I am an avid consumer of true-crime content in many forms, from documentaries to podcasts, and though I am usually wary of actor portrayals of real life events, The Serpent defied every low expectation I had for it. I blew through this series in a matter of days because of the captivating storyline and characters.
The first episode was a bit slow—a fair amount of exposition was necessary to introduce us to the large cast of key players. First up we have our principal antagonist: Charles Sobrahj. For most of the series he goes by the name Alain Gautier, and sometimes by the names of his victims, whose passports he steals to adopt new identities and travel across Asia and Europe under the radar. His accomplices, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (AKA Monique) and Ajay Chowdhury do the same at his instruction, helping him poison, murder, and burn bodies across the continent, under the guise of smuggling and dealing gems.
Next we meet the team of crime-fighters, a ragtag group who come together out of necessity and a sense of duty. Herman Knippenberg, a Dutch diplomat, and his brilliant wife Angela lead the charge against Sobrahj with fervor that threatens their careers and their marriage, to stop Sobrahj from killing more innocent people. Nadine and Remi Gires are a young French couple unlucky enough to find themselves neighbors to “Alain” and “Monique” in Bangkok, the reluctant champions of the couple’s many victims. Finally, we have Herman’s one true ally among diplomats: Paul Siemons. The Belgian attaché lends his expertise on the ins and outs of the Thai government and the embassies to subvert the system and find loopholes to justice. The forces of evil and bureaucracy oppose the five at every turn, making for a simultaneously devastating and inspiring story of perseverance and the ease of evildoings.
By nature of being a true story, The Serpent has an intensity that doubles down on the disturbing nature of Sobrahj’s crimes. But the stellar cast and vivid writing played an important role in creating rich, complex relationships that I felt I’d been following for years (and could follow years longer). Tahar Rahim embodies the serial killer with poise, charm, and an unbridled rage against the world—all the things that made Sobrahj so terrifying. Jenna Coleman delivers intricate layers of facade and inner turmoil, while Mathilde Warnier and Amesh Edireweera portray the fear and bravery that came with Alain and Monique’s “friendship.” But in my opinion, the most captivating aspect of the series was the small but stunning performances from every single victim, which made it impossible to stop watching until the serpent was caught.
You root for each one to triumph over Charles’ evil, even more so every time you remember they are all based on real people. You want them to succeed, escape, and make the right decisions that will lead them away unscathed, no matter how many times his manipulation wins. And the more lives he destroys, the more invested you become—like Herman, and Angela, and Paul—in the inevitable failure or slip-up that will get him caught and punished. In a few words? A must-see.