Sometimes Goodbye is a Second Chance
LE CODE – Season One – Episodes 1 & 2 – (limited spoilers)
In the opening scene, Corporate lawyer Idriss Toma is held at gunpoint in his Paris office by Carl Roussell (Stéphane Blancafort). Toma has just won acquittal for a (fictional) company called Delac Paint after they were accused of causing cancer in their employees with improper use of E451 (trisodium phosphate), an emulsifier found in cleaning products and food. Roussell’s wife was a victim of Delac‘s irresponsibility, and she died the day after the court handed down its ruling. After spotting his wife’s picture on a bulletin board with “gagner du temps” written below, Roussell becomes angry. “Buy time?”, he asks, seeking an explanation. “It’s not what you think” responds Toma. ” As a lawyer, I have to protect my clients’ interests,” Roussell becomes even angrier “No,” he says, “that’s not what it means to be a lawyer”. Then he fires three times, but Toma does not die.
What does it mean to be a lawyer? Sixteen months after the shooting, Toma has returned to his hometown of Lille and created Ayad, Toma, & Vanhoven, a law firm dedicated to the promotion of social justice. In the first episode, Toma goes to great lengths to take over the case of Estelle Lantez (Annelise Hesme), whom he believes is unjustly charged with murder. When Lantez asks: “Why would you do this for me?” Toma replies: “Life gave me a second chance, and I want to do the same for you, just to settle the score.”
First-billed on the firm’s logo is Nadia Ayad (Naidra Ayadi). Nadia likes to be in charge, and does not enjoy surprises. When her co-counsel Maxime Leffargue (Théo Frilet) enacts a spontaneous bit of defense strategy that wins a case, she coldly suggests she might never work with him again. She is married — we do not learn her wife’s name — and has a young child named Victor.
The first episode’s title is “Profession de foi” and is translated (inaccurately) into English as “Statement of Intent”. In that story’s most intense scene, Ayad finds herself confronted in the ladies’ washroom by a police officer (Brigadier Moreau, played by Maxime Bailleul) whose evidence she discredited at trial. “When there is a problem,” he tells Ayad, “you will be pleased to have us around.” Ayad does not flinch, and responds: “It’s funny, I was going to tell you the same thing.” Moreau comes close to actually hitting her but stops when another cop enters.
The third partner, Jeanne Vanhoven (Christianne Millet), is less of an idealist and more concerned about the firm’s solvency. When she announces plans to defend a client in court, Ayad tells Toma “she can’t handle cases. What if she gets mixed up?”. Later Toma confronts Vanhoven. “We had an agreement,” he tells her. “You supervise our staff, and use your contacts, but no criminal court.” It sounds as though she might be facing the onset of dementia, but Vanhoven performs necessary tasks for which none of the others has enough experience.
The least visible of the firm’s lawyers is Claire Caldeira (Barbara Probst), who is very surprised when Toma chooses her as co-counsel for the Lantez case. During the trial she makes an effective (and very funny) impromptu speech to buy time as Toma revises his defense strategy.
Idriss Toma frequently has what appear to be migranes. He also has a twenty-year-old daughter named Chloé Barbier (Wendy Nieto), who resents her father’s absence during her childhood, and avoids contact with him. Unknown to Chloé, her parents decided (before she was born) that Toma would make neither a good father nor a good husband, and that Toma’s involvement with them would not go beyond financial support. Chloé’s mother died thirteen months after her father was shot.
Chloé’s resentment is something Toma must overcome, because after the three bullets were extracted, one fragment could not be removed. It sits deep inside his brain, and doctors say it will kill him within a year. Only Élodie Nedelec (Catherine Demaiffe), the firm’s receptionist, is aware of Toma’s diagnosis. Élodie is Toma’s friend and confidant, and there are signs that she would like their relationship to become more than that, but Toma keeps his distance.
Naidra Ayadi (who holds a Master’s degree in Freedoms and Human Rights Law) told Jean-Christophe Nurbel of Bulles de Culture: “In fact, they wrote the part for me, hoping that I would agree to play in the series. And I liked this character, a committed, dynamic, die-hard lawyer who makes the penal code a code of values for herself…it’s a way of being a good citizen, of bringing attention to those people we don’t talk about – those who are in the shadows – bringing their problems to light and raising questions about our society.”
Season Two premiered on France 2 on 4 January.
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