Starring: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Joseph Malerba, Lizzie Brocheré
Director: Frederic Jardin, Manuel Boursinhac
The third season of this rufty, tufty French cop drama continues straight on from the previous one. The team is a man down when one of their number suffers horrible injuries in a car bomb. And they’re a woman down too because, unable to handle what has happened to her colleague, the tightly wound Roxane (Karole Rocher) goes rogue. That leaves stalwarts Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Walter (Joseph Malerba) to deal with a hugely destructive potential war in the underworld as a vacancy opens at the top of the local branch of the Russian mafia.
Braquo has been compared to The Wire, but for British viewers it evokes memories of The Sweeney, it’s that hardboiled, although obviously with a much larger female presence, and with The Wire‘s long-form structure. If you’re new to the show, it can take you a while to warm to the characters. They don’t exactly go out of their way to be charming, nor do the early scenes show them at their best, with Caplan flying off the handle and his boss Bernardi keeping him in check with threats and tongue-lashings. But this season in particular compensates with a parade of colourful villains. As well as the returning Internal Affairs cop turned evil genius Vogel (Geoffroy Thiebaut), there’s the delightfully crooked Paradjanov (Arsene Jiroyan), a smoother than smooth Armenian operator who respects Caplan’s dogged professionalism, and the deeply sinister Pavlovitch (Xavier Schiwanski), a twitchy-eyed would-be mob boss, whose nightclub plays host to a very lively party that ends up drenched in bullets, blood and vodka. And best of all, there’s Orianne (Lizzie Brocheré), a bold, breathtakingly ruthless young punkette who has her own reasons for wanting to bring Caplan down and who gets close to the team by working as a police interpreter.
Some of the territory here is similar to the sort of thing David Cronenberg explored in Eastern Promises. While it might be heavy-handed in other regards, Abdel Raouf Dafri’s script is particularly good at explaining the history, ethos and inner workings of the vor v zakone – you’ll soon count yourself an expert. The show also has an eye for compellingly authentic gruesomeness. The reason why the old mafia boss is dying is because he’s being poisoned by the lead in his prison tattoos. And there’s a stomach-wrenching scene where some thugs punch the face off a guy with fists wrapped in bandages soaked in glue and dipped in broken glass. A lot of violence is carried out by women – particularly the waif-like Orianne – which adds to its shock impact.
Yet although the subject-matter might be sensational, the directorial style is coolly matter-of-fact. The visuals are bleak, resolutely unglamorous. Events speak for themselves, and a mood of gritty realism is asserted even during the show’s more far-fetched moments (as when a glamorous female assassin – part of a husband and wife team – comes on the scene to take a pot shot at one of the pretenders to the mafia throne). It’s a mood echoed in the stoical, phlegmatic attitude of Caplan and Walter. Life is full of horrors and there’s no point making a fuss about it. Better to just light a cigarette and tough it out.
Lots of personal baggage from the previous series is brought into play, so ideally you should catch up on those first. And there are no neat endings, just more repercussions, more unfinished business, so you’ll probably want to be back for Series 4 too. If you’re looking for a crime show to really commit to, there are few around at the moment more gripping than Braquo.