It seems the BBC’s eight-part, glossy, 1970s crime drama, The Serpent, has settled into an engrossing and terrifying groove. Since that opening episode, instalments two and now three have focused on either one of Charles Sobhraj’s victims or his inner circle. It’s an interesting a clever approach, one the gives context to his crimes and their surroundings, the characters around him, and the indeed the victims.
Last week, we saw the impact of Sobhraj’s manipulation and deviousness on his partner, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Colman), and now attention turns to Dominique Renelleau, a young traveller who Sobhraj has gently coerced into his inner circle.
Every episode of the series – which gets better and better – seems to be almost a separate entity in itself, telling a different story, each slightly different in tone and pacing.
This week it was a tense cat-and-mouse story between Dominique and Sobhraj.
The way he did this was terrifying – he kept feeding him the same poison he had administered to others, and while he was ill Sobhraj was there ‘to look after him’. Giving him a place to stay and recuperate while still feeding him his ‘medicine’ was difficult to watch, especially as Dominique began to realise that something was seriously wrong. His innards were torn to pieces, he was sick all the time and he was starting to notice that he was the only one in the apartment to be so. The penny really dropped when Sobhraj’s pet monkey died after imbibing some of this supposed ‘health drink’.
By the stage, Dominique was desperate to escape back to France and back to his parents. But Sobhraj was determined to stop him, arguing that he had seen too much. Sobhraj had already reconstituted his passport so Dominique was stranded and trapped, and seemingly doomed.
And Sobhraj was right – Dominique had seen pretty much everything. He had seen Ajay and Sobhraj kidnap another young French woman and her Turkish boyfriend seemingly on a whim, poison them both and then dispose of them of different times. Dominique had also seen his smuggling operation at close quarters, and he had seen how Marie-Andrée was complicit in everything.
The driving force of this episode was whether Dominique could or would escape Sobhraj’s clutches.
As ever, this flashback story was intertwined with Herman Knippenberg’s burgeoning present-day investigation. The Dutch diplomat had found Nadine and her boyfriend Remi, who told him Dominique’s story – of how they became friends by the poolside at the Kanit House complex, and how he had come to her during Christmas when he was at his lowest, confessing everything. Nadine acted almost as a narrator to Dominique’s escape story, and this was a clever piece of plotting that supplied plenty of suspense, tension and tempo, right up until the end when we saw Dominique arrive safely back in France.
He was evidently one of the lucky ones. Nadine, who had gone to see if a letter had arrived from Dominique at her mail locker at the airport, was picked up by a suspicious Sobhraj. We’ll have to wait to find out if she was also one of the lucky ones.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
The Serpent is currently showing in the UK on BBC One and the BBC iPlayer. It will be available on Netflix in the US and other territories.