'The Serpent' Episode 2 Review: Spinning a Web For a Partner in Crime

Laura Martin
·6-min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

From Esquire

Just how did a girl like Monique end up aiding and abetting “Alain” (the mass murderer Charles Sobhraj), we all wondered after the first episode?

Well, the showrunners have dedicated an episode to her entire backstory, starting with the fact that she’s neither called Monique, nor is she a fashion model.

Just like the backpackers charmed and then scammed by Sobhraj, Marie-Andree Leclerc - which we find out is her real name - is presented as a naive Quebecois girl (we know this as she’s pictured wearing geeky glasses and a ponytail), groomed by Sobhraj on a picturesque boat trip to Lake Dal with her then boyfriend.

The charm of Charles?

It’s slightly strange that in real life, Sobhraj, who is believed to have murdered up to 30 people across South East Asia is consistently referred to as having been “charming”. While Alain (played by Tahar Rahim) certainly pulls off the mean, moody and calculating vibe, the performance doesn’t quite stretch to how he managed to so easily captivate everybody he encounters. The series suggests that it’s... because he’s a cool dude?

But to a small town girl like Marie-Andree (played by Victoria’s Jenna Coleman), the idea of a celebrated war photographer paying her attention is enough for her to ditch her boyfriend (after Alain drugs him, of course) and move from Canada to Thailand for him.

Red flags

Alain plays weird, psychological games with her - after luring her over in letters saying “Fly to Bangkok and be mine”, he then all but ignores her when she arrives, and she writes of her “torment” of “no intimacy” in her diary. Red flags, Marie-Andree! Abusers look for vulnerable people, and work to estrange them from family and friends so they believe they have no alternative but to stay with them. She won’t return home as she doesn’t want to face the shame of having to go back to her “sanctimonious” parents and living in her “sad” bedroom again.

As typical in an abuse cycle, Alain then lovebombs her, giving her a cute dog, a sexy beach dress and the promise of a holiday. But her idea of them finally hitting the honeymoon period of their relationship is shattered when he’s actually putting her to the test in a sting: he drugs and robs a pair of annoying Australian tourists.

She passes the initiation - although looking slightly shocked - and on their return to Bangkok, they move in together at Kanit House and he reveals his true self to her. “Everything I ever wanted, I had to take it,” he tells her while grabbing her by the neck. They bang against a wall; she finally gets the intimacy she’s been craving and he knows he’s managed to manipulate her into under his spell.

The fate of the Dutch backpackers revealed

In the meantime, what’s been going on outside of these flashbacks of their ill-fated “romance”? We’re back to those highly uncomfortable shots of the Dutch backpackers writhing around in bed, and being forced to take their “medicine” by Monique. “Please help us,” Lena begs of a blank-looking Monique, hoping to appeal to her, woman to woman. She does nothing.

These scenes are flash-fowarded and juxtaposed with the diplomat-turned-detective Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) having to identify two burned-out bodies that we now know are Lena and Willem. Gruesome viewing, especially when Knippenberg keeps waving the photos in people’s faces.

The young diplomat is still being given a rough ride from all the authorities he encounters - the Thai police aren’t bothered by the murders and tell him to “continue your own enquiries”, and he’s then told by his irritated seniors to drop the whole case.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

A lead for Knippennerg

Finally, he’s given a lead. A panicked French girl has been visiting embassies and consulates telling of a neighbour who’s been drugging and possibly killing his houseguests. It’s Nadine, Alain and Monique’s associate at Kanit House, and she has Willem’s diary, which literally contains Alain’s calling card.

Just in time, as Alain’s pulling in his next victim, a French man called Dominique, who coincidentally just happens to have a bad case of food poisoning. What are the chances? Alain’s setting himself up as the good samaritan that he poses as with so many of his hits.

It’s hard to know whether Monique ever questions her conscience. On meeting Dominique, she asks Alain: “I thought you only robbed people?” and he once again reveals himself for who he really is, stating plainly the scam that they will continue for the next year or so, with many, many victims: “Keep him sick and he will do anything for you. We’re rescuing him, that’s what people will say. That nice couple rescued that poor boy”.

“C’est Alain”

How would the real Leclerc have justified this situation, rather than run screaming in horror? Even when she finds out he’s also dating Suda, daughter of the police colonel and sees Alain and Ajay taking the backpacker Teresa off to her death, she barely flinches. “C’est Alain,” she explains to Nadine. “He is who he is”.

Actor Coleman, speaking in a press conference for the launch of The Serpent, said of the real Leclerc: “There are a thousand ‘Whys?’ Why did you stay? Why didn’t you go away?

“Is she a victim or not? How much of her was brainwashed by him?” She concluded: “It’s almost like she created her own narrative and she’s living in her own ­delusion.”

Marie-Andree morphs into her alter-ego Monique

She falls into the character that Alain has created for her, the equally cool fashion model Monique, and she writes in her diary “Marie is terrified but Monique has to stay calm.” She knows that Alain - and Ajay - are capable of murdering anyone who knows their secrets - by exposing himself to her, he’s entrapped her: she can’t walk away as she knows she may end up burned alive or drowned, too.

Which is why, when Alain starts his orgy of violence of Lena and Willem, she simply closes the door and walks into the other room. Holding a small orange radio to her ear, she drowns out the shocking murder scene next door with Charles Aznavour singing the French version of She. But it’s really Marie-Andree who is living with the “beauty or the beast” of the song, who “may turn each day into heaven or a hell”. She’s now embedded in a living nightmare, and it’s now the “the price I have to pay”.

Points of note:

  • The dancing hippie who dares to sidle up to Marie-Andree at the party? He’s Alain’s first victim from episode one, and a reminder never to take a bottle of beer from a perma-tanned man with a thousand year stare

  • After Marie-Andree poses as Teresa to cash her travellers cheques, she and Alain pout for a photo in a pub: this is a recreation of one of the few actual photos in existence of the pair

  • Aznavour isn’t the only French crooner we’re treated to in this episode, as Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin sing “69” - about 1969, a very erotic year according to the duo

The Serpent continues on Sundays at BBC One at 9pm

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