‘Spiral: The Butcher Of La Villette’: Episodes 9 & 10 review

‘Three years in Seine-Saint-Denis would make any policeman corrupt,’ says Crime Squad Superintendent Brémont (Bruno Debrant) in this week’s double-episode of the consistently compelling police drama Spiral, but it’s highly unlikely it takes anyone in the French justice system – police, judges, prosecutors or lawyers – that long.

Every strata of the judicial process here appears to be as riddled with self-serving, double-dealing and disregard for the law as the office of corrupt mayor Didier Courcelles (Nicolas Moreau) and the prostitution ring run by Albanian thug Niko (Genti Kame). Even the Butcher of La Villette himself, Ronaldo Fuentes (Misha Arias de la Cantolla) – still loose on the streets of Paris, creepily alternating between weedy weeping for the dead sister who was actually his mother and predatory pursuit of young women – could learn a trick or two from the forces of law and order when it comes to the art of ‘turning a blind eye’.

When Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) agrees – in exchange for being allowed to remain in charge of the Butcher case – to find evidence that highly-strung and highly irritating intern Arnaud Ledoré (Xavier Robic) is deliberately impeding Judge Roban’s (Philippe Duclos) investigation into the dodgy mayor, she asks what means she should use. ‘Whatever is necessary,’ the judge replies, as if this is a stupid question. ‘Just think of something.’

With the vest-wearing captain’s assistance, the judge finally begins to close his nets on Courcelles and his associates. However, Laure’s attempts to bring Fuentes to justice are hampered by Superintendent Brémont’s pursuit of her own colleague Sergeant Gilou Escoffier (Thierry Godard) for an earlier – and unsanctioned – shooting of a drug dealer. Gilou, looking more and more like Paul Robinson from Neighbours would if he was pumped full of fromage frais, wants to confess to save his colleagues (Brémont having threatened to ‘destroy them all’ if Gilou keeps schtum) but Laure has a more drastic solution that involves yet more deceit. Ironically, it’s only when she tells her sometime lover in the Crime Squad the full truth that things start to look up.

Keeping up with the spider’s web of intertwined storylines within the show is fairly easy, thanks to the excellent writing, but getting a handle on its internal morality is more difficult. Over the weeks, we’ve become used to seeing the good guys behaving badly and the bad guys being even worse, but there has always been one shining bastion of untarnished goodness: defence lawyer Pierre Clément (Grégory Fitoussi).

However, the bleak and godless universe of Spiral has only one reward for his virtue and morality: arrest, disgrace and a cavity search at the hands of Inspector Renaud (Eric Naggar). ‘We’ll get to the bottom of this,’ the anaemic, Mr Burns-faced detective quips as a colleague pulls on the rubber glove; and things rapidly get worse for Pierre. What he has done – or been accused of – to merit such terrible treatment must remain a mystery until transmission, but it leads to the lawyer snapping: ‘Do you think I walk around with a gun up my rectum?’

It’s the best line of the episode (even topping Gilou’s description of how long oral sex from a prostitute takes as opposed to ‘the whole works’) but it doesn’t get Pierre out of trouble. It’s shocking to see the one nice guy in Spiral in such a desperate predicament. There is – quite literally – no justice in this world.

Airs at 9pm on Saturday 30th April 2011 on BBC Four.

> Buy the Series 1-2 DVD boxset on Amazon.