For a couple who’ve just driven 4,730 miles from Karachi to Paris in a car (taking 83 hours, according to Google maps) Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) and Marie-Andree Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) look remarkably fresh when they rock up to the fictional Le Royal Ligny hotel in the French capital.
This is part two of their heist: sell the gems they’ve purloined through their nefarious means, then retire into a lifetime of vintage Dom Perignon and designer gear from the Champs-Élysées. It’s just…. Marie-Andree’s having a little trouble forgetting about all those murders she aided and abetted. Still, she’s about to meet Sobhraj’s mum, and he says he wants her to have his babies! Isn’t this what every little girl dreams of?!
One fly in their ointment is Knippenberg (Billy Howle), who is refusing to give up the chase. Finding himself fobbed off again - this time by French police force, who would apparently rather be left to enjoy their croissants and cafe au lait in peace - he’s left tearing his hair out again that Sobhraj has skipped merrily across the globe to presumably continue his reign of terror.
The backstory of The Turk and his girlfriend
The episode then weaves in the story of another one of Sobhraj’s victims - and this one really pulls on the heartstrings. All we saw of The Turk (as he’s known, though his name is actually Vitali Hakim) was him appearing to flirt with Monique at a Kanit House pool party, then he was drugged and murdered.
But the back story reminds us that for every one of Sobhraj’s victims, there is a world of loss for the people they leave behind. They were daughters, sons, sisters and brothers, partners - and even in the case of Stephane (Alma Jodorowsky); mothers, as we see her leaving her young daughter Cleo with her mum in Paris as she goes in search of her boyfriend Vitali in Bangkok.
This episode also flips what we had previously assumed into a different truth - showing how those around Sobhraj would have been manipulated into seeing and believing what he wanted. The first time we see Vitali earlier on in the series at the party, he’s shown leering over Monique until Alain drugs him and he crashes to the floor. Told in this episode, he’s proudly showing off pictures of his girlfriend and her daughter, and imploring Monique to start a family of her own, as it’s such a joyful experience.
Meeting with maman
Sobhraj’s mother is off from the start. In a veiled reference to what went on in Sobhraj’s childhood - his mother remarried a French man and moved the family to Paris - she says: “Charles was hard to love”. She then drops the bombshell on Marie, warning her: “Whatever you do, whatever he says don’t think you can have a normal life with him”. She then warns Charles that he needs to be careful as “Jesus Christ died when he was 33” and he quips back: “I’m smarter than Christ”.
Knippenberg is getting desperate - so he “kicks a sealed door wide open” and leaks the stories of all the unsolved murders and the suspects to the Bangkok post. It works! The Thai branch of Interpol finally step up and the lieutenant wants to examine all of Knippenberg’s many boxes of evidence. This leads to an international warrant being issued to every police force in the world.
The importance of catching Sobhraj is highlighted again when the next scene shows a flashback of him and Marie-Andree luring Stephanie into their condo. But she’s smart: she instantly recognises Vitali’s beads - so why the hell is Ajay wearing them? He claims he was given them by Vitali as a gift. Any situation where a kinder version of Marie could have helped Stephane escape vanishes (like any of Sobhraj’s hits), and once again, Marie is shown drugging her iced tea, complicit in the horrors her boyfriend commits.
In the present day Paris, Marie-Andree decides to press Alain on what happened to Stephane. Um, can’t you guess? If this is her growing a slight pang of conscience, it’s not good enough. Alain tells her that she promised to forget what went on in Bangkok and swears on the life of his daughter that he “just left them at the beach”.
The gem deal
All dressed up for their gem deal with the wealthy aristocrats, everything looks all in order. Except - the older couple then pull out the Bangkok Post, alerting them to the fact that Sobhraj and Marie-Andree are wanted for a string of murders in South East Asia. “Why would I kill hippies?” Sobhraj says and calls it “slander”. It doesn’t seem to bother the gem dealers and they walk away with presumably a hefty cheque that will set Sobhraj and Marie-Andree up for life.
We’re then shown grisly footage of what exactly was Stephanie’s fate - burned alive, like her boyfriend, and the Dutch couple before them. Sobhraj and Marie-Andree shouldn’t be allowed to profit off all their murders and start a new life, and finally - finally! - a switch flicks inside of Marie-Andree.
A visit to Sobhraj’s mum only serves to confirm everything that Marie-Andree’s been willfully ignoring for the past few years. “Loving such men is a curse”, his mum explains, before piling on “are you stupid? Charles lies”, as the scales fall from his fiancee’s eyes. Meanwhile, Sobhraj turns up at his ex-wife Juliette’s door, not to try to kidnap Madhu, their daughter, but instead to reveal he’s still in love with Juliette, and would she consider maybe making another go of it? Surprisingly, she refuses to deny she’s still in love with him, and instead just tells him to leave Paris, as his face is currently all over a French current affairs magazine - turns out more than a few people read “a rage from the other side of the world”.
As Marie-Andree realises she’s now ironically finally ended up on the front of a magazine - just not how she pictured it - the ruse is well and truly up. “What have you made me?” she yells. “It says I’m a murderer!” That’s the question we’re left with - is she just another victim of Sobhraj’s grooming, or did she willfully participate in the murders of her own accord? When Sobhraj reminds her that the death penalty is waiting for her in Thailand if she’s caught in France, she has no choice but to flee back to Bombay with her partner.
Tethered to Sobhraj, she is truly trapped in a limbo of partly her own making. Sobhraj seems confident that he’ll evade arrest once again - but how does this horror story end for Marie-Andree?
“She looks like me” Juliette tells Sobhraj, and he finally reveals part of the reason he targeted Marie-Andree: “I know, that’s why I chose her”. Beyond creepy.
“A rag from the other side of the world - even the Thais use it to clean their windows” - presumably the real life Bangkok Post won’t be too happy about this slur, as it’s still printed now, and has a daily circulation of 110,000
The filming of The Serpent took in the expanse of the world, but was mainly filmed in Thailand, until COVID-19 took hold and Tring, Hertfordshire had to stand in for some of the other jetsetting global scenes
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