Infinite Squee

A highly biased intro to Engrenages

I figured that, if I'm going to be nattering about Engrenages (and since some people have expressed interest in it now), I should probably write a more detailed primer/intro post.

So -- Engrenages (Spiral in the UK/US) is a French crime drama, a little like Law & Order in that it follows parallel story tracks in each episode, the cops on one side and the lawyers on the other. Sometimes the storylines are entirely (or mostly) separate; sometimes they converge. On a side note, one of the things that's really fascinating to me about the show is how differently the French criminal justice system works from the American one, which is patterned generally after England's. Here, we maintain as strict a separation as possible between the investigative and the legal side; there, judges and prosecutors are actively involved in investigating cases, and visit crime scenes, consult with the investigating officers while the case is ongoing, and so forth.

At least, well, according to the show. It is television after all.

The first four seasons are streaming on Hulu; the fourth season is also on Netflix. The fifth and current season seems to be on Youtube, at least for now.

As I mentioned in my other post, the show is dark, brutal, often very depressing, and unflinching in what it will actually show onscreen (such as an autopsy on a week-old corpse or a suspect eating his own feces to hide evidence). I've gravitated hard to the cop side of the show, because while admittedly this is where most of the really disgusting stuff happens, I also realized that about 90% of what was making me ragey about the show, including multiple (at least three, that I can think of) fake rape storylines and a ton of social climbing and backstabbing subplots, was all happening on the lawyer side, so by skipping those scenes, I enjoy the show a lot better. I still like the characters on the lawyer and judge side -- well, they aren't all precisely likable, but even the unlikable ones are interesting -- but the biggest thing that drew me to the cops is that, even though they spend a lot of time being genuinely awful to each other, they like and care about each other, and have each other's backs most of the time.

So for me, the show is pretty much all about these three bozos:

Team Laure

One of the things I like about it in particular is that Laure, the main female character, is the boss; she's a police captain, and the guys are lieutenants under her. And this is never a problem for any of them, which is especially cool given how incredibly macho the entire police-station atmosphere is -- one of the first things we see Laure doing in the first episode is chewing out a member of her team who got sick during an autopsy. There's also a ton of sexism around; this is another thing the show is fairly unflinching about. But "her" guys genuinely like and respect her, and don't mind taking orders from her, even though she is in some ways a very difficult person to work for. I am all over that dynamic.

As the series goes along, the cop team gets fleshed out a bit more, with more named, recurring police characters. I have a certain fondness for Amina, the one on the left here, if only because it's nice to have another woman on the team:

Les flics

Under the cut, a little more about the main three. No major spoilers; a few minor ones.


Laure is the team leader and one of the only ranking female police officers around. She's tough, scrappy, volatile, and has a tendency to not play well with others. She's also wonderfully scruffy; she usually looks like she rolled out of bed, scraped her hair into a sloppy ponytail and pulled on a T-shirt, and went off to work.

She deals with the stress of her job mostly by having sex, whether in serially (semi) monogamous relationships or hookups with guys she meets at bars. Still, the way it plays out on the show is not "seductress" but rather, she takes a very businesslike approach to it, in a traditionally male sort of way. I think this aspect of the show could bother me if it was done in a different way, but I found myself enjoying it, because you rarely see female characters on TV relating to sex like that. It's a release and a way of getting stress out of her system, and she just really likes it; she's not narratively punished for it, and it's generally presented as an aspect of her macho persona (or rather, her general Laure-ness).

And she's very protective of her people, although in a tough-love kind of way.

Gilou at night

He's the low-class, streetwise member of the team, the one who knows all the lowlifes in the area. He's basically a violent, rude drug addict; the others are constantly having to rein him in or cover for him. But he's also a fundamentally good person who is deeply loyal to the other two.


(It's a nickname, short for his surname, which is Fromentin)
Tintin is the comparatively stable member of the team, the stabilizing influence on the others' Chaotic Good tendencies (emphasis on the chaotic); he's also got a wife and kids, and is basically a nice guy, or at least as close as it gets with this bunch. Which doesn't stop him from being as much of a loose cannon as anyone else on the team at least some of the time.

Together, they fight crime!


crime scene


And, er, each other. A lot. They're pretty much a total trainwreck.

But they all really care about each other, and have each other's backs when it counts.

Laure tintin touch face

Laure Tintin hug


So yeah, that's Engrenages, on the cop side of things. There are also a lot of interesting characters and storylines on the lawyer side, and if you watch the show, you may end up enjoying them better - I don't know! But these guys are the heart of the show for me.


ETA: A couple of additional Engrenages links: a Guardian article on the show and Laure's character that I enjoyed reading, and this short rec post for the show that I stumbled across while imagesearching pictures, which gives you ALL the characters instead of my highly biased version above. (As noted, I do like the others! I'm just terribly partial to the cops.)

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I may just end up watching this show, if only to give my very, very rusty French a little exercise.
I would love to have more people to discuss it with! \o/ I'm rewatching the early seasons right now, before jumping into the latest one (as well as getting to that season and a half or so that I missed) and it's really well written, despite being quite dark.
I feel silly.

Before I saw this journal entry I had decided to check out Spiral. So I loaded up the first episode and... I've watched it before.... ^_^;

Basically I think after all those flights where I saw it as one of the options on Air Canada flights, I had gone home to actually watch the show. I liked it but at some season 1 I had stopped. I can't remember if it was before there existed a second season or if it was because I was too afraid that bad stuff would happen to the guys I liked. (Very justifiable fear I think!)

But, I do remember some of it. I think I liked the cops things...actually I remember starting out liking the lawyer...Pierre? I think he was and then he and Laure (?) slept together for a while, but then stuff happened that made me annoyed (at him? I don't remember) Anyway!

The point is, ha, is that this isn't a new show for me *g*

I might check it out again to see what happened in later seasons. I honestly think I must have watched it when it was only a few seasons old, but at the same time I remember it was depressing me or something so I stopped before I watched whatever was on air. It's interesting that what made you so happy about the show had happened in the fourth season!
Ha! Don't feel silly - I'm just delighted that someone else besides me has seen it! :D :D

I stopped watching in early season two the first time, and now that I'm rewatching (I'm most of the way through season two) I can see why I stopped, because not only is the show unrelentingly grim, but there isn't much interpersonal stuff in season two -- it's mostly focused on the cases, so in generally, ALL you get is grimness and darkness. I'm glad, now, that I accidentally watched season four FIRST (well, after my earlier watch of season one & early season two), because it's a lot more character-focused and has more of those little moments of delight that keep me interested.

... that said, I'm not finding season two nearly as depressing the second time around, so either it's not as bad as I remembered, or I'm getting used to it. XD

Re: the lawyer, Pierre - yeah, I think when I watched this show the first time he started off as one of my favorites, but I started losing interest in him because his life is just TOO depressing and miserable, often self-inflicted. HIS LIFE. GOD. PIERRE. For some reason I can handle it better with the cops, but Pierre is just so isolated.

I do hope you give the show another try sometime - I can personally attest that there's lots of good stuff in season four, at least for the characters I'm into!
p.s. would it be wrong of me to watch it purely to hear them talk in french? *g*
Sounds legit to me! :D

(Aargh, I never posted that video I mentioned to you on Tumblr. I intend to make a vid-clip post for the show eventually; I just keep getting sidetracked by other things ...)
Hi! :D Sadly, I don't know of any vids at all, though I also haven't gone looking (much) because I haven't watched season five yet, so I'm avoiding spoilers. So, vidwise, you're a bit up on me!

... for the other part of it, I actually am a ... well, okay, I don't really think I can call myself a vidder because I haven't gone to VVC and stuff like that, I just make vids for fun and to share things that are shiny for me, but I DO make vids and I have several vids I want to make for this show! My big problem with Engrenages -- actually the reason why I haven't already started vidding it, to be honest -- is getting source. There aren't any region 1 DVDs for it, and I can't capture from the Hulu stream because the subtitles for this show DON'T TURN OFF! The first two seasons are on iTunes, so I'm probably going to buy those and learn how to strip DRM off iTunes files (I have a general idea how to do it, I just never have). But a lot of the stuff I want to put in a vid is in later seasons. So, uh, yeah. Good-quality source is hard to get, which might partly explain the lack of vids. If I can get my hands on source, though, I do plan to make vids if possible.
Oh, no worries - my tags are an inconsistent mess, and I've been meaning to make a vidpost for ages and never got around to it, so it's not your fault at all! :D

In any case, I will definitely contact you if I end up with anything suitable! I want to vid this show so baaaaaad! I'm almost tempted to sacrifice my older laptop on the altar of vidding and switch it over to Region 2 DVDs, since those are readily available ...

And thank you very much for thinking of me! :) :) I want to get back into vidding, and this is a pretty good incentive.

Edited at 2015-04-16 01:18 am (UTC)
I don't know if you still check this
But I am OBSESSED with this show, and you are completely right - it's the cops that make it, specifically Laure. I LOVE her. I love love love her. I loved the show so much I bought a European DVD player so I could buy all the seasons and watch them over and over. Season 5 was probably the best thing on tv I've seen in ages - that international Emmy they won was completely justified.