Firstly Indian-Vietnamese and then Frenchman, Charles Sobhraj hates white rich kids turned into hippies colonizing Asia. The Serpent is the real-life story of how he drugs, robs, and murders them in 1970s Thailand which aired on the BBC channel and Netflix in early 2021. With help from his accomplices, Sobhraj ventures on a quest to become Asia’s most famous serial killer. While the quest for hunting him down is in the hands of the diplomats Herman and Angela Knippenberg.
(Un)loving a serial killer
The naïve French-Canadian traveler Marie-Andreé Leclerc (Jenna Coleman, also seen in Victoria), meets the charming Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim, also seen in The Past). She falls in love with him, but soon finds out he’s a killer in disguise, who goes under the name of Alain Gautier. The seducing alter ego of Sobhraj is a gem dealer living in Kannit House, Bangkok. The place is a party hostel attracting young hippies from the west in the 1960s. In Bangkok, with the help of his accomplice Ajay and Marie – alias Monique – Charles drugs and robs these travelers. Eventually, he kills them in order to steal their passport identities, to travel and smuggle gems all across Asia.
What makes Charles so loving is his charisma and quiet confidence. Indeed, despite struggling with guilt, Marie-Andrée follows Charles almost until the end, blinded by the promise of everlasting love. As blinded are the diplomats, police officers, and accomplices all over Asia by Sobhraj’s persuasive skills. So much that they will end up helping him to breach international law over and over again.
A cat and mouse game
To balance the evil guys, The Serpent offers the same amount of screen time to the good guys. Diplomatic spouses Angela (Ellie Bamber, Nocturnal Animals) and Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle, Dunkirk) alongside Mr. and Ms. Gires. In this sense, the show resembles the likes of Mindhunter, The Sinner, and Killing Eve in the display of a typical cat and mouse game. While Sobhraj is obsessed with fame and his hate for hippies, Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg is obsessed with rendering justice to those families who lost their sons and daughters during their Oriental travels.
The hunt, though, has high personal costs. Mr. Knippenberg defies national police boycotts and his own ambassador while putting at risk his marriage to polyglot wife Angela Knippenberg. At the same time, Mr. and Ms. Gires, Sobhraj’s neighbors, put their lives at risk by playing detectives. To stop this apathetic master of disguise from committing atrocious crimes is a rather uneasy task. Especially, when the mouse resembles a serpent: Asia’s most famous serial killer.