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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Serpent is a drama series based on the true-life events surrounding French serial killer Charles Sobraj (Tahar Rahim) and the hunt to find and arrest him. In English, Dutch, French, Thai, and other languages (subtitled) and set in the mid-70s, the series follows Sobraj as he kidnaps travelers and hippies passing through Bangkok. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole," and smoking, drinking, and drug use are frequent as the series is set in the "longhair" wonderland of 1970's South Asia. Sexual content includes bare breasts shown at a strip club and simulated sex without nudity. Many of Sobraj's victims are killed by drugging; their bodies are then disposed of by drowning or fire. Fans of true crime will enjoy this detailed series, but it's definitely a mature and dark story, made even more compelling by the fact that it's mostly true.
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What's the Story?
Charles Sobraj (played by Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian) is posing as a gem dealer in mid-70's Bangkok, a hippie paradise where he lives large. This lifestyle is funded by his many victims, who he manipulates, drugs, and then kills after stealing their money and passports. These crimes, mostly perpetuated on Western hippies and travelers, go unnoticed until low-level Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) begins to track the case of a missing couple. Sobraj's team of accomplices include his girlfriend Marie-Andree (Jenna Coleman, Doctor Who), Ajay, their trusty henchman, and gofer Dominique, who seems less and less happy to do Sobraj's bidding. Knippenberg is assisted by his wife, Angela, both of whom are dedicated to taking down Sobraj and bringing justice to his victims. Told through a mix of flashbacks and present-day action, The Serpent explores, the history of the criminal, the unfortunate stories of his victims whose journeys were cut short, and his ultimate capture.
Is It Any Good?
This solid period piece certainly takes its time, but true crime fans will enjoy The Serpent's detailed storytelling, even if it's a story many already know somewhat well. Rahim as Sobraj is both charming and utterly creepy as a narcissist who believes he's been treated unfairly due to his racial background and class, and is just trying to get what he deserves from life. He's countered by the determined, puppy-dog energy of Howle's Knippenberg, who is eager to please the Dutch embassy but is haunted by the forgotten victims -- some of the show's only lightness comes from watching the utterly square Knippenberg try to infiltrate the hippie world of Bangkok expats. It's also interesting and troubling to see how Sobraj uses his status as a biracial man to connect with a victim who comes from a similar background; he's a master manipulator.
The Serpent's burn is slow but the tension eventually builds, while the show takes time to languidly show us the beauty of Bangkok and Nepal, highlighting the culture shock that may affect the malleability of his mostly white victims. Frequent time shifts and flashbacks also mean that viewers have to pay pretty close attention, but the timelines eventually converge into the present-day story. The Serge Gainsbourg-heavy French soundtrack and impeccable period costumes and set design add credence to this already well-told tale.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why people are interested in the stories of criminals and murderers. Why do you think true crime is so popular? Is it the mystery element? The personalities?
Do you think Sobraj's upbringing affected his life and desire to commit crime, as he claims? Is there ever an excuse for his level of behavior?
Families can talk about justice. What compels Knippenberg to continue working on this case against the advice of his superiors?
- Premiere date: April 2, 2021
- Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jenna Coleman
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Smart, violent crime drama explores killers' psychology.
Groundbreaking true crime documentary is still compelling.
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For kids who love true crime
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