doesn’t bring on the miscarriage that Berthaud is planning to have in Holland.
It transpires that the cashpoint gang is masterminded out of the bar by a hood called Blanco – and the travelling fingerprint is his.
Indeed, just as Berthaud boards the train for her termination – Merini, the intimidated bar owner, phones to say he knows who Blanco is and will lead her to him. At this rate will she ever get to the abortion clinic?
Back with the double murder, Berthaud is unconvinced of Jaulin’s guilt – despite Judge Roban’s determination, under the weight of the evidence, that he is. His supposition looks even more of a slam-dunk when Gilou again gently questions Lucie’s younger brother Léo, who admits that his dad was violent often towards his mother. We are loving Gilou even more in this series – despite being under huge pressure, he has become the emotional heart of the team, trying not only to get Berthaud to speak to colleague Brémont, the other possible father of her baby alongside the dead Sami, but also to keep the peace between brittle Berthaud and Tintin, a man frighteningly close to breakdown.
And when Jaulin’s secret second phone is retrieved, along with the data on his deep-frozen PC, their suspect’s guilt is compounded. Jaulin’s involvement with an amateur porn business looks above board and all between consenting adults – as Gilou says: “Ninety per cent of men have porn on their computer” – however, Jaulin has lied about not going to the family home; he did visit the house the night Sandrine and Lucie died.
Lovely lawyer Pierre Clément (Gregory Fitoussi) tells Roban that Léo’s grandparents, who hate son-in-law Stéphane, have a vested interest in getting the boy to testify against his dad, which reinforces the judge’s view.
But Roban, usually a clear thinker, may be barking up the wrong tree. Maybe Jaulin really is a victim of his in-laws’ hatred. Little Lucie had been drugged before she died – could the grandparents have doped the girl to make it easier to move her into their care? There is something in their demeanour that says they are not entirely to be trusted.
Meanwhile, Clément’s partner and lover Josephine Karlsson, representing the dead cop’s widow in the hope of making the two police officers culpable in a civil court, sees defeat snatched from the jaws of victory when the magistrates fail to come to any conclusions. It’s only a setback for Karlsson, but it is devastating to the grief-stricken widow.
On a brighter note for Karlsson, Clément is in the running for a place on the Bar Council. Doubtless she will find a way to turn it to her advantage.
What can happen next? Will the ram-raiders be discovered to have a connection to the motorcycle muggers? Maybe their favoured cash-for-gold shop forms the nexus of a citywide conspiracy. It would not be beyond the bounds of possibility.
The scope and ambition of this police procedural do not cease to amaze. It reveals most recent US and British TV cop series to be coasting on stock characters and plots – with series such as Fargo and Happy Valley as honourable exceptions, the first being elegiac and ethereal and the second being quirky and rooted in its very specific setting. For all its plaudits Broadchurch is mainly getting by on the quality of the acting. Endemol Studios in LA is reported to be remaking Spiral, but the US efforts to remake hit European series in its own image such as Broadchurch and The Killing so far just serve to point up why some TV just doesn’t translate.
Four our episode one and two review, go here