BBC4 Spiral Season 3: The Butcher of La Villette

Tonight I caught the first two episodes of the French police procedural series Spiral (Engrenage in the original; literal translation ‘gears’).

My primary reason for watching Spiral was to fill the two-hour viewing gap left by The Killing, but I was also curious about the French series, having heard praise for seasons 1 and 2.  It was a interesting start tonight, and could easily become compelling viewing for me, as this crime drama features yet another strong female investigator, Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust). As in The Killing, the first two episodes also set up a number of complex characters, plotlines and intrigues, and redefine our image of the cities in question by focusing on the gritty underbellies of Copenhagen and Paris (the Little Mermaid and Eiffel Tower are conspicuous by their absence).

I wasn’t as gripped by the opening episodes of Spiral as those of The Killing, but then again, this might be an unfair expectation, especially as I’m coming in cold to season 3, and don’t have the in-depth knowledge of the investigative team that has been built up over previous two seasons.

One aspect I really didn’t like, however, was the graphic nature of the autopsy scenes. While a key focus of the series is forensic policework, I’m not convinced it was necessary to provide so much stomach-churning visual detail. And a side-effect of covering my eyes during those scenes was that I was unable to read the subtitles, thus no doubt missing vital clues!

So a slightly mixed experience for this viewer. But I reckon I’ll be back for another two episodes next week. Those who are intending to watch the whole series (10 parts) will be interested to know that The Guardian is blogging Spiral 3 episode by episode. A splendid public service. Merci!

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4 thoughts on “BBC4 Spiral Season 3: The Butcher of La Villette

  1. I agree with you, especially about the graphic details. One of the many things I liked about Forbrydelsen was the minimal visual horrors. I too was trying to fill the gaping hole left by Lund and co.
    I do feel that Spiral copies Forbrydelsen in many ways and wonder if the writers of Spiral filched from it; does the production timeline allow this possibility or am I just carping???

    • An interesting thought, Norma, but I’ve just checked the production dates, and Spiral actually precedes The Killing. The first series of Spiral went out in 2005, as opposed to 2007 for The Killing. I’m wondering if it’s more a case of some kind of synergy or parallel development that’s in tune with the Zeitgeist. Gritty urban noir has been around for a long time, of course, but perhaps it’s simply the right moment for the emergence of strong female investigators like Laure and Lund, and a more ambitious contextualisation of the crime with reference to the victims’ families and the politics of the law / justice. As you say, there are really interesting parallels…

  2. Hi. I came across your blog via Twitter. This particularly resonates:

    And a side-effect of covering my eyes during those scenes was that I was unable to read the subtitles, thus no doubt missing vital clues!

    I had exactly the same problem (and also in the first episode of Spiral 1 which I am working my way through). There is a trick to it. If you focus on the words, the scene behind them fades away.

    I found Berthaud a little needy for my taste but I’ll see where it goes.

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