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Series / Engrenages

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Engrenages (literally "cogs" or "gears", but with implications akin to "wheels within wheels" and "spiralling out of control"), 2005-present, known in English-speaking markets as Spiral, is a French Police Procedural Crime and Punishment Series set in the less touristy parts of Paris. The three main protagonists play different roles in the French justice system: Capitaine Laure Berthaud represents the police, Maitre Pierre Clément is a prosecutor, and François Roban is an examining magistrate. Clément is written out in the fifth season, and Joséphine Karlsson, previously his Amoral Attorney foil, takes over as a leading character.

The first season deals with the murder of a Romanian prostitute that turns out to have heavy political connections. The second season covers an investigation into a group of North African gangsters. Both of these two seasons also have Mystery of the Week elements, but the third season dumps this in favour of putting the three characters into separate plot arcs: Berthaud hunts a Serial Killer of prostitutes in Paris's former abbatoir district; Clément, disgusted with politics and corruption, attempts to set up as an independent lawyer; and Roban starts a quixotic investigation into a corrupt mayor with very high-level connections. The fourth season dives into the French debate over illegal immigration, with a far-left-wing terrorist group attacking people who they consider responsible for treating immigrants unjustly. The fifth season sees the investigation into the dead bodies of a mother and daughter discovered in a canal uncovering a chaotic labyrinth of street-level crime. In the sixth season, Berthaud and her team investigate the gruesome murder of a young police officer; an ailing Roban has to deal with the suspicious death of an elite graduate student and part-time High Class Call Boy; and Karlsson takes on the defense of a wealthy young man accused of murdering his abusive father. In the seventh season, the characters find themselves investigating the murder of a senior policeman who was shot dead along with the owner of a Chinese restaurant, what initially appears to be an armed robbery gone wrong turns out to be connected with a rather more complex criminal network. Meanwhile, Karlsson attempts to rebuild her life and career.


After first achieving high critical acclaim in its native France on Canal+, the show was aired (and eventually co-funded) by The BBC in 2006, and has since developed a loyal international fanbase. In the UK at least seems to have paved the way for a great deal of imported European gritty cop dramas. The show has proved so successful that after the third season three more were ordered simultaneously.


This show provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: A lot of people fit : Szabo, Laborde, Mustapha Larbi, even Michel the Romanian. Depending on the "evil", also Karlsson. And of course Jesus, the most sympathetic person to ever hack people into bits.
  • Amoral Attorney: Karlsson, and even more so Szabo. In the fourth season, Karlsson gets less amoral, but Pierre goes well on the way to replacing her.
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Thomas' crew in season 4. Contrasted with the more principled and less violent Christophe.
  • Anti-Hero: It goes without saying. Laure is type II, Gilou closer to type III.
  • Anti-Villain: The elder Ozbek son is a freedom fighter who helps his people by dealing weapons. The younger, on the other hand, is just a thug.
  • Ate His Gun: Jolers shoots himself through the mouth in front of his colleagues in S6, after he's implicated in the murder of one of his partners. Although it was someone else's gun.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Beckriche, Laure's new boss in S6, is initially introduced as a bit of a dick whose past in the fraud squad has left him inexperienced with the rougher kinds of police work, but turns out to be a good commander.
  • Bait the Dog: In the seventh season, Edelman appears to be genuinely trying to help Karlsson, but it turns out that he's deliberately trying to hold up her rehabilitation to force her to work for him.
  • Bastard Understudy: All over the place (and to varying degrees of eventual success), most notably with Roban/Pierre and Szabo/Karlsson.
  • Beard of Evil: Inverted. In the sixth season, Herville's growth of a beard coincides with his complete Heel–Face Turn.
  • Berserk Button: Anything police-related for Joséphine.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The Larbi brothers in the second season.
  • Black and Grey Morality: In the course of investigating some pretty horrendous crimes, even the good guys skirt on the very edges of what's ethically and morally right.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Averted, because the artificer was literally Hoist by His Own Petard. Then played straight with the bombing of the police headquarters in Paris.
  • Born Detective: Laure was born to be a cop, and can't think of her life otherwise. Gilou is also very good at reading crime scenes.
  • Brains and Bondage: While investigating a rape case, Roban reveals that he knows a suspicious amount about the practicalities of suspension bondage.
  • Break the Haughty: Everything that happens to Joséphine in season 4. She even attempts to kill herself when Pierre dumps her.
  • Broken Bird: Implied for Joséphine.
  • Butch Lesbian: In the fifth season, leading Gang Banger Karen "Oz" Hoarau is heavily implied to be one.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Subverted with Fromentin, who is Lawful Good at heart, but will stick to his friends when needed.
  • Character Development: Karlsson goes through a lot of this, especially in Season 4.
  • The Chessmaster: Roban.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Sami in the third season. Although that may explain how screwed up Berthaud is.
      • Justified by the fact that Sami joined the team only for one mission (for obvious reasons), and that his job doesn't really allow him to enter a stable relationship, especially with Laure
      • And then subverted when he came back in season 4 to join Laure's team
    • Szabo disappears without explanation after the third season, after being a significant character up to that point (in real life, the actor had other things to do).
  • Cliffhanger: The fifth season ending, with Laure's pregnancy hanging in the balance after she jumped into a river in a failed attempt to stop Oz from killing herself. The sixth season reveals that the child was born severely premature, possibly as a result.
  • Commander Contrarian: Herville in the fourth season, no matter what Laure does. He becomes nicer in the fifth season.
  • Cop Hater: Karlsson hates the police in general, because when she was a child the local cops covered up her mother being abused by her father because he was a judge, which eventually led to her mother killing herself.
  • Cowboy Cop: Gilou. Laure has her moments.
  • Crapsack World: This is very much the side of France that the tourist board would rather have you not see, in a setting that draws inevitable comparisons to The Wire.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Judge Roban.
  • Definitely Just a Cold: Roban suffers repeated nosebleeds throughout the fifth season but refuses to seek any medical help. It still isn't resolved by the end of the season. In the sixth season he turns out to be suffering from a brain tumour, but continues to procrastinate getting treatment for it despite suffering physical weakness and moments of forgetfulness and confusion.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • "Le Requin" (the shark) in S3, who hunts down runaway hookers and returns them to their pimps.
    • Jolers and Calvi in S6, as well as the Internal Affairs guy who was supposed to be investigating them.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Karlsson puts a guy behind bars because he insulted her. Subverted since he was guilty, but she was supposed to be her lawyer.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Used by Joséphine to get an incriminating camera without having Pierre noticing.
  • The Dog Bites Back: You do not want to betray Machard's ambitions.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: The fifth season reveals that Gilou has developed these kinds of feelings for Laure. When she reacts in an unambiguously negative way, his self-destructive side comes out again big time.
  • Domestic Abuse: Karlsson's father, by implication, if not worse.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Season 4, big time. Sami dies, and Big Bad Riffaud gets away.
    • Season 6 ends with the main investigation concluded in a moderately successful and morally-satisfying way, but is horrible for all the major characters personally. Laure, on the point of finally taking Romy home and setting up a family with Gilou, panics and in the season's final shot literally runs off into the distance from the hospital; Roban is forced into sick leave and is told that even if his cancer can be sent into remission enough for him to return to work, it's incurable; Karlsson is prosecuted for the attempted murder of her rapist and, even if she manages to avoid jail, faces the end of her career; Fromentin, after getting divorced from his wife, ends up asking to be transferred out of Laure's squad in disgust at her general rule-bending, and in particular at her covering up Gilou's latest screw-up while also having an affair with him; Herville's police station has been rocked by general revelations of corruption and by a cop gorily killing himself in front of all his colleagues after being discovered to have been complicit in the murder of his partner.
  • Driven to Suicide: Arnaud. Also Karlsson, even if it doesn't work she's found by her landlord after she floods the flat downstairs.
  • Dysfunction Junction: all the way through, but the third season takes it Up to Eleven.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • In season 4, when Machard sides with Roban.
    • In season 5, where Roban and Karlsson team up to uncover a conspiracy to frame a semi-innocent man for the death of a policeman who was actually accidentally killed by other cops.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: In the fifth season, Oz's all-girl street gang has both black and white members.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The Larbi brothers care for each other, and for their families. Until Farouk learns about his wife and Mus.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Larbi brothers seem genuinely disgusted when Aziz abducts a child who testified against him.
  • Evil Counterpart: Karlsson to Pierre. And then, in season 4, Pierre to Karlsson.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Averted as much as it's played straight. Whilst Pierre and Joséphine always manage to look incredibly elegant, Laure always gives the impression she's about to fall apart and Gilou perpetually looks like he's coming down off a 3-day bender. Many ancillary characters even exhibit gonk-like tendencies.
  • Evil Matriarch: Layla Ozbekis both playing this trope straight and subverting it : she is a mob boss, but she genuinely loves her sons.
  • Evil Mentor: Szabo to Karlsson. In the fourth season, Gilou to Amina.
  • External Combustion: Courtesy of Mrs Jorkal.
  • False Rape Accusation: Guy-on-guy, when Pierre is accused by a troubled teenage male client.
  • Fanservice: It's a French work, so there's a fair amount of nudity, male and female. Berthaud herself even has a sex scene!
  • A Father to His Men: Laure is a gender flipped version of this; she cares deeply about her fellow police officers and goes to all sorts of lengths to protect them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Johnny Jorkal pretends to be a cuddly old Neighbourhood Friendly Gangster but is actually utterly ruthless and malignant.
  • Femme Fatale: A persona that is deliberately and frequently invoked by Karlsson in-universe. Eventually, it comes back to haunt her.
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted, Karlsson is usually very cold-blooded and calculating.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Bertaud and Herville, by the end of season five.
  • Five-Man Band: The cops in season three.
  • Freudian Excuse: Karlsson hates cops because they knew her father was abusing her mother, and did nothing about it because he was a judge, as a result of which her mother killed herself.
  • Friend or Idol Decision: Herville is offered the promotion he's been trying to get for over two seasons, if he agrees to let Gilou be blamed for morally dubious acts he ordered him to do. He does the right thing.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Averted with Karlsson; it's made clear that with her lavish house and lifestyle she is living well beyond her means, which opens her up to becoming a full-blown Amoral Attorney.
  • Gangland Drive-By: A man is gunned down in front of Pierre's house by a motorcycle pillion passenger, because of Pierre's flirtation with being a gangster-servicing Amoral Attorney. This leads Pierre to a moral crisis.
  • Gayngst: In the sixth season Machard is forced to confess to Roban that he is gay and closeted, and that he was the mysterious client who was present when a high-class gay prostitute died from an accidental drug overdose. Roban's decision not to bring proceedings reduces him to tears.
  • Gay Paree: Very much averted, almost to the point of Scenery Gorn.
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: Eastern Europeans in the first and third seasons, North Africans in the second and fourth, and also Kurds in the fourth. The fourth season also finally has a gang boss with French ancestry. The fifth season averts this by having a racially-integrated Gang Banger crew.
  • Girls Behind Bars: Karlsson's arc in the seventh season, in which she's in a realistically-depicted women's prison awaiting trial for attempted murder.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Berthaud finally decides to stay pregnant in the fifth season, after going as far as booking an appointment. Then she ends up potentially losing the baby in the end of season cliffhanger.
  • Gratuitous Rape: The fifth season has a graphic rape scene where a minor member of Oz's female Gang Banger crew is raped by a security guard at an office that she was stealing information from. The two characters are extremely minor (the man's literal sole purpose is to appear, commit the rape, and then only appear in one more scene in the season, being questioned by the cops), the rape has absolutely no impact on the plot, and it seems to have been put in solely to dial up the Crapsack World atmosphere.
  • Gut Feeling: Part of the Cowboy Cop panoply. Especially Laure with Ronaldo.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Karlsson, at least when it comes to her job. With Szabo, she is as evil a lawyer can be. In season 4, she helps migrants that were fired by their boss.
    • After being introduced with a severe case of Pointy-Haired Boss in the fourth season, and mellowing slightly in the fifth, Herville turns up again in the sixth having seemingly become A Father to His Men after taking command of a police station in a very poor and rough suburb.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Joséphine and Pierre.
  • Heroic BSoD: Fromentin after he gets shot and nearly dies.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: At the end of the seventh season Gilou takes full responsibility for the mess over his and Laure's blackmail of Solignac, exonerating her and ending his career at the very least.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Nicolas, Roban's possible murder victim in the sixth season, was a student at the Sciences Po, one of the elite "grandes ecoles" of the French higher education system, who supplemented his money by working as a high class gay male prostitute.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Alyssa in season one, who sincerely cares about Gilou. Patricia in season three is a mild example.
  • Hourglass Plot: Pierre and Karlsson in the fourth season.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: one of the subplots of the third season has Gilou firing a wild shot in the air during a fracas in a crack house and unintentionally hitting a dealer in the crotch.
  • The Illegal: The fourth season is based around illegal immigrants and the French politics surrounding them.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Roban is a more cynical version, advancing the cause of justice no matter what. If you get a speeding ticket in Paris, you will pay the fine, whether you are the Littlest Cancer Patient or the president of France. He (almost) never schemes or bends rules unless it is in direct defense against interference with justice.
  • The Infiltration: Sami's job.
  • In Love with the Mark: Berthaud with Brémont in the third season
  • Internal Affairs: Consequence of the Cowboy Cop tendencies.
  • It Amused Me: Why Szabo doesn't fire Karlsson after she tried to cross him. Because honest lawyers are boring.
  • Jack the Ripoff: In the third season, the Albanians kill one of their prostitutes in a copy of Ronaldo's MO, so they can make it appear that he's innocent and keep using him as a threat to keep the women under control.
  • Jeanne d'Archétype: Sophie Mazerat ends up thinking that she is.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Roban, sometimes verging on Ambiguously Evil
  • Jurisdiction Friction: In season 4, the DCRI counter-terrorism agents and the DPJ risk lives and sabotage each other because their bosses are vying for the same promotion.
  • Karma Houdini: Thomas Riffaud gets away scot free.
  • Kick the Dog: Thomas beating up Christophe for breaking with him, after Christophe lied to the cops for him.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: In the fifth season, Zach Gabbaï, an armed robber and murderer, gets beaten to death by two drug dealers who he didn't pay fast enough.
  • Killed Off for Real:
    • Clément is accidentally shot dead during a hostage situation halfway through the fifth series.
    • Herville is murdered at the beginning of the seventh season.
  • The Last DJ: Roban in the later seasons.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: As well as the three main protagonists, there are dozens of secondary characters, all of whom are important to the frequently labyrinthine plot arcs.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In the fifth season, Lucie turns out to have been Zach's daughter, not Stéphane's.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: At the start of the seventh season, Laure is persuaded to come off mental-health leave to help investigate Herville's murder.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Karlsson. Most other characters find themselves having to step into the role of Manipulative Bastard as well at various points throughout the series.
  • Married to the Job: Laure and Roban.
  • Mayor Pain
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: There are shades of this all over the place, but most obviously Roban's investigation of a corrupt mayor is instigated by a security guard's dog attacking a child.
  • Mistaken Identity: Sami's first meeting with the police team - almost a case of Mistaken for Servant. Everyone assumes he's been brought here for interrogation, and talks down to him.
    • It's worth remembering Sami is of North African appearance.
  • The Mole: Gilou in season one.
  • Murder Simulators: One of the cases of the week in the second season has a troubled teenager who goes on a shooting rampage that initially gets blamed on his first-person-shooter habit. It turns out that the shooting spree (which didn't actually harm anyone) was an attempt at Suicide by Cop after he murdered his online girlfriend when she rejected him at their first face-to-face meeting.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Pierre when some thugs threaten to kill him because Jorkal - Pierre's client - didn't pay them.
    • Roban after his unrelenting pursuit of a man who turned out to be innocent causes Pierre's death.
  • Mystery of the Week: Included in many episodes of the first two seasons, but dropped in the later ones, which had more than one Story Arc instead.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Herville's funeral has all the characters deeply grieving for and fulsomely eulogising him, despite what an arsehole he was when first introduced.
  • New Season, New Name: The English marketing gave the third and fourth seasons specific subtitles: the third is subtitled "The Butcher of La Villette" and the fourth "State of Terror".
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Tintin to a suspect who insulted his wife.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: In the fifth season, Karlsson persuades an intimidated witness to turn up in court by hinting that he's scared in front of his mates. (Plus a bit of flirting.)
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Most of the higher-ups wear this hat from time to time, but Machard excels at this.
  • Oh, Crap!: A rare heroic and positive version, when Roban discovers that Machard isn't gonna deny his request.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Fromentin is nearly always called "Tintin".
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: In the sixth season, Karlsson is determined to defend Thomas Weber because he killed his abusive father, and she is entirely sympathetic because she wishes she'd had the guts to do the same to her own.
  • Perp Sweating: various ways, usually legal ones.
  • Pet the Dog: Mustapha caring about Rachid's widow.
    • Joséphine warning the immigrants before the Police arrives.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Herville in the fourth season.
  • Poisonous Friend: Benoit
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Thomas Riffaut decides to give up, run away and live to fight another day when his getaway driver is arrested. He also abandons Sophie when she decides to carry on, hanging up on her and destroying his phone the moment he realizes she won't get away.
  • Put on a Bus: Fromentin leaves the team at the end of season six after falling out with Laure and Gilou.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: A major one for Roban in season 3.
  • Rape as Drama: In the sixth season, Karlsson wakes up in the street with her underwear missing, obvious signs of sex, and no memory of the night before after she went for drinks with some colleagues. Her immediate assumption is that she was drug-raped, and she starts her own investigation with Laure's covert help as to who the perp was.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica:
    • After annoying his superiors once too often, Pierre is moved from presiding over criminal cases to traffic offences, a boring role that prompts him to resign.
    • Roban often suffers the same fate. The case of the boy mauled by a dog is mentioned above; season 4 starts out with broken Christmas decorations and seniors stealing from each other (and the case of a rapist that no one wants reopened).
    • At the end of season five, Herville is reassigned to St-Denis (a horrible fate) after refusing to shaft Gilou to save his career.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Even if Laure is a cop (also called Les Bleus - the Blues), and if Joséphine is a redhead, Laure is red and Joséphine is blue.
  • Sanity Ball: Gilou astonishingly takes it in the fifth season, where he is for once acting level-headedly and professionally while Laure and Fromentin are both falling apart. He then backslides severely after Laure bluntly rebuffs his Dogged Nice Guy tendencies towards her.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Sami's attempt at amateur bomb-disposal after the building had been evacuated.
  • Sex Slave: The Eastern European pimps in the third season treat their hookers as such.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Horribly subverted when When we see Joséphine wearing Pierre's shirt... because he's just died.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: When Pierre isn't wearing his judicial robes, he's rarely seen without a very sharp suit.
    • Brémont also often wears nice suits, contrasting with the more casual clothes of Laure's team. Same with Commissaire Beckriche in Season 6.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In the fifth season, after several episodes have been spent pursuing Zach and he's been himself murdered, it's finally discovered that he was out of the country at the time of the double killing.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Many, but Djibril in the fifth series is depicted in a particularly in-depth way.
  • Straw Misogynist: Both anarchist leaders behave like total jerks towards Sophie. One rapes her, the other uses her - but she loves him nonetheless.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Laure didn't bother to check up on why she was missing periods, meaning that she didn't discover she was pregnant until it was too late to get an abortion easily under French law.
  • Teeth Clenched Team Work: Herville attempts this with Laure in season 5, as he's desperate for a successful murder investigation to save his career after the screw-up at the end of season 4.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Laure and Karlsson.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: In the sixth season, the Camara brothers are officially former gangsters gone straight and turned philanthropists and community organizers, while actually still deeply involved in crime.
  • Visual Pun: Quite a few
    • Gilou sniffs his coke using his Vitale card (which you use to buy legal drugs)
    • When his friend Benoit wakes him up after their fight when Clément learned that he knew Elina's sister, "Truth" and "Reality" are written on Clément's shirt.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Herville and Berthaud (and her team) after his Heel–Face Turn and him being Reassigned to Antarctica in season 6.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In S6, Gilou's girlfriend Cindy just drops out of the show after it's revealed that she lied about needing money for her mother in a nursing home (said mother had died five years previously), even though they'd just bought a flat together.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Laure's pregnancy in season 5 may be by either Sami or Bremont.

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