There is a moment in season 1 of the French show The Bureau that mimics the famous “In the Situation Room” photo when the Navy Seals were capturing Osama bin Laden. In the show, the top brass of the DGSE (French CIA), aka “the Bureau”, are remotely watching one of their operations in action via night vision cameras mounted on the operatives. All I could think was, “This must be how Obama et al felt during the bin Laden raid.”  It’s the only real stomach-clenching scene of the whole season, because The Bureau is a slow burn. It develops its characters and reveals its secrets slowly, unlike say, Homeland or a Bond movie. That being said, the machinations are no less treacherous-it’s simply a stylistic choice-more LeCarré than Bourne. Consequently, as a viewer I feel I can walk away from the series and come back to it when I’m in the mood for high-quality but low key TV, versus bingeing 4 seasons in a week.  I feel the same way about Spiral, a show about the French judicial system that is in our top 10.

Love and spies don’t mix

The Bureau focuses on veteran agent “Malotru”, code name for Guillame Debailly, or “Paul Lefebvre”, as he is known by Nadia El Mansour, who was his lover during a 6-year undercover operation in Syria. The show opens with Malotru (played by Mathieu Kassovitz, from Amelie) returning home to Paris. And while he is supposed to cut ties with everyone he met in Syria, he is having trouble leaving Mrs. El Mansour behind. When it turns out that Nadia is in Paris, too, Malotru goes through many contortions to maintain his “Paul Lefebvre” cover with her while simultaneously decommissioning it inside the bureau.  Naturally, this leads to trouble. Lots of trouble.

Seeds are planted

In an unrelated story, we meet a young female agent (Sara Giraudeau) beginning her first undercover mission as a seismologist angling to get on an academic team studying earthquakes in Iran. Meanwhile, the home office is consumed with a missing agent who is presumed kidnapped, and the director has decided to bring in a dreaded psychiatrist to analyze all of the agents for signs of stress.  What’s great about The Bureau is it never talks down to the audience. It drops us into the middle of the DGSE, and assumes we are keeping up with the various plot threads. Characters and story lines are set up for multi-season arcs, and while it’s not a nail-biter, the show is completely engaging. I look forward to sinking my teeth into future seasons. Just not this week.