I was thinking, maybe it is easier to pronounce the name Sara Lund, or did the gaggle of journos and mouthpieces begin salivating at the sight of her Scandinavian jumper? Was it the appearance of a woman detective embodying (and exaggerating) many of the traits attached to classic male cops and gumshoes? Whatever the reason or bag of associations, Scandi-drama has surely won more attention, especially amongst the gender-conscious sisterhood, eager for a new poster-girl.
I'm here to tell them that they missed a trick.
Berthaud. Captain Laure Berthaud. She is the real deal, the true hero(ine) of crime drama and female empowerment, the genuine inspiration for all viewers, men and women.
If feminism is really about equality with men then that presupposes a world in which men and women live together and interact with each other. So, that counts Lund out right away. SPIRAL is a TV show about crime and corruption in French society, one that examines politics, the judiciary, trade and industry, the police, as well as outright criminality, people trafficking, vice, drugs, etc. Caught up in the highly complex web and vortices of this world are many unforgettable characters, actors with extraordinary faces, but I want to talk about Berthaud.
The style of policing in Spiral is rough-house, round the clock interrogation and investigation, a tight-knit team of cops led (first among equals) by a woman who goes toe to toe, eyeballing and bellowing and b****slapping the perps with all the conviction and intensity of her male counterparts. She leads them, but from the front, and without sacrificing anything of her femininity. She is sexy but not girly or predictable in her sexuality. Her ruthlessness, her determination to get justice and more than that, to get a win, a success for her team, is both unique and admirable; her emotional attachment - when it surfaces - to her male colleagues, visceral, truthful and honourable. She cleverly manipulates the stereotypes, the cliched prejudices of her peers, without losing our sympathy, in fact quite the opposite.
The characterisation of Berthaud is brilliantly contrasted with her arch antagonist, the cold bloodedly vengeful lawyer, Josephine Karlsson. Tall, leggy, bosomy, all flaming hair, red lipstick and heels, she is glamorous, brilliant, chic, formidable, hateful, corrupt and utterly unattractive, at least to begin with. She has the money, the reputation, the prestige, the clothes, pure Sex & The City, and as empty as a seashell. Berthaud, average height, average body, combats and flats, is the one we admire, that men would want to love or to befriend in a purely platonic way, and that women should want to emulate.
So why doesn't she get the interviews and the headlines that Lund or Borgen's Birgitte attract? Because Spiral is more complex and inclusive, more energized and violent, but more particularly because Berthaud is a part of a team, whereas the Danish women stand apart, are presented as fundamentally alone.
We rarely eulogize, make heroes of individuals who function as part of an ensemble, assuming that the team spirit somehow dilutes their achievement. But that is our mistake and an empty vestige of humanity's desire for freaks and scapegoats, people marked for praise or punishment.
Laure Berthaud is a believable heroine. Lund is a caricature of the obsessed loner, someone who really couldn't function in a police department. Berthaud is the true feminist icon, a professional who is both man and woman, embodying the best of both genders, but who happens to have been born with girl parts. She is superb creation, given perfect credibility by Caroline Proust.
As for Spiral as a whole, well like I said, it is an electrifying crime drama, complex and fascinating, and fascinatingly different from English alternatives. Think 'The Wire' but with dialogue you can actually understand and not weighed down by transatlantic hoopla. If by some tragedy you have failed to acknowledge the existence of BBC4 then you must grab a copy of this DVD set asap. You owe it to yourself.