Spin (Les Hommes de l’ombre) s1 eps 1 & 2

On y va.

imageSimon Kapita (Bruno Wolkowitch), legendary PR man, friend and adviser to the French President, has left Paris, his PR company, his surprisingly patient wife and his Secret Pain behind for a top-tier job with the UN. But when Le Pres is mortally wounded in a suicide bombing at a factory, Simon dashes back to France, only to find that the evil, possibly fascist, permanently grumpy-faced PM Deleuvre is plotting to takeover before his boss is even dead, and is not remotely averse to un peu de cover-up and beaucoup de racially-motivated scaremongering if it helps him get the top job.

The justifiably outraged – but oddly difficult to sympathise with since he’s somewhat obnoxious himself – Simon swallows his Secret Pain, sets aside his swanky new life and recruits the apparently principled (we’ll see how long that lasts) Secretary of State for Social Affairs Anne Visage to run against Deleuvre and destroy him forever. Deleuvre, however, has other ideas, recruiting Simon’s protégé and (soon-to-be-ex) friend Ludovic (Gregory Fitoussi) and his old company Pygmalion to win, no matter what.

imageEt donc, the battle of the spin doctors begins: in the rouge corner, the veteran Simon, filled with the fire of righteousness and revenge, and furious not only at Deleuvre but at Ludo for betraying him; and in the bleu corner, the younger, hungrier Ludovic, the erstwhile student determined to beat the teacher, no matter how unscrupulous or cruel he has to be in the process.

Mais oui.

Even with all the West Wing-style striding around going on (de rigeur now for all political drama, wherever it’s from), everything about Spin is very tv French and very, very glamorous.

Everyone has exceptionally complicated personal lives (ie is either having or has had an affair with everyone else), so there’s a lot of meaningful staring and sexual tension (both of the resolved and unresolved kind) a spot of enthusiastic sex, and more to come, I would imagine, on all those fronts.

Everyone is also incredibly suave and stylish, racing about in slick cars and wearing even slicker clothes, with the leading men clad in a succession of sharp black suits (Mon Dieu, I love a sharp black suit), and the leading ladies all in soft, super-expensive separates.

With all this loveliness and Paris and the halls of government in the background, then, everything looks gorgeous but, never mind all that, is the show any good?

On the strength of these two episodes, yes, it is, but… there are a few buts.

The first episode takes a while to get everything set up, the second is much better and, now Simon and Ludo have taken the gloves off and things are about to get properly nasty, I think the third will be great, especially since the political commentary seems refreshingly complex and clear-eyed, and the acting is excellent across the board.

None of it is helped, however, by what comes across as banal, clunky subtitling – changing the exciting “Les Hommes de l’ombre” to the uninspiring “Spin” is only the first example – stripping the dialogue of nuance (and sometimes grammatical sense) that I am sure would be there if only my French were up to understanding it all on my own.

The characterisation of the women is disappointing too, with all of them coming across as wholly dependent on the men in one way or another: determined journalist Apolline is ridiculously forgiving of ex-husband Simon, clinging on to him adoringly although he treats her more like a convenient scratching post than a partner; their astonishingly irritating student daughter works for a web design company “for pocket money” but spends most of the episode demanding Papa buy her things; and the lovelorn Valentine (Ludo’s on/off lover, but Simon has an interest there too, obv) spends most of these two episodes tearfully begging and shrieking at a visibly cringing Ludovic to spend more time with her, when any idiot can see that’s about as likely to work as buying a handful of magic beans and burying them dans le jardin at midnight.

imageAt this stage, then, although Nathalie Baye does all she can with the as yet underdeveloped Anne, the show rests almost entirely on its two complicated, charismatic leading men, and Wolkowitch and Fitoussi acquit themselves with aplomb. For all his principles, Simon comes across as infinitely more self-righteous than righteous, and his fury that Ludovic has dared to take him on is clearly borne out of his own self-importance rather than any moral imperative, no matter how much he pretends otherwise. He’s also curiously old-fashioned, as is the whole show in some respects; it was made in 2011 and screened in France in 2012, which may account for it, I suppose, but still, the idea that a top-flight international political operative can’t use the Internet at all, or that the first anyone hears of the big scoop attacking his candidate (which by the way is obvious from the first scene of the first episode) is from a newspaper front page rather than Twitter, rolling news channels or the entire World Wide Web is particularly jarring. Bad boy Ludovic, however, is a much more enticing, intriguing creation: caddish, ruthless, blunt and unapologetic about what he wants and how to get it, and impossibly handsome at the same time, he’d make an appalling boyfriend but it’s difficult not to root for him, even though Simon is clearly supposed to be the good guy and Deleuvre is irredeemable.

Despite its flaws, then, there is a great deal to enjoy in Spin. Others may well disagree but I liked it, much, much more than the similarly themed Borgen and, while the Friday night slot is hardly an ideal one for drama that you need to think about, that’s what catch-up’s for. Regardless, I’m more than interested enough to keep watching and reviewing, whenever it’s on. Join me?


15 thoughts on “Spin (Les Hommes de l’ombre) s1 eps 1 & 2

  1. MooreOfThat January 9, 2016 / 11:39 pm

    I have the seasons on DVD and Valentine gets more crazy and somewhat pathetic as the episodes go by. I never knew whether to feel sorry for her or just side-eye the hell out of her.

    • CJ Cregg January 10, 2016 / 12:04 am

      Hello, Moore, bienvenue a l’unpopcult 😉

      That’s disappointing to hear but I guess not surprising based on how she was in these eps – I can’t believe she thought all that clinginess would do anything but put Ludo right off. He’s hardly the sensitive, comforting type, is he? He couldn’t have been clearer (or crueller) about not wanting anything serious if he’d taken out an ad about it in Le Monde!

      • MooreOfThat January 10, 2016 / 12:55 am


        She definitely is a grade A clinger and as you’ll see, she’s got more clinging in her to share!

        It’ll be interesting to see how this goes. I watched the series in French with French subtitles so now I can see what I missed or didn’t pick up on. I guess Ludo is supposed to be the bad guy but I never got him that way, definitely cunning, definitely willing to do what it takes, but I see Simon as the same. I don’t know if Simon was angry with him for doing business as usual or not being his lackey anymore. I had to side with Ludo when he said it was basically his business now and he wanted to run his own business.

        • CJ Cregg January 10, 2016 / 1:11 am

          Absolutely – I was definitely Team Ludo during that scene too. Mind you, I was pretty much Team Ludo throughout, bad boy/terrible boyfriend or not😉. I know Simon’s right about Deleuvre and the cover-up, obviously, but Simon’s still a jerk – where does he get off, disappearing overseas for years then storming back in and demanding his former employee who has built a career of his own just snap to it and follow orders again?

          • MooreOfThat January 10, 2016 / 4:54 am

            Not to mention he seemed to be upset he had to wait while Ludo was in a meeting and then just waltzes in telling Pygmillon employees to “leave us”. I guess that must be why Ludo is somewhat uptight and takes it out on putting golf balls around his office.

            You brought up a good point on Simon’s lack of technology knowledge. That does seem rather strange for someone in today’s world, who is a PR spin doctor AND a special envoy to the UN. He seemed to get completely rattled about not being able to use a TV remote and I don’t quite understand his phobia of driving or cars. It seemed like if he was ushered to one he eyed it suspiciously like someone was asking him to straddle a rocket. He couldn’t seem to handle Ludo accelerating.

            • CJ Cregg January 10, 2016 / 11:54 am

              Heh, yes for someone in such a modern career, Simon is very much a Luddite, isn’t he? I mean, his daughter even had to show him how to press the arrow keys on the laptop? I find it very difficult to accept that someone in his position wouldn’t know how to use a keyboard.

              And you’re right he did seem inordinately suspicious every time he even got near a car, as well. I’m sure Ludo accelerated at that point just because he knew it would freak Simon out 😉

  2. Jed Bartlet January 12, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    I liked this. If I had to rank the two Walter Presents shows I’ve seen so far I’d probably put D83 above this, on the basis that it has a lightness of touch conspicuously missing from Spin, but that’s perhaps unfair; they’re very different shows. Looks good, well plotted without being labyrinthine, interesting characters.

    Can we call it La Douleur Secrète in Simon’s case? Talking of which, my French is essentially non-existent but I agree with you about the subtitles: the repeated use of the phrase “state falsehood” should have been avoided, for example, and I’d be surprised if “nébuleux” meant “muddled” rather than, well, “nebulous”.

    The female characters could perhaps do with a bit of developing, although I think you’re being a little unfair to Apolline. (Although perhaps that’s because I think she’s rather fetching.) Valentine and the daughter (whose name I didn’t catch), on the other hand, are… less than appealing as people. It may be that when we get to see Valentine in a professional context she’ll flesh out a bit.

    I’m genuinely baffled*, though, as to why you call Simon “obnoxious” and “a jerk” but give Ludo a free pass. Simon and his wife are mature people who’ve reached an accommodation which clearly suits them both – on the evidence so far, at least, Apolline’s hardly pining for him. And his decision to stay in Paris was taken on the basis of principle, and crucially before he knew Ludo was working for Deleuvre, so could hardly be said to be motivated by pique. Ludo, on the other hand, has clearly been behaving appallingly to Valentine for months, and works for Deleuvre in more or less full knowledge that the latter is orchestrating a cover-up to promote racial tensions.

    *by which I mean I’m not at all baffled. #Fitoussi

  3. CJ Cregg January 12, 2016 / 9:10 pm

    I don’t think I gave Ludo a free pass – I said he was ruthless, caddish, cruel and a terrible boyfriend! Although also super-handsome and my favourite character 😉

    I think the difference for me is that while Ludo is not in any sense a good guy, and he’s clearly signed up to something dreadful with Deleuvre, Ludo’s also entirely straightforward about what and who he is, if you know what I mean. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than ruthless, unscrupulous and isn’t claiming any nobler motives. Unlike Simon who I think makes a lot of noise about being a good guy and doing the right thing, when I think his real motives are a lot less selfless.

    I also thought Simon was really horrible to his wife at dinner and cannot see why on earth she would put up with him. Seemed like he’s been stringing her along successfully for years, while he runs away from whatever he’s running away from (presumably his feelings for Mrs President – all that face-stroking etc suggests it wasn’t just Pierre he was “friends” with), and she waits at home for him to take pity on her every 24th Tuesday or whatever it was. He also spent the entire two eps yelling at everyone from atop what seemed like a very high horse, which really annoyed me. As Moore and I said, his attitude towards his former agency and former employee – the key word being former – was really hypocritical. I don’t think he was half as annoyed about the “state falsehood” (cringe) as he made out – he was really more indignant, I thought, that his former sidekick was setting up against him. I suppose he expected Ludo and Pygmalion to wait around for him to be ready to come back too, like Apolline does.

    • CJ Cregg January 12, 2016 / 9:13 pm

      Also, though – #Fitoussi.

  4. Jed Bartlet January 12, 2016 / 9:17 pm

    But she doesn’t wait at home for him. She has a job. He’s in New York. If they want to hook up when he’s back in the country – and it seems that they do – where’s the harm in that?

    I’d agree with your general gripe about Simon if he’d changed his mind about leaving Paris after finding out that Ludo was working for Deleuvre. Since it was very clearly before, though, it can’t have been motivated by that at all. Of course, I wouldn’t argue that he might now have some more skin in the game, but it simply wasn’t a factor when he turned the taxi round on his way to the airport.

    • Jed Bartlet January 12, 2016 / 9:18 pm

      Also – #Apolline

    • CJ Cregg January 12, 2016 / 9:19 pm

      Not saying it was a factor when he turned round at the airport, but he did just expect Ludo and Pygmalion to be at his disposal when he did and was mainly indignant that they weren’t.

      • Jed Bartlet January 12, 2016 / 9:20 pm

        Oh yeah. Wouldn’t argue that. But in inferring motive I think the timeline’s crucial.

        • CJ Cregg January 12, 2016 / 9:28 pm

          Motive for staying in the first place, maybe. (Although I think a healthy chunk of that was also just based on hating Deleuvre, since it was before he found out about the cover-up.)

          Attitude and motives afterwards, not so much, but we shall see, I guess.

          • MooreOfThat January 16, 2016 / 10:21 am

            It seemed to me that Simon was more upset that Ludo wasn’t returning his calls (apparently he wanted to draft him into his new campaign) and that Ludo didn’t have the decency to tell him in person that he was going to work for the evil if slightly bored with life Deleuvre. Simon had to find it out through the paper with Ludo photobombing his new project. But then that just brings it back to shallow hurt egos on Simon’s part than any sort of social warrior thing he has going on. Valentine already told him Ludo would never play second to him now that he owned the company so it couldn’t have been much of a surprise to him.

            That being said, it still seems that now that Ludo is the owner of Pygmalion Ludo should be in charge of the company’s future (even if he is cunning and devious) but it seems like Simon wants to be a proxy owner of it to me.

            Well, once he learns to drive a car.

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