How does falling in love change a person?
If you’re venerable detective Samuel Spade, it changes the course of your life.
Monsieur Spade Season 1 Episode 1 introduces us to a brusque man quicker with wit than giving his heart, but the real story begins eight years after he finds and loses the great love of his life.
While this is the Sam Spade Humphrey Bogart played to perfection in The Maltese Falcon, he’s obviously older and certainly more jaded, which is a hell of a feat.
We meet the older Spade in the mid-fifties on an assignment to reunite a young girl with her father. Spade plays the tough all the way, but when he finds Teresa snuggled up against him on a stormy night alone in a car, the truth is revealed. Spade’s heart doesn’t match his exterior.
Timing is everything, and on the back of that tender moment, Gabrielle catches him off guard. Spade’s demeanor changes almost instantly, and you imagine what’s ahead.
Fast forward eight years, and Spade is now a widower. He’s settled into the small French town of Bozouls, learned the language, and created a life for himself.
What happened in the eight years between those events and how it connects to Teresa, Gabrielle, and the people of Bozouls in the present day drives the story.
How Spade changed in that time and how it affected everything from his peace of mind to his investigatory skills plays out over the season, but what’s clear is that had adversary Philippe Saint-Andre returned while Gabrielle was still alive or before, Spade’s approach might have been much different.
Beginning the series with a version of the detective we’d expect and skipping forward past a life-changing event and the years that follow to see how Sam Spade changed and how he’s weathering another storm works well to set the stage for an engaging mystery.
Clive Owen is having a ball following in Humphrey Bogart’s stead, imagining how the actor might have portrayed such changes had he been given the opportunity.
What I really appreciate about Owen’s performance is how he displays the subtle cracks in Spade’s well-known veneer.
Not so much when Teresa cuddles into his lap or the light goes off for Spade that Gabrielle is worth a change of attitude, but with the subtle smile Spade offers his housekeeper, Helena, when they share a moment in the kitchen or how at ease he is with his nudity as Spade is ensconced in his own private oasis.
Emphysema. Not pretty.
Whereas Spade probably didn’t pay any mind to the idea of death before Gabrielle, in her wake, receiving the news that his life could be cut short if he doesn’t put down his beloved cigarettes, gives him pause.
He’s discovered that life has more to offer, and even though he lost his great love, he’s not willing to give that up just yet.
Then again, he’s also unwilling to give up his cigarettes, which is part of his charm and keeps us on our toes as viewers. Like most of us, he’s both embracing life and indulging in his vices, and we never know quite what to expect next.
You can see all of this play out in a range of emotions very subtly playing across Owen’s face in with the way he carries himself, plays with a lighter, or glances casually at the girl whose care Spade ensures. Those things bring Sam Spade to life.
It was sort of surprising to discover that instead of Spade and Gabrielle caring for Teresa themselves when she wasn’t reunited with her father, she was put in the charge of nuns at a local convent.
Spade did say that he was paid to bring Teresa to Bozouls. He fulfilled his obligation. And if he wasn’t ready to become a father figure for the girl, he wasn’t ready to cast her out into the wind, either.
His money, likely from his share of the club, pays for her guardianship, but they don’t appear to have much of a relationship otherwise.
Spade created a life for himself in Bozouls, which includes daily trips to the farmer’s market and frequent visits to the convent, enough that he recognizes new faces and the old call him by name.
When he accepted the assignment from a former lover to deliver her daughter overseas, he expected it would be easier than it was, but when it wasn’t, he was dogged in his pursuit, leaving no stone unturned trying to find Philippe Saint-Andre.
Much to his surprise, when he wasn’t looking, he found him, more or less.
Gabrielle’s past is tied to the dastardly Saint-Andre, and if there’s one thing Spade learns about the man, it’s that Teresa would be no better with her father than she would be if Sam tried raising her himself.
Some people aren’t meant to be parents, and Saint-Andre fits that bill, among others.
Saint-Andre was blackmailing the whole town, using their secrets to grease his own wheels. For Gabrielle, it was her husband’s collaboration with the Nazis during the war that he threatened to reveal.
Gabrielle doesn’t come right out and say how she felt about her husband’s collusion with the enemy to keep the peace, but she doesn’t want to be associated with the memory. Who would?
One line of dialogue suggests that Spade’s love for Gabrielle helped put an end to that blackmail, but Philippe’s return is ominous.
Well, there’s plenty of ways of getting rid of a man without killing him, especially when there’s a war on.
Spade is in a pretty good frame of mind before Saint-Andre returns, with only a minor scuffle here and there with Marguerite Devereaux‘s husband Jean-Pierre, whose jealousy is a heavy-handed reminder of his time at war and how he counts on Marguerite’s love to carry him through.
But Jean-Pierre has a long-standing bone he wants to pick with Spade, it’s a minor annoyance brought to the fore, exacerbated by Philippe’s return.
After setting the stage and introducing many characters seemingly at odds with Spade for various reasons, Teresa urgently needs his help.
Arriving on his doorstep with a story about her father being shot, Teresa’s trouble sets Spade into motion again as he picks up where he left off years earlier for a life of love and leisure.
An entire convent of nuns has been brutally murdered, and Teresa holds one of the keys to their fate. As Monsieur Season 1 continues, everyone will be suspect, and Spade’s true nature will be revealed when Teresa needs him the most.
Is her father really the key to the murders, or is there a larger conspiracy at play? Who is George Fitzsimmons, and is his arrival happenstance or pointed?
The story will seamlessly weave through Spade’s past and present as he works with the Chief of Police and enlists Henri’s help to determine a connection between the murder and Teresa, to solve a crime so brutal no one is above suspicion, and where nobody will be safe until it comes to a close.
There are plenty of twists and turns as the mystery unfolds, but the true delight is in seeing a different side of Spade as we kick back and enjoy his sharp tongue and investigative finesse.
What did you think of the premiere?
Did Owen capture and build on what Humprey Bogart created in The Maltese Falcon?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.