Netflix’s new limited series “The Serpent” has been shocking audiences around the world since its release earlier this April. Based on true events, the show dramatizes the elusive and murderous life of Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim), nicknamed “The Serpent,” during his 1975 killing spree in Bangkok. The narrative proves to be truly menacing, trapping viewers in a helpless panic alongside Sobhraj’s victims that will certainly please and horrify fans of true crime media. While the show may be confusing at first, due to the timeline jumping rapidly between flashbacks and flashforwards, the more you watch, the clearer the narrative becomes and the deeper you’re hooked.
Brought to the screen by directors Hans Herbots and Tom Shankland, “The Serpent” is filled with tangible characters that grip viewers through their struggle to survive and maintain their humanity. The lovable and overworked Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle), a diplomat employed at the Dutch embassy in Thailand, serves as the show’s main protagonist. Knippenberg is the first to hop on Sobhraj’s scent following the murder of two Dutch tourists, and comes close to losing his sanity throughout the series as the Serpent slips through his fingers time and time again. Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman), Sobhraj’s girlfriend, also quickly proves to be more of a victim than any sort of partner in crime. Repeatedly manipulated and mentally abused, Leclerc tears viewers between poles of sympathy and anger as she continues to blindly follow her violent boyfriend through his romanticized Bonnie-and-Clyde dream.
“The Serpent” is certainly every avid traveler’s nightmare. Sobhraj preyed on lonely tourists along the “Hippie Trail” of Asia throughout the seventies. After earning their trust, he would drug, rob, and often even kill these people, many of which he burned alive. Forging his picture into their passports and stealing their money, Sobhraj would then travel the world under their identities, keeping his victims seemingly alive and the police utterly confused. Sobhraj, at least in the show’s dramatization, was a master of committing perfect crimes–crimes, I mean, that he could and did get away with.
This series is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many parts of this show, mainly the helplessness of Sobhraj’s drugged victims while they fight for their lives, prove very difficult to watch. However, there is beauty in the chaos as well. The show seamlessly switches between various languages, enriching the reality depicted on screen as we follow the camera and the killers around the world. Additionally, the script is both thrilling and fulfilling, utilizing the strong talent within this cast to deliver a story about more than just solving crime. “The Serpent” deals with humanity and alienation in countless forms, and it can certainly be felt in the hearts of its audiences. For those who enjoy thrillers, there is no lack of fear and horror in the life of Charles Sobhraj. I guarantee you’ll think twice about ever traveling alone.
“The Serpent” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Erik Mathews