Back and Forth
Episode 1 of The Serpent begins with a simple question directed at Charles Sobhraj – are you a dangerous man? Charles nonchalantly shrugs off these accusations and claims he’s a free man.
We then jump back to the 27th November 1975 in Bangkok. Charles happens to be at Kanit House where a big party is getting underway.
As thunder rumbles overhead, Charles heads into the kitchen where his partner, Marie-Andrée Leclerc happens to be. Together, they crush up pills and place them in different drinks. This, as it turns out, is a big scam to allow Charles to take their passports and forge documents.
It works too, as we see this pair head across to Hong Kong to do business. Marie and Charles show off some lucrative diamonds and exchange funds, slowly rising in infamy. Outside, Charles – going under the alias of Alain – runs into a man named Willem.
That evening, they also meet Lena too, who’s Willem’s partner. Together, they encourage the pair to come and stay in Bangkok with them. While they head off to dance, an eerie vibe descends over the party.
Willem and Helena head over to Bangkok where they’re met by Ajay at the airport, a man who happens to work for Alain (Charles). He wants to take them with him, claiming their trip to Santa Cruz Hotel would be pointless. Instead, he drives them to Kanit House.
We then jump forward 2 months later. We’re back in Bangkok, but this time at the Dutch Embassy. Herman Knippenberg is currently looking into a case involving Willem and Lena. They’ve gone missing, but he’s late for a meeting and eventually decides to head there by foot
He makes it to the Athletics Club and apologizes to the Ambassador for being late. He wants to discuss these two young Dutch backpackers that have gone missing. However, the Ambassador waves it away, claiming this is a police matter.
Herman sits in and listens as his secretary phones the police. They simply tell him to phone back after the holidays – which is in three days’ time. This eventually brings Herman before Paul Siemons. He’s more helpful, giving Knippenberg crucial clues to go on – including letters for Willem and Helena (which definitely arrived) and checking in at the airport (which we know definitely happened.)
Herman eventually heads up to the Santa Cruz Hotel but, of course, these two backpackers never showed up. Herman is picked up from the hotel by Angela. Together, they decide to confront the Eastern Division It’s at this point the timeline starts to go a little wobbly, as we now jump back 4 months – which would put us back 2 months before the events at the start of the episode. Phew!
A woman named Teresa is encouraged to share a room with Celia. Teresa refuses to smoke with her friend, as they head up to Nepal and pay their respects at the temple.
That evening they run into Ajay, who encourages them to head up to a party with him. Teresa initially rejects this and takes Celia aside, telling her she wants to go and stay at a Buddhist Monastery. Eventually they succumb to temptation and show. Teresa decides to set a 7am alarm for herself as she gets to know a French man named Dominique. Charles arrives and suggests she help him trade gemstones. She refuses, although he takes her away personally in his car.
They head to a strip club where Teresa realizes she’s been drugged. Unfortunately it’s too late and she’s bundled in the car in her drugged-up state and taken away. Ajay is with her and they take all her money and drive further up into the mountains. Charles encourages him to bundle the girl into the sea and let her drown.
Skip forward 4 months and Knippenberg meets Laver at a hotel. He’s pretty rowdy and very opinionated too. Knippenberg learns from Laver that the two Australian bodies found weren’t actually Australian after all. In fact, they were burnt and seemingly unidentifiable.
This only becomes more strange when that aforementioned Australian couple show up out the blue. Only, if they’re there then whose bodies do these belong to?
Jump back two months and Willem is convinced by Alain to help sell some of his gems. It’s an uneasy conversation, especially when Willem initially refuses. Lena refuses too, and this eventually sees the pair crush up pills and feed it to Lena in her wine. She throws up straight across the table too, as Charles looks on disapprovingly.
In the morning, Lena awakens to find herself violently ill. She’s not the only one though, as Willem too starts to feel sick. Lena tries to speak to Marie-Andrée but she’s having none of it. As we soon see -and as Knippenberg himself learns – the two burned bodies are actually the missing travelers Lena and Willem.
The Episode Review
The Serpent slithered back on screens earlier this year in the UK and immediately made quite the impression this side of the Atlantic. Judging by this first episode, there’s certainly a lot to like with this one. However, it’s also quite a twisty-turny thriller and perhaps more confusing than it needs to be thanks to all the jumps backward and forwards.
However, the way this has been edited does help to add to the overall drama and tension in the series. There’s a sinister edge to all of this and learning that it’s inspired by real events only makes the horrific tale that much more frightening.
The acting from all involved is fantastic while the set and production design really helps give this a distinct 1970’s vibe.
So far so good, The Serpent gets off to a great start and sets the scene nicely for the season ahead.