Sunday, May 01, 2011

How Complex Can Spiral Be?

(thanks to Tate Gallery)
Matisse's L'escargot shows a spiral deconstructed into a medley of elements. In a way it looks simple but mathematically spirals are excruciatingly complicated. There are Fibonacci spirals; spirals that look like M.C. Escher designed them; and there are spherical helices called Loxodromes. Have a look at this page if you're not satiated by these.

For mind-bending complexity Spiral on BBC4 has them beaten. This spiral is (un)winding over 12 episodes and each one appears to add extra, virtually impossible, dense layers of intricacy, perhaps becoming a clothoide (a double spiral).

Take Judge Roban's trainee, Arnaud, who is the son of a lost lover reclaimed. Arnaud discovered Roban breaking into his own chambers to stage a robbery and blackmailed him to keep away from his mother. Then Arnaud is lured into a honey trap by Roban's brother who is involved with a corrupt mayor--a touch of the Chirac or Sarkozy here--and to prevent his sexual dalliance with a minor becoming public Arnaud must disclose facts about the investigation. Roban suspects Arnaud and despite Arnaud's original blackmail finds himself in his lover's arms again. Arnaud finds his mother and Roban in bed together and despairs. Can there be more? Yes, there is....

Honey traps are abounding in Spiral. The fine, upstanding ex-prosecutor, Pierre, has been ensnared on false charges by a young client who sponges on Pierre's good nature. Pierre is accused of rape. The questioning by the police inspector is clenchingly personal.

"Are you married?"
"No."
"Did your wife divorce you or you her?"
"What does it matter who divorced who?"
"Let me call your ex-wife and see if she remembers...."
"OK, she divorced me."
"How many affairs have you had since the divorce?"
"Two or three."
"That's not many for two or three years of separation. Do you masturbate?"
And on, all at 3am.

Pierre, having split from his law partner, Josephine, because of her corruption, has to call on her to represent him as, in her words, she thrives on such cases. In a nice touch Josephine passes Laure, the police inspector with whom Pierre had had an affair in Series One, and they commiserate over Pierre's plight.

And so Spiral (or Engrenages in French) moves on. I've only touched on the surface of some the plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, ad infinitum that the programme is spinning out. It's the best thing on television and it knocks spots off anything I've seen on American or British TV. Only The Killing (from Denmark and also on BBC4) comes close. One feature that Spiral and The Killing share is the luxury of letting the series develop organically (do I really mean that?) over 12 episodes. There's no feeling of rushing towards a premature resolution. We have time to think about the way the series goes which is another feature, Spiral does make you think.



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