Moral crusades are at the heart of two outstanding series anchored firmly in the modern age
Its many fans will be delighted that Olivier Marchal’s French drama Braquo — the title from the word “braquage” is slang from the Parisian streets for a particularly violent heist — is returning for a fourth and final season. It’s been a long and grim journey with the leather-coated cops of the Hauts-deSeine precinct, which covers the densely populated inner western suburbs of Paris.
It’s also been a wonderful excursion into a kind of French cop noir in which extreme closeups and oblique off-centre compositions appear with almost obsessive repetition, all emphasising the tautness and concentration on which this genre depends. This is a series that eschews the leisurely establishing shot and the sensuous moving camera, its photographic palette a nearblack-and-white composite of muddy greys and soiled earth tones.
It’s a show built around fractured images that mirror the disintegration of its characters. What Marchal gives us is highly internationalised — a hard-boiled crime show with an American look, but with characters anchored in the tradition of the great French thrillers. And while there are subtitles, the dialogue is brusque, the narrative carried by the action, with Marchal’s mise-en-scene and sordid images echoing those of the directors he most admires such as Michael Mann, Sergio Leone, Mike Figgis and Michael Cimino.
It centres on a small team of tough, rulebreaking cops used by their bosses when more conventional (that is, legal) means fail. The four are led by older heart-throb Eddy Caplan, played by Jean-Hugues Anglade, and linked by emotional connections forged in their many illegal undertakings and the persistent scrutiny by Internal Affairs.
The rest of his team are moody, ultra-cool Roxanne Delgado (Karole Rocher), who tries to keep the team tidy, and burly and bald Walter Morlighem (Joseph Malerba), who has money woes and an ill wife. Mourned by the trio, especially by the vengeful Delgado, is the psychotic Theo Vachewski (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who was killed in an explosion. Their nemesis is former policeman and now Internal Affairs officer Roland Vogel (Geoffroy Thiebaut), a narcissistic, driven bureaucrat, and one of TV’s great villains.
It began back in 2009 when the team’s mentor and colleague Max Rossi (Olivier Rabourdin) was accused of criminal misconduct and committed suicide. His guilt was then presumed, disrupting the lives of the other four, who decided to “cross the yellow line”: do whatever was necessary, even if it meant breaking the law, to clear Rossi’s name.
In crossing that moral line, however, Vogel had them in his sights, his scrutiny becoming obsessive and eventually murderous. It all went wrong, with frightening repercussions for all of them. Vogel, responsible for the attack on Vachewski, began a crazed confrontation with Caplan through the last season, looking to exterminate the entire team. Delgado set a trap for Vogel using his blind sister Erica (Julie Judd) but Vogel was a step ahead.
The final season, directed by Xavier Palud and Frederic Jardin and written by Abdel Raouf Dafri, begins with Caplan searching for a wooden box that contains Delgado, who is buried at the edge of a forest.
She is rescued but hospitalised, while Vogel wallows in the infamous La Sante prison in Montparnasse. The team has ended a violent feud among the Russian mafia but is again under investigation, this time by the stern Chief Superintendent Henri Brabant (Thierry Rene) from the internal disciplinary division. Caplan’s boss Michelle Bernardi (Isabelle Renauld) has been demoted. “Our best days in the police are behind us,” she tells Caplan.
Worse, Walter’s children have been intimidated by Turkish warlord Baba Aroubj, and another feud erupts between the gangster and the cop. Walter’s desire for vengeance is endangering his friends. Violence again spills on to the streets of Paris while, at the same time, Caplan is determined to ensure Vogel never leaves prison alive.
It’s going to be a scintillating couple of weeks as Braquo concludes, the police thriller serving as a backdrop to what Marchal calls “the grand themes of tragedy: friendship, love, betrayal and revenge”. The director is famous in French film circles for once having repeated to his actors what Leone said when shooting Once Upon a Time in the West: “Act as if it’s your dying breath.” That’s the impression Anglade and his admirable colleagues offer us in this supercool series. The relentlessly confronting Mr Robot also returns but, unlike Braquo, is a little harder to grasp if you haven’t watched the premiere season. However, by the end of the first episode — it’s a two-parter with an intermission — things are clear enough. Created by Sam Esmail and premiering last year, it quickly became the hottest techno-thriller on TV, centred on the notion that information is the most valuable form of currency and those who control it are the world’s true superpowers.
Highly cinematic in style, season one introduced Christian Slater in the title role of an anti-corporate anarchist leader who recruited young Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a socially awkward cyber security engineer for whom hacking is his only way of communicating with others. His band of vigilante hackers, known as “fsociety”, was determined to destroy the modern economic system by wiping out all debt.
It was a show very much anchored in modern world issues. Esmail has said of the series: “We’re making a period piece of today.” And his writers were under strict instructions from the start: “What is going on in today’s society and how do we reflect that in our storylines and our characters? What are the modern-day human issues that are really relevant to the context of today?”
The first season finished with the hack going through, debt possibly eradicated, but without either Elliot or the members of fsociety knowing the full ramifications of their actions.
The new season starts in fsociety headquarters at the moment Elliot presses the button for the hack against E Corp — or Evil Corp as they call it — reaches into a popcorn machine, then blacks out. After a flashback to his childhood, when he’s pushed out of a window into the snow by his father, we’re transported to a month after the hack. Elliot is living with his vigilant mother, his life what he calls “a perfectly constructed loop”, his day programmed with a relentless intensity and momentum to preserve a sense of mental control.
His voiceover narration, such a clever feature of the first season, continues: “Sometimes I dream of saving the world, saving everyone from the invisible hand, the one that controls everything without us knowing it.” He’s now even more socially incapacitated, though aware, he says, of “the invisible code of chaos hiding behind the menacing face of order”.
Elliot finds Slater’s Mr Robot won’t leave him alone, interrupting his regime, appearing constantly at the corners of his small universe, taunting and cajoling. “Our revolution needs a leader,” he tells him repeatedly.
Elliot just wants him gone but the chaos keeps intruding: the banks are failing; paper records are becoming useless; nothing in the corporate world can be trusted. His hacker sister, Darlene (Carly Chaikin), surrounded by what remains of fsociety and emboldened by the data breach, raises the stakes. Another hack takes place against E Corp, requesting not only a massive ransom but that a “chief” accompany it. This takes us to intermission and this reviewer is desperate to find out more. Monday, 8.30pm, Showcase. Tuesday, 9.30pm, Showcase.
Joseph Malerba, JeanHugues Anglade and Karole Rocher in Braquo