5 reasons to binge Netflix’s The Serpent this weekend

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/01/2020 - Programme Name: The Serpent - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Monique/Marie-Andrée Leclerc (JENNA COLEMAN), Charles Sobraj (TAHAR RAHIM) - (C) Mammoth Screen Ltd - Photographer: Roland Neveu
WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/01/2020 - Programme Name: The Serpent - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Monique/Marie-Andrée Leclerc (JENNA COLEMAN), Charles Sobraj (TAHAR RAHIM) - (C) Mammoth Screen Ltd - Photographer: Roland Neveu /

Netflix’s The Serpent arrives on the streaming platform this weekend, after a record-breaking premiere run in the U.K. (The series was the BBC’s most popular premiere of the past two years, racking up over thirty million streams on iPlayer.)

A show that begs to be binged, Netflix clearly hopes its twisty, extremely non-linear story about the infamous French serial killer Charles Sobhraj will captivate American audiences in much the same way. And there’s certainly a lot to recommend it, from the all-star cast that includes Tahar Rahim, Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle, and Ellie Bamber, to the gorgeous costumes and intricately recreated 1970s period setting.

The Serpent is a dark story about dark people, centered on a monster whose horrific acts are only equaled by his deeply psychopathic behavior, a tantalizing story that’s difficult to look away from. (Even though it’s certainly not without its flaws – if you can’t handle non-linear storytelling trust me when I say this show is 100% not for you.) But for those who like this kind of thing? You will really like this kind of thing.

Here are five reasons you should give this true crime period piece a try this weekend.

The Serpent is based on a compelling – and terrifying – true story

Most American viewers probably don’t know much about Charles Sobhraj, the real-life French serial killer whose nickname gives the series its title. Sobhraj and his associates murdered at least a dozen people in 1975 and 1976 along what was then known as the “Hippie Trail” in Southeast Asia.  The trek, which wound through mountains with stops in small towns in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, was popular among young Westerners on the hunt for spiritual enlightenment in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Sobhraj was something of a Manson- type figure, both deeply psychotic and capable of keeping several people – most of them women – under his thrall and using them to help carry out his crimes, which included everything from basic robbery and identity theft, to poisoning and eventually murder. Using stolen Passports, he and his girlfriend, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, were able to easily slip between countries and avoid detection.

Tahar Rahim’s performance is chilling

It’s always hard to play a character based on a real person – and that goes probably triple when that real person was a literal monster who murdered at least a dozen people, robbed dozens of others, and gleefully avoided capture for years. So Tahar Rahim deserves kudos for even making the attempt – let alone pulling it off so thoroughly.

His take on Charles Sobhraj is distinctly reptilian – in a nod to the infamous nickname that gives the series its title – cold, distant, and constantly wound tight, like a predator always ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey. The Serpent isn’t particularly interested in telling us the whys behind Sobhraj’s crime spree – a whiff of mommy issues pops up at various points in the story, but mostly the man seems to do terrible things for little reason other than the simple fact that he enjoys it. He seems to live for the thrill of manipulating clueless tourists and taking advantage of those simply looking for a friendly smile in a foreign place.

Perhaps Rahim’s performance could do with a bit more warmth at times – if only so that viewers catch a glimpse of the version of Sobhraj that apparently entranced so many – but whenever he’s onscreen, he’s impossible to look away from.

Marie-Andree Leclerc is a very different kind of role for Jenna Coleman

Most The Serpent viewers are probably familiar with actress Jenna Coleman from her time as a Doctor Who companion or her leading role on the popular PBS period drama Victoria. Her turn here as Marie-Andree Leclerc is something altogether different – a character who is much darker, a bit weaker, and more easily influenced than anything we’ve seen her play in the past.

Though the series could do a slightly better job of digging into why exactly Marie is so drawn to Charles, Coleman really sells her quiet disintegration into a person that even she herself barely recognizes anymore. As she sinks deeper into Sobhraj’s world, eventually helping him find and lure new targets, Coleman’s performance just keeps getting better.

The 70s fashions are so on-point

The Serpent is set in the late 1970s and positively revels in its period setting. From the soundtrack to the realistically recreated hostels and bars of Thailand, everything about the show looks great – especially its incredible costumes.

As one of the series’ few women, Coleman gets the lion’s share of great looks, from dresses and beach cover-ups to sharply tailored suits. Her signature huge sunglasses, headscarves, and love of bright colors are perfectly period-appropriate and provide an important look into who she is as a character. Since Marie spends most of the series not even allowed to use her own name, the iconic fashions are all part of how she creates her false identity as “Monique”, girlfriend of a powerful gem dealer, and allows her to hide the insecurity she feels.

The story is so tense – even though we already know the ending

The danger of any true crime story is the temptation of just heading over to Wikipedia and looking up the end of the story, complete with all the grisly details. Charles Sobhraj is a real-life monster and his court cases and criminal charges are public records. (Remember, 12 dead bodies are only all he was charged with.) But despite the fact that we know how The Serpent’s story will end, its story is still wildly compelling.

Part of this is, again, because this isn’t a story we’ve heard a ton already, so the twists and turns feel fresh. But mostly it’s because the series smartly employs flashbacks and jump cuts that mirror different events across time and underline the horrors of multiple horrors at once.

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Will you be giving The Serpent a try this weekend? Sound off in the comments.