Season 3: Strong season of interlocking threads and general sense of corruption and downward entrapment
The first season of this show really surprised me by how far it was from the gushing praise I heard of it from critics and the few BBC4 viewers it had. It seemed obvious and clumsy to me but just about good enough to stay with, which was good since the second season dropped a lot of stuff and was better for it. The third season seems to be the one that those praising the show are referring to, since it becomes very strong and engaging. The season is subtitled The Butcher of La Villette and accordingly the plot is about a serial killer chopping up his female victims. Behind this we also have plots involving Roban's investigations into political corruption, Pierre Clément struggling with his role now that he has fallen out of favor while the at the same time on the flipside of that coin Joséphine Karlsson is not too happy with Szabo.
There is a lot going on here narratively but also with the characters and yet it does all fit together really well. Several of the threads do stand on their own, but the characters cross over and as a result they feel integrated with the other threads simply by virtue of us being interested in the characters. It does work, so although we start heading down a slightly different road in order to get to the destination for another thread, it doesn't feel like a distraction or killing time. I mention this second point, "killing time" because things come to a head quicker than you expect and yet we still have the majority of this longer season to go; I thought it might stall and stutter but actually it adds twists and turns to the plot in a way that engages and also contributes to a sense of building downward motion.
This is the first season where really both the English and French titles felt relevant to me. The characters are all caught in a downward spiral even if some are lower than others, while the whole system and story fits together like a series of gears driving them downwards – those that fit do better than others while the weakest get chewed up. It is satisfyingly grim, not just in the gore (which is present) but more in the actions of the characters, the traps they set for others and the impact it has on the targets but also on themselves. It will be interesting to see how they start the fourth season since so many of the characters are brought to a particular point during this season, but for this one it works. The performances help it and generally seem better now the material is stronger. Proust is a simple character but a convincing one as she lives for her job and is constantly on edge. She works well with Godard and, to a lesser extent, Bianconi. Fitoussi is more interesting now he has a bit of grit on him but he was still a bit too saintly and simple – maybe the next season will give him something to get his teeth into. Fleurot continues to do her thing well even if her character doesn't always make sense. The added characters from De La Cantolla, Kame, Radici and others are generally good too.
Overall this third season continues to make improvements that the second season did and comes with a strong story with lots going on and very few weak links. Not all of it fully works but it has energy and a constantly grim downward spiral that satisfies and engages. When people talk about how they enjoy this show, I suspect it is the third season they are specifically talking about, as it is the best so far.
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