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Witnesses (Les Témoins) ~ A Gritty French Drama

Posted in Media Spotlight, and Television Reviews

If you’re looking for a fast paced series to watch, full of sub plots and twists and turns then Witnesses, a French drama is for you. Fans of Spiral (Engrenages) will enjoy this, as the series follows detective, Sandra Winckler is similar to Laure Berthaud in Spiral. Both women favor leather jackets, smoke at will, have active sex lives, and follow leads by the seat of their skinny jeans at all hours. Winckler is a mother, and we see her struggling to balance motherhood and the demands of a detective, while wearing highly impractical high heeled boots. As usual, cases revolve around murder, rape, abductions, and bribery, plus in this series there is a lot of swearing, so if you didn’t know any French swear words, you’ll be familiar with them after watching the series.

With a haunting theme song and cryptic opening credits, the series automatically creates a sense of intrigue. The characters take a while to warm to generally because all the main characters seem to keep secrets, trust no one, and prefer to work alone as they whisper into their cellphones and take their batteries out regularly. There is a lack of team work, and the boss, Max(ine) seems to be told by her team what they’re going to do (regardless of approval), and off they go and then switch off their phones with no back up. The pace is fast, and the setting is in a less than glamorous coastal town in Lille that looks damp and overcast all of the time. Small towns, as we know all hide secrets, and that is what Winckler has to uncover as soon as she arrives as the newbie in the team.

Season 1 (some spoilers)

The plot revolves around the mystery as to why dead bodies are being dug up from their graves and then placed in new show homes. The police try to figure out the connection between the bodies and the location, but whoever is doing it is leaving clues for the police. Most notably there are photos of Paul Maisonneuve, a retired former detective who had a reputation for being one the best cops in the area, framed and displayed at the crime scene. No one knows what it means or how anyone got hold of the photos as Maisonneuve has been in a coma and everything is in storage. Yes, we know by his standoffishness he is hiding something, but is he protecting someone or does he know what the cryptic clues mean? Winckler is new and needs to prove herself, and she appears to be a team player, putting on the charm when she needs something, and goes lone wolf when she knows she maybe crossing a line. She is however dedicated, and follows leads without telling anyone, and red wine and cigarettes seem to help her think.

The storyline is fast paced, especially as both Winckler and Maisonneuve decide to go lone wolf when they feel like it, each nearly gets killed and you wonder who will come and save them. Maisonneuve’s connections to the other characters play a major part in the plot, and some are not revealed until later in the season, which begs the question, how much did Maisonneuve know or suspect from the outset, and why did he keep it quiet? Winckler is admirable in her persistence and fast thinking analysis of any given situation, except she does take risks without back up in her heeled boots. She also has a history with Maisonneuve as he trained her eight years ago, but chose to drop out and their tense and strained relationship is tested when they need one another. Both are moral cops, but each remind one another that they can easily cross that line.

The case gets solved but the death count is higher (with some serious injuries), the betrayal of friends and loved ones are revealed, and both Winckler and Maisonneuve lay some ghosts to rest. You can’t help but like Winckler, yet she falls into the trap of expecting others to understand her job, and assuming they will work around her. Basically she’s a streetwise cop that runs around in heeled boots, who swears a lot, drinks red wine each night, tells her boss what she is going to do regardless of whether they approve or not, and follows leads by herself in the middle of the night. A modern day gutsy detective that you root for, but wish would wear flat boots simply because she’s more likely to slip when running after the baddies or break a heel!

Season 2 (some spoilers)

The case Winckler gets involved in this time around includes missing persons, the consequences of infidelity, drugs, buried babies, windmills, an orphanage, a dating app, and a brainwashing cult leader, with rape and murder of course. Winckler smokes more, and goes lone wolf for most of the case in a bid to solve it, when really she should at least call for back up or tell her partner where she is. You want to yell at her to do this, especially as it leads to dangerous and risky outcomes. She blames her clumsiness when she messes up on her lack of sleep, yet she opts to take her children with her to visit a crime scene, and calls the office only for favors disregarding the fact that she is endangering herself by being stubborn.

Her obsession to get the case solved puts others in danger, and she realizes too late that she is responsible for what happened to them. Could she have done more to warn them, or protect them? Perhaps her ego had got the better of her when she becomes a victim? This storyline is quite gruesome and grotesque in parts and the viewer can see where Winckler is heading for a mistake. In fact she makes so many it can be infuriating to watch. She’s still wearing heeled boots, although she ends up having to take them off again. However, you can’t help liking her grittiness, and when she loses people she is more determined to seek justice likely motivated by guilt.

The season explores a different side to Winckler who is trying to adjust to her new life, and is wholly realistic as she fails in all areas of her life. An intruder got into her home and searched it and left their calling card, her child doesn’t want to live with her, and her new lover doesn’t last long. I loved the part when she snuck into a safe house to see her child, thereby endangering her child, only to be told by her daughter that she smells and needs to take a shower. In the last season the potential suspects were already named, but in this one those responsible only come to light in the last couple of episodes. It’s a little slow moving and annoying in that Winckler behaves irrationally for most of the episodes, and doesn’t stop to think clearly.

Hopefully in the next season she will have grown and learned, but the series makes compelling viewing; it’s edgy and dark with a detective who barely sleeps, and who juggles motherhood quite poorly. A night out is bowling, and as usual there is red wine and she always has a pack of cigarettes in her back pocket and a cellphone. I like her, but wish she would stop trying to do it all. Her downfall and greatest flaw is her expectations in that others should help her out because they can. She needs to take responsibility and also to value people more, because she’ll figure out people will get tired of her behavior and leave. Just because you are a cop doesn’t give you a carte blanche to treat people as if they don’t matter unless they are useful. Will she compromise and put her children first, or will she choose her career and lose her children? That’s a storyline perhaps for next time.

Out of the two, I prefer season one as season two sees Winckler as a maverick cop, and slightly unhinged at times with a disturbing storyline. Nonetheless, the acting on a whole is superb and unlike a television movie, the plots aren’t predictable and will have you gasping and shaking your head in places.

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