Warning: spoilers ahead for episode two of The Serpent.
When introduced to serial killer Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) in the first episode of BBC drama The Serpent, one can’t help but wonder how his partner Monique (Jenna Coleman) comes to be in his company, living a seemingly carefree and glamorous life in Bangkok, Thailand.
Clearly she is at least somewhat aware of what gem dealer Charles (who goes by the alias Alain) gets up to behind closed doors. So does this mean she doesn’t care that he is drugging, hurting and killing unsuspecting travellers? Or perhaps she has chosen to remain willingly ignorant of his misdoings?
Initially, Monique is portrayed as an enigmatic character – a woman who keeps her true feelings and thoughts carefully hidden away from others. However, as episode two makes clear, she is not the smooth-talking socialite she appears to be, as Victoria star Jenna is able to convincingly convey the anxiety and conflict Monique is feeling underneath her multifaceted facade.
In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Québécoise Monique – whose real name is Marie-Andrée – first meets Charles while on holiday in India with another man called Jules (James Gerard). After Jules mysteriously falls ill (not hard to guess how that happened), the mousy Marie-Andrée spends an increasing amount of time in Charles’ company.
As he showers her with compliments about her inner and outer beauty, Charles is able to win Marie-Andrée over by taking advantage of her vulnerabilities, resulting in her deciding to forego her family in Québec, Canada to live with him in Bangkok.
After three weeks living together in a dingy flat, Marie-Andrée is clearly unhappy, frustrated by Charles’ inability to give her the intimacy she craves. It is during a surprise trip to the beach that the persona of Monique is born, as Charles encourages Marie-Andrée to adopt the fake name while introducing herself to an Australian couple, who he later drugs and robs.
The second episode of the BBC drama is filled with contrasting notions about Monique’s nature – has she lost her identity by becoming trapped in Charles’ web or has she found her true self with him by her side? Can she still find a road to redemption, or is she too far gone to ever retrieve the moral compass she may have once had?
Although Monique is evidently not guilt-free, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for her as she finds herself caught up in a relationship that is far more manipulative than she realised. However, any semblance of sympathy one might feel for Monique vanishes in an instant at the very end of the episode.
After Monique exits the bedroom of young Dutch couple Willem (Armand Rosbak) and Helena (Ellie De Lange), who have been made severely ill at Charles’ hands, the pair can be heard fighting with Charles and his accomplice Ajay (Amesh Edireweera). Rather than try to intervene, a shocked Monique instead presses a radio to her ear, the music drowning out Helena’s screams.
As Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) discovers shortly afterwards, Willem and Helena are eventually burnt alive. And so there can be no doubt that Monique knowingly abets a horrific murder.
- Told through the eyes of Monique, episode two leans heavily on her backstory.
- Monique, whose real name is Marie-Andrée, clearly feels conflicted about the crimes she is witnessing (and not witnessing) Charles carrying out – but not enough to intervene.
- Herman continues to make progress with his investigation, finding photographs of Willem and Helena and learning exactly how they died.
- The diplomat eventually tracks down a lead, a French woman who has previously been acquainted with Charles and Monique.
While the second episode of The Serpent is not as fast-paced as the first, the slower narrative provides a much-needed opportunity to share a background story for Monique. Although it’s still not entirely apparent why she decides to stay with a man who she knows is committing unthinkable crimes, it is clear that she won’t be able to escape the consequences of her wilful ignorance of Charles’ actions.
Elsewhere, Herman’s investigation into the disappearance of Dutch travellers Helena and Willem gains traction, as he discovers the address of a French woman who has been visiting various embassies with allegations of a neighbour drugging and killing visitors. The diplomat unknowingly finds himself hot on the trails of Charles, tracking the informant down to her flat.
It admittedly takes a while for the most riveting parts of episode two to arrive. Nonetheless, this creative choice may have been purposely made in order to set up a much more suspense-filled instalment next week.
The Serpent returns on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
Credit: Original article published here.