Saturday, September 28, 2013

SPIRAL's fourth season is here at last -- and every bit as strong as one, two and three....

If you're like so many of us Netflix streamers who've been following the dark, ever-justice-seeking, French TV series SPIRAL (Engrenages) over seasons one through three, you'll be glad to know that season four is now available -- and even happier to hear it's as good as the first three. Maybe even stronger is some ways. (Or maybe, as a friend of mine points out, we're just better understanding and appreciating these characters.)

And why not? The half-dozen leading characters, as well as many of the supporting ones, are spectacularly imagined and hugely troubled, yet we love them as much for as in spite of their enormous faults. That they must work together -- judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and police -- in pursuit of a justice that seems ever out of reach, almost deliberately so, only adds to the series' great pull. (Yes, ever-present class, wealth and power collude here, just as they do in every western, read Capitalist, country -- including China. That alternating visionary/monster Mao must be revolving in his grave.)

In Season 4, a car -- in which a profusely bleeding man, a young woman and another man (the driver) -- speeds along. Instead of taking the wounded to the hospital, as the woman suggests, the driver defers, and they simply deposit the bleeder in a uninhabited wooded area off the side of the road. So begins this 12-part season of generally 50-minute episodes (the final two last one hour or more) which takes in everything from violent, anti-authority revolutionaries as a means to end the class struggle to the plight of illegal immigrants and the love life of our favorite police captain, Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust, above).

On the judicial front, that so-honest-it nearly-kills-him Judge Roban (the wonderful Philippe Duclos, above) is still trying to crack the facade of the sleaze who have risen to the top ("Shit floats," as someone remarks along the way) while seemingly digging himself deeper into failure. Midway along this season, his career looks to have ended for good.

Kurdistan gun-running takes up some of our characters' time, with that fine young actor Johan Libéreau appearing as the spoiled son of a very ugly family of "patriots." Some plot strands eventually connect, while others do not, but that search for justice remains front and center. The writing and direction, as usual, are generally first-rate, with the pacing particularly fine here, alternating nicely between suspenseful chases and more intimate goings-on.

Everyone's favorite red-hot red-head, Joséphine Karlsson (the luscious Audrey Fleurot) is up to her usual tricks, though this season we learn more about her than ever before, and now the motives for many of her odd, seemingly contradictory actions become clearer. And that prosecutor-turned-defense-lawyer Pierre Clément (played by the series' dreamboat, Grégory Fitoussi) is on tap, too -- now acting as a lawyer for a truly ruthless, nasty crime lord.

The only character that has not yet registered all that strongly is the policeman Fromentin (called "Tintin" and played by Fred Bianconi, above), who this season sort of comes into his own -- and still fails to register much. Tintin's a good guy, a bit plodding and by-the-book, married with kids (and yet a new one on the way). What happens to him and its aftermath this season should have put him on par, in terms of interest, with the rest of the cast. But even now, he doesn't quite make it. Perhaps he's just too "regular" to compete with the rest of this wildly human crew. On the other hand, Tintin does help ground the series, giving us a benchmark of normality against which to measure.

This season (created by Alexandra Clert) also brings back a character we haven't seen since Season 2, which causes a little commotion at the precinct and in bed (or at least in the back of a car). Spiral is is adult show, by the way; though made for French television, it features the occasional full-frontal male package and plenty of female nudity, too. The most violent and dastardly of these revolutionaries (nice job by Jérôme Huguet), is in fact quite the cocksman (shades of Carlos!), leading to what happens at the series' finale. This involves a young woman revolutionary (a very fine performance from Judith Chemla, below) who comes complete with some rather severe emotional problems of her own, which allow us to see, yet again, what bastions of male chauvinism revolutionary groups tend to be -- and how they often attract (as do police departments) exactly the wrong kind of applicants.

As usual, there is the occasional huh? moment. My favorite comes around midway, when Gilot (played by the gruffly sexy Thierry Godard) discovers some shell casings and thus understands that gunfire recently occurred. But we've just heard the sound of that gunfire, which Gilot, too would have heard -- unless instead of going around the corner to bring back binoculars from the unmarked police car, he ended up in Italy. Oh, well. Most police procedurals have these What-were-they-thinking? moments, and Spiral is no different. Just better.

Although this particular season seems overall to be less violent and bloody than some in the past (much of the violence this time round is self-inflicted), the threat of violence is always there and must be dealt with. Hence the suspense that slowly accrues.

Spiral, season 4 (along with the other three) can be streamed via Netflix. So far as I know, this remains the best and only way to see this famous French series here in the U.S.A. And yes, number 4 is one hot season....

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