If episode five of The Serpent also made you want to scream Dutch expletives in a taxi in frustration, then spare a thought for the real life Herman Knippenberg, who spent 30 (thirty!) years of his life, trying and failing to bring down the serial killer, Charles Sobhraj.
Reading the true story behind the BBC’s latest glossy crime thriller consistently borders on the incredulous, and watching it play out on screen sometimes even more so. But thanks to a bungled justice system, bribes and bungs, not to mention Sobhraj’s eponymous snake-like tendencies to just slip away from trouble, it’s what allowed Sobhraj to escape justice for his spree of murders in the 70s.
It’s all laid out in excruciating detail in the high-tension hour of this week’s show, where the master conman is as slippery as the greasiest politician. He has an answer for everything and is able to lie convincingly on the spot.
We start the episode jumping back to just two days earlier (despite it being two episodes ago, which is a chronologically confusing time frame) where Dominique has escaped, but Sobhraj - aka Alain (Tahar Rahim) - is on to Nadine. Nadine and her husband, Remi, helped Dominique escape the murder-gang at Kanit House, and while we’ve lived through Nadine’s version of events, we’re now seeing it all from Alain’s point of view, which is, of course, absolutely deranged.
When he’s not forcing her to have (probably) drugged Mai-Tais, he’s going all Rocky, and getting her to punch him in the gut, before turning it round and punching her instead. From the outset, he’s seconds away from a police raid, but it’s drawn out when Nadine correctly deduces that they need to arrest all three of his trio - Monique/Marie-Andree Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) and Ajay Chowdhury (Amesh Edireweera) - if she’s ever to be able to walk in public again.
Alain’s got his own stakeout going on, which is why he refuses to let Nadine out of his sight, meaning she has to pickle like a prune when she pretends she fancies swimming 200 lengths of the pool just for the fun of it. It doesn’t matter what long-distance swimming certificate she won in school, she’s never going to be able to swim for long enough to shake off Alain.
We once again snap back to a scene with Alain’s other love, Suda, who’s dad is a colonel in the police force. In the same way we saw him love-bombing Marie-Andree in episode two, it’s his modus operandi to lure and entrap Suda into money laundering jewels for him. To close his duplicitous deal, he then presents her with a fat engagement ring and tells her they will be married and live in Paris with all their babies - oh, can she just hang on to this shifty red briefcase for him as well?
He’s on the charm offensive with Ajay too - promising him that when they flee to Europe, he’ll have “more than you can ever spend”. I think we all know the likelihood of any of Alain’s promises coming true - why can’t those around him see it too?
On to the police sting, and Alain’s got it all worked out. By getting Monique to put on all of her jewellery and by doctoring one of his victim’s passports, he manages to escape jail by claiming to be an American citizen called David Allen Gore, and bribing a crooked cop with their gold accessories.
That’s not before he has to undergo the lamest interrogation of all time from an American diplomat. Ask him what school he went to in Ohio! What his favourite restaurant was! What his parents did for a living! Anything that could be quickly verified in a phone call, even in a world pre-Google! But instead all he half-arsed asks him about his dodgy accent (“I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Puerto Rico” Alain-as-David shoots back). “I’m no Columbo!” the diplomat tells Knippenberg. Yeah, no shit.
Just as Knippenberg (Billy Howle) and his wife Angela (Ellie Bamber) are prematurely celebrating the capture of Alain for the SECOND time this episode, after the diplomat confirms that David Gore was a victim of a robbing in Hong Kong, Knippenberg gets a call. About Alain? “They’ve gone. They left the doors open and they walked out”, he’s told. The corrupt and inept nature of the justice system reveals itself once again, and Knippenberg, understandably, is left screaming out in frustration, just like the viewer.
Alain drops by Suda’s house, keeps up the ruse of the engagement for as long as dinner lasts, then walks out with his jewels, incriminating suitcase of evidence and that engagement ring, which he promptly shoves onto a delighted Monique’s left hand. “Here comes the future!” cheers Alain. Oh god. What’s next for this gruesome twosome?
Points of note:
This thriller moves into horror territory when Nadine sees flashing lights in Alain’s apartment and foolishly goes to investigate. She’s confronted by Ajay, who, as she predicted earlier in the episode taunts her “we’ll be watching you Nadine”. Well, looks like someone’s never sleeping again
In reality, when the police raided Kanit House, Sobhraj and LeClerc had already fled for their next destination - apparently they were tipped off
Top insult this week comes from Siemons, Knippenberg’s senior, who doesn’t mess about in telling him how he’s ruined chances with Sobhraj: “You don’t get a gold star - you get top of the bill at Bangkok’s latest clown show!” *honks red nose sadly*
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