Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5
Charles Sobhraj is one of the most notorious serial killers of our time. Said to have killed anywhere between 12 and 24 people in south-east Asia, this predator is very much a serpent in disguise; striking his enemies and wrapping them up in deceit and big promises.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time before a big studio got hold of this story and turned it into a big or small screen venture. Well wait no more, as BBC’s 8 part twisty-turny thrillers aims to shed light on this nasty man’s life
With a story that jumps back and forth between different time periods, The Serpent follows Charles Sobhraj’s story from his early days is Paris and India through to his notorious reign over South-east Asia.
With gemstone deals, spiked drinks and even burning people alive, this story is a shocking and utterly compelling journey from start to finish. To be fair though, the first half of this series is much stronger than the second, as the later episodes tend to lose some of that impactful tension suffocating the early chapters.
The real injection of urgency here comes from Herman Knippenberg. Working as a Dutch diplomat in Thailand, Herman is driven to find the truth after learning about two young Dutch tourists being brutally murdered. Off-the-books, Knippenberg starts to mount an investigation, following a thin breadcrumb trail of clues to Charles and his group.
This cat and mouse chase then expands for the second half of the series, as Charles and his partner Marie-Andrée (a girl who unfortunately falls for Charles’ seductive charm) head off on the run and try to evade capture for as long as possible. All of this builds up to a dramatic finale where the later days in Charles’ life are brushed over and wrapped up with a neat bow at the end.
To be honest, it would have been nice to have a couple of extra episodes here to see some of this take place. Looking up more about this man’s life, there’s a fair amount of drama encapsulating this period of time that’s not captured that effectively in The Serpent. However, if you’re going into this one blind, there’s a lot to like.
One point of contention however is the timeline itself. Episode 1 and episode 6 in particular are especially bad for this but the series has a tendency to throw in a lot of jumps backwards and forwards.
It’s not uncommon to find a 20 minute chunk of an episode jumping forward two months, then back six and then forward another four. At times these jumps are so sporadic that you feel a sense of mental whiplash at the sudden jumps. This is a show that demands your attention and if you’re not giving it, The Serpent will absolutely punish you.
Visually, the show looks great though and everything from the set design to the costumes are oozing with quality. The team have done an excellent job capturing the mid 70’s vibe here and it really shows.
Jenna Coleman is absolutely inspired in her role, bringing a depth and attention to Marie-Andrée that perhaps would be missing with someone else in the driver’s seat. Tahar Rahim’s interpretation of Charles Sobhraj is good too, although he isn’t quite as charismatic as one may expect from a man so infamous for his seduction.
Despite all this good will, The Serpent struggles quite noticeably with its second half; the timeline distortions start to feel more like a poorly constructed motif than a genuine help to the show’s construct.
The Serpent won’t be for everyone but it is a uniquely stylized series, one with a lot of tension, drama and excellent acting. It’s perhaps not the best depiction of Charles Sobhraj’s crazy life, but it is a highly enjoyable one, making for a satisfying watch nonetheless.