The Serpent is a BBC crime drama on Charles Sobhraj which is currently streaming on Netflix. It is a well shot thriller with mostly strong performances by Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman but it falls short in terms of its story telling and out of place protagonists. It also packs a great score composed by Dominik Scherrer.
The Serpent Series Plot
The Serpent revolves around the global criminal Charles Sobhraj. The show explores his crimes, murders and robberies in a series of locations, through a series of different ways.
The Serpent Series Cast
- Tahar Rahim as Charles Sobhraj
- Jenna Coleman as Marie-Andrée Leclerc
- Billy Howle as Herman Knippenberg
- Ellie Bamber as Angela Knippenberg
- Amesh Edireweera as Ajay Chowdhury
The Serpent Series Review
The Serpent is about the life and crimes of Charles Sobhraj. It expands and explores his various instances and victims by jumping through timelines and circumstances. How three people drugged, robbed and killed innocent travellers is just a small part of the many gut wrenching scenes in this show. However, its storytelling is what keeps it behind from becoming something special. From the first episode itself, we are introduced to three different victims and their timelines. Tahar Rahim, in my opinion, does a fantastic job in bringing out the ruthlessness of this global criminal, but the same can’t be said about the uncanny charisma which Charles possessed and seduced his victims with. After a first few slow episodes, The Serpent picks up the pace and raises the stakes for Sobhraj, and from then on, its aura started to become even more captivating. And if it weren’t for the weird timelines and some weak performances, The Serpent could have easily been one of the best crime shows to come out in recent times.
Charles Sobhraj (Played by Tahar Rahim), is a notorious criminal who is seen operating from Bangkok. His accomplices, Marie (Played by Jenna Coleman) and Ajay (Played by Amesh Edireweera), are both supportive and accepting of what Charles does to bring money into the house. Their primary plan always revolves around seducing travellers who seem lonely and distracted in their lives. Charles has an eye for Strangers like these and with some persuasion and a clever use of drugs, he brings them into Kanit House. Fraud vigilance is something which is negligible, especially in the third world countries where Charles usually operated from. So it became all too easy for him to steal the traveller cheques and cash their entire savings in an instant, leaving his victims broke and hopeless. Apart from that, Charles doesn’t often trust anyone, especially his victims. So the next resort is to kill them and make their bodies so unidentifiable, that the police spend most of their time recognizing them before actually investigating. It is the perfect plan which consists of deception, brutality and sheer ruthlessness, which summarizes the character of Charles Sobhraj. And everything goes smoothly for them until a Dutch Diplomat starts investigating a case of two Dutch Travellers who went missing in Bangkok.
The Serpent Series: Violence left to visualization
The Serpent is rigid and enjoyable in its horror and aura. There is very little violence in the show, yet the description of the incidents alone creates so much tension and anxiety in the minds of the viewer. Where Charles is adamant, ruthless and egoist, his lover Marie is conflicted and eerily empathetic. The dynamic between these two characters fleshes the deceptive avatar of Charles even more. How he is willing to let go of anyone and everyone in his path to achieve a total victory is heavily brought into focus. There are always the lies of moving into the new life, which is devoid of crime and filled with love. But the circumstances that Charles creates for himself never really allows any of this to happen. More than the character development of Charles himself, I particularly enjoyed watching Marie tolerate everything Charles does, and still stay by his side.
The victims are shown to be seduced by Charles, yet they stayed at Kanit house due to transparent friendliness of Marie. Watching The Victims succumb to their deaths, and the story which revolved around their ultimate demise, was always new and located in a different setting. And this show goes global with a clever use of archival footage with digital to create a sense of realized atmosphere. The score by Dominik Scherrer is part enchanting and part anxiety inducing. The mix of cultures and locations in the show pave way for some beautiful inspired music which flows with every situation. The one score I found myself going back to was of Theresa Knowlton. How ironically peaceful and calming it was as compared to the actual incident still sent shivers down my spine.
The Serpent Series: Sloppy Storytelling
Now coming to the storytelling aspect of The Serpent, well it was weird. The ever changing timelines of the show were particularly confusing to keep a track of and they presented the characters in a non-linear way which didn’t really help the interests of the show. We see Charles going from Place A to Place B, and then all of a sudden we see a 5 year ago flashback which jumbles up all the development the character has had in present time. Many shows and movies do this, but The Serpent seemed as if it was solely reliant on this aspect to tell the entire story of Charles. What’s more is that Tahar Rahim manages to bring out the adamant and ruthless side of Charles with such perfection that it undermines the prior charm of the character. Even in the flashbacks and time jumps, the performance of Tahar doesn’t evolve a lot and after a while it starts to come off as repetitive. That being said, Tahar is still the reason most of the viewers will be going back to the second, third and fourth episodes. Both Jenna and Tahar are brilliant in their chemistry and their consistency. However the same can’t be said about Billy Howle who played the role of Herman Knippenberg, the Dutch diplomat who brings Charles down. I can’t judge his portrayal of a dutch man because frankly, I have never seen Dutch people interact. But his overall performance came off as too Try Hard and Righteous in my opinion. Knippenberg gets overly passionate in so many scenes that after a while it comes off as weirdly comical rather than impactful.
The Serpent works where it wants to, but it still diverts into sloppy storytelling and weird performances. Some slow episodes in the beginning are hard to go through yet when the show picks pace, it becomes all the more thrilling and horrific. Some episodes had better imagery then the others, but the camera work in the later season outdoes the earlier season by a mile. Tahar Rahim is both fantastic and repetitive, but his Charles Sobhraj never gets dull. Overall, this BBC crime drama is something I would recommend to anyone who is intrigued and terrified by the gore filled way Charles did what he did.
The Serpent Series Critical Reception
The Serpent stands at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being, “Tahar Rahim’s unnerving performance brings reptilian menace to The Serpent, but this uneven slice of true crime is too byzantine in structure and too pat about its central villain’s motivations to really get under the skin.” Its IMDB score is 7.7.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
The Serpent is haunting and engaging yet the timelines and the ever changing storytelling aspect of the show keeps confusing and disorienting its viewers. Some performances shine, some don’t, but the show utilizes the global aspect of Charles Sobhraj to create an absorbing atmosphere.