Judge Roban’s Ringtone

February 5, 2018 § 1 Comment

How does Spiral season six compare with the previous five? I have no idea, since this was my first. So I missed out on several years of what’s clearly become a cult in the manner of The Wire. Have the characters changed over time? Have they always been the same detective team, always led by Caroline Proust’s pigtailed Berthaud, always on the same patch? Have Joséphine Karlsson and her ‘Pradas’ always featured?

These entirely believable characters, along with Tintin, Gilou and Judge Roban, have familial and emotional histories, neuroses and compulsions that continually nudge the actions of their working lives, while the ambiguities of their all-consuming work compound these traits. That’s already obvious, on one season’s viewing.

Spiral draws everything into a kind of vortex: the characters, their police or legal work, their home lives or the absence thereof, the villains they chase and the city (an unglamorous Paris of the periphery). There are no boundaries between these separate components, just unrelieved restlessness and motion, driven by fast, reckless impulse. After a couple of episodes what really struck me was the mess; the way they screw up everything, both personal and professional, and the way things hardly ever go according to plan, because of betrayal, oversight or traffic jam. It seems as close as you can get to life.

Season six has tackled murder inside the police force, connivance at burglaries, enslavement of young girls in sex trafficking, to say nothing of a subplot involving harassment and rape. The goals of solving crimes and arresting perpetrators (even rescuing a victim before it’s too late) are all ultimately achieved. But that’s not the point.

Too many things remain that can’t be solved or laid to rest. Too much of the process, its violence or breaking of rules, its lesser and greater corruptions, the frequent lawlessness of the law and its failures to protect. The mechanisms at work within the interlocking worlds of society, politics and policing will persist, as will the cost to those who fight against and sometimes collude in them, whether in scruffy plainclothes or courtroom robes.

All this makes British police dramas look extremely tidied up. Spiral is distinctively French in its affinities with aspects of the polar, a thriving genre of noir fiction that often explores the darkness of both present and past in relation to state power and the role of the police. The novels of Didier Daeninckx, one notable exponent, have highlighted episodes from the Nazi occupation and the Algerian war.

Corruption and moral rectitude coexist in Spiral, along with a flexibility that may aim to do the least harm. The fundamental integrity of the investigating judge, François Roban, makes him one of the most fascinating characters. Reserved and apparently without a personal life, he’s a stoic and he rarely smiles. What incongruity towards the end of the final episode when his mobile phone explodes with what sounded to me like the Rolling Stones. He’s the right generation, but it’s unexpected. There’s probably a lot I don’t know about Judge Roban that all you fans out there can tell me.

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