Netflix's stylish, time-twisty true crime drama The Serpent tells the story of serial killer Charles Sobhraj, who murdered at least a dozen Western backpackers on the "Hippie Trail" in Southeast Asia in the 1970s. The eight-episode BBC drama originally aired in the U.K. back in January but is finally getting its worldwide debut on Netflix.
Starring Tahar Rahim as the titular character, Sobhraj spins a web of deceit throughout the world that ensnares unsuspecting strangers — and occasionally willing accomplices, like his wife Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) — before he's ultimately caught. The eight-part drama jumps back and forth between different time periods to show the audience just how Sobhraj was able to enrapture so many people (and often convince them to do his bidding) — and how hard Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) and wife Angela (Ellie Bamber) fought to finally stop him from harming more people.
While The Serpent's soundtrack and colorful 1970s costumes, sets, and cinematography make the drama engaging to watch, the non-linear time structure can be confusing — particularly in the earlier episodes, when it frequently jumps back and forth between different years and months (and later, hours). To help keep it all straight, we're parsing through each of the time periods to get to the heart of this story.
The first sign this series is going to be a time-twisting journey comes in the opening seconds, which see a late-middle-aged Sobhraj in a TV interview from 1997 where he essentially flaunts the fact that he probably got away with all his crimes, before jumping into the actual story. Where the actual story begins is a separate question altogether, considering the series skips around in time very liberally.
But the first episode takes place in three main time periods: November 1975, slightly earlier that same year, and early 1976.
November 27, 1975
The central date in this episode is November 27, and we're at Kenet House in Bangkok. The woman we'll come to know as Monique (really Marie-Andrée) drugs some warm milk before serving it to a man who is clearly in distress, writhing around on a bed and begging to go home. Sobhraj, who is going by Alain, steals his passport and money, then carefully switches the man's passport photo with his own.
Monique and Alain head to the airport and, using Alain's new passport, head to Hong Kong where they stumble upon a young Dutch backpacker looking at jewelry (presumably for his girlfriend). They introduce themselves as gem dealers, and let him know that they can get him a great deal on a ring. Alain piles on the charm, and the backpacker, Willem Bloem (Armand Rosbak), and his girlfriend, Helena Dekker (Ellie de Lange), end up meeting up with Monique and Alain at a club to look at the ring and make a final decision. The couples hit it off, and Monique and Alain convince the backpackers to not only buy the ring, but to come stay with them in Bangkok.
When the Dutch couple arrives in Bangkok a few days later, they don't want to take advantage of Monique and Alain's hospitality so they plan to stay at a hostel. But when they leave customs, Ajay (Amesh Ediriweera), Alain's right-hand man, is there to take them to Kenet House — and they love it there.
Things are idyllic at first. Lena and Wim swim and bond with their hosts — Monique tells Lena she's from Quebec and she came to Asia on holiday and never went home; Alain and Wim bond over being in love with their partners and how hard it is to be mixed race in Europe. But all is not as it seems — several shots show Alain creepily looking over Wim and Lena's passports, and he continues to try to get them to go into business with him.
He wants them to buy jewels, return to Holland, and sell them for twice what they paid for. When Lena says they can't afford it, Monique looks nervous and begs her to buy the gems. But Wim and Lena continue to refuse, so Alain and Monique drug them just like the man in the first 1975 scene. Much like that poor soul, they quickly become super sick.
Two Months Later
A Dutch diplomat working at the embassy in Bangkok, Herman Knippenberg, reads a letter from a citizen searching for his sister and her boyfriend: Wim and Lena. At a meeting with some other foreign diplomats, the Dutch ambassador scoffs at Herman's concern because "it's not a diplomat's job to go chasing after long-haired bums." He should let the Thai police handle it!
Spoiler alert: Herman does not just let the Thai police handle it. When he and his Thai assistant call the police, they tell him to get back to them after the Christmas holiday. But Herman won't give up that easily — later, while having a drink with another foreign diplomat, Paul Siemons (Tim McInnerny), he warns Herman that looking for the couple will likely ruin his career. But if he insists on looking into the case himself, he should start by checking out the airport landing cards, then the nearest post office to see if they'd picked up any letters. Naturally Herman does this, and discovers there are six letters they never picked up from Amsterdam, and they also never checked in to the hostel they wrote on their landing card.
Later, Siemons introduces Herman to the Australian diplomat, who mentions offhand a story about an Aussie couple found dead. But he "shouldn't trust longhairs," because the bodies the Thai police found weren't the Australians after all — the Aussies had been lounging on a remote island. Against everyone's advice, Herman vows to investigate whether the bodies were actually his missing Dutch couple. After looking at police photos, he notices a "Made in Holland" tag on their clothing — it's them.
Four Months Earlier
Two months before the November incident depicted in the opening moments of this episode, two girls are checking in to the hostel where the Dutch couple was planning to stay. An American girl, Teresa Knowlton (Alice Englert), is planning to head to Nepal the next day, and decides to split a room with Celia (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), the Brit behind her in line. They spend their day sightseeing and adventuring before ending their day drinking at the hostel, where they encounter Ajay. Teresa reveals that she's actually headed to a monastery the next day to become a nun, so she decides to accept Ajay's invitation to go to a different party and live it up with her last night of freedom. (Cue Jack Donaghy's advice: Never go with a hippie to a second location!)
When Teresa gets to the party, she immediately vibes with the French man we'll come to learn is Dominique (Fabien Frankel) and sets her alarm for 7 a.m. — as soon as it goes off, she has to leave. But Alain spots a new mark, and swoops in to ask her why she has traveler's checks sticking out of her bag if she's just planning to go to a monastery. They're ~for~ the monastery, she says, and Alain talks her into a different adventure: a sex show.
Teresa's not having much fun at the sex club, but as she tries to leave she collapses — she's been drugged. In the car, Alain tells her that it's such an American thing to think that she can just leave the hamster wheel of capitalism and run off to Nepal. Ajay is confused when Alain directs him to drive to the beach, but he does anyway — and although he's hesitant, he ends up doing what he's told. She's seen too much, and besides, when authorities discover her body she'll only be another reckless westerner who took drugs and went swimming. Later, a fisherman finds her body in the water.
This episode begins in early 1976, with Herman and Angela continuing to investigate the deaths of their Dutch backpackers, but it also jumps back and forth to a few different points in 1975 to reveal more about how Marie-Andrée and Charles first met and how the Canadian woman so easily fell into his trap.
March 1, 1976
The episode opens with Herman going to visit the bodies of the not-Australian couple, where the Thai medical examiner tells him that the man was strangled and the woman was hit in the head with a hard object. But the key fact is that there was smoke in both of their lungs — which means they were both still breathing when they were set on fire.
On March 3, he finally receives photos of the Dutch backpackers, which we already knew are Wim and Lena, but in case you were confused by all the jumping around this confirms it. They'd written home about meeting a French gem dealer based out of Bangkok, so when Herman stumbles upon a notice in the English-language newspaper that "Count Michel-Andre Jurion of the Belgian embassy is to make himself known to the lawyers of French gem dealer Alain Chartier" for slander, an alarm goes off in his head. Could this be the same French gem dealer? (Okay, yes, we know this, but at this point Herman does not.)
When Herman confides his latest findings to Siemons, the Belgian diplomat tells him to ditch his driver and go on a covert mission. The men wind up at a sex club to meet the Count and inform him that they share an interest in the gem dealer. Siemons also reveals that apparently a very frightened French woman has been making the rounds to all the foreign embassies in town and making crazy accusations against a French gem dealer, including drugging, robbery, and murder of some young longhairs. Unfortunately, nothing happened re: her complaints. And the reason Siemons never mentioned it before is because he's just been keeping Belgium's best interest in mind. Now that this has become a bigger issue, though, it's worth further investigation regardless of anyone's reputation.
Herman calls around looking for the French woman, and finally gets her identity from the British embassy. She was apparently highly agitated as she relayed her tale, and left proof of the Gem dealer's wrongdoing: Wim's journal (including photos), plus a card reading "A. Gautier, Gems Dealer." Herman heads to Kanit House with Siemons, who stays outside with the engine running just in case as Herman locates the woman, who is frightened as she pulls him inside her apartment.
Ten Months Earlier
This flashback takes us to May 5, 1975 in Kashmir, India, to Marie-Andrée and Charles' first meeting. As we hear via a voiceover from Marie-Andrée's journal, it's her first time away from Quebec in the most interesting place she's ever been, and a mysterious stranger she met on the flight is clearly interested in her. She and her friends have decided to link up with him — Alain — and he's negotiated a deal for them at a resort. Her companion comes down with an upset stomach, so she takes a pretty romantic sunset boat ride alone with Alain, who tells her he is a photographer.
A shy Marie-Andrée opens up to Alain about how she was in a horrible accident and feared she would never walk again, but she's recovered now and seeing the world. He lays on the charm thick, telling her that she deserves to be with someone who sees her the way she is, not the way she sees herself, because she is beautiful.
Two months later, Alain has written a letter to Marie-Andrée about how much he loves and misses her, so she decides to come see him. Three weeks after their reunion, she writes in her diary that "a two-week holiday has become three weeks of torment, but I refuse to come home even though he has not shown me the intimacy I crave." So clearly Alain is withholding affection as part of his strategy to manipulate Marie-Andrée — and it totally works. He comes back one day with a puppy and a gorgeous bracelet (which we saw her wearing in the previous episode), plus a dress for her to wear as they go to the beach.
As Alain sensually rubs sunscreen on her scarred legs, he asks Marie-Andrée what she thinks the couple near them is saying. He thinks it's "what is a beautiful woman like her doing with half breed like him?" He tells her to approach them and say she's a fashion model and he's her photographer husband. She wonders if it's a test, but he tells her it's a game.
Marie-Andrée plays along, and soon she and Charles and their new vacation friends, an Australian couple, are all hanging out together when the woman gets a stomach ache. Later, Charles and Marie-Andrée enter their room to find them unconscious on the floor. He instructs her to shut the door so they can rob them, and not to worry because they're just rich assholes anyway.
A few months later, Charles and Marie-Andrée step into what we know is their flat at Kanit House for the first time. She wonders if he was ever a photographer and if Alain is really his name. (Of course it's not.) He's Charles, and he's been alone since he was 15 years old. This actual emotional honesty proves to be an aphrodisiac for Marie-Andrée, because the two rip each other's clothes off and bang.
It's here where they hit their stride, with a montage of Charles dealing gems, drugging people, them vomiting, all while Marie-Andrée watches. Marie-Andrée also befriends their new neighbor, Nadine (Mathilde Warnier), a French woman who also spends a lot of time alone while her chef husband Remi (Grégoire Isvarine) is at work. Marie-Andrée introduces herself as Monique, telling Nadine that she's a model and she met Alain at Lake Dal at a fashion shoot.
This is also when Dominique comes into Alain and Monique's orbit, having met Alain in Chiang Mai. Apparently he ate something bad and Alain is helps him. Monique is confused, since she thought that Alain's thing was robbery, but he tells her that he doesn't want her doing housework. If she helps "nurse" Dominique while he's sick, he'll become devoted to her.
It's the night of Teresa's murder, and the party at Kanit House is in full swing. Alain has already zeroed in on Teresa when Nadine asks Marie-Andrée if she's jealous of her husband flirting with other people. It's just how he is, she says, and Nadine tells her she's too sophisticated to be Quebecois. But later that night Marie-Andrée is shocked when Charles comes home and asks her to cash the American's traveler's checks — she's worried the woman will be able to tell the police about their crimes. When Ajay says that isn't an issue, Marie-Andrée realizes what has happened — and goes along with it.
Some time passes and Marie-Andrée comes home one day to find a Thai jeweler, Suda (Chicha Amatayakul), acting like Alain's girlfriend — Suda asks if the dog missed her, and tells Marie-Andrée, whom she calls Alain's secretary, that she helped pick out the bracelet Marie-Andrée is wearing. But when she leaves, Charles tells Marie-Andrée that he only uses Suda for her gems and her protection, since her dad's a cop.
Another party, another guy drugged — the man from the first episode — and Marie-Andrée writes in her diary that she's terrified, but she is Monique and Monique has to stay calm. She's playing a role, though she's not sure whether she can play that role forever.
A few days later and Wim and Lena have arrived, and soon after that they're sick in bed. Marie-Andrée is caring for the couple as they beg for her help — she asks Lena why she didn't just do as she'd instructed and taken the gems to re-sell? At this point, they know that they're being drugged, but Marie-Andrée leaves the room and is shaking as she hears their screams.
Okay, so, the opening date for this episode is November 20, 1973, but it's really just to show us that's when Dominique left his home in France to travel the world. Two years later he meets Charles in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and you know the rest. Our story this episode really begins in March of 1976 in our Herman timeline, as Herman and Angela continue to investigate Wim and Lena's murders — and get closer to uncovering Charles' web of crime.
The timelines in this episode are really March 1976 and the investigation, earlier in 1975 when Charles and Dominique first meet, and December 1975 when Dominique tries to escape. Here's how that goes down.
March 8, 1976
Nadine and her husband, Remi, are on safer ground at Herman and Angela's house as she shows them Wim's diary. While she didn't actually see the couple there, she and Remi know that the same thing that happened to the couple is the same thing that happens to everyone — and there are way more victims than the two Dutch backpackers.
The radio next to Lena in one of the photos? Alain gave that to Nadine as a gift — and she would periodically bring clients to him for his gem business. She was lonely with Remi working all the time, and Alain clearly looked for that in people — even if they didn't see it in themselves, he was able to fix it. "It was like the sun shone on you," she says.
Herman wants more information about Alain, and discovers a few more key facts: he's probably French and Vietnamese — he'd talked about going to boarding school and losing his Vietnamese language skills in the past — and he wears clothes with the initials "C.S." inside. Oh, and Nadine and Remi haven't seen him since Christmas. They have no idea where he is, either. Actually, it was Dominique that finally made them realize Alain was doing shady stuff to begin with. She recounts the tale of Dominique's daring escape attempt.
Siemons is livid with Herman because he can't believe the Dutch man and his wife have so much faith in authorities. How are they so naive to believe that the Thai police will do the right thing? Herman's worried, of course, and doesn't want Nadine and Remi to put themselves in too much danger, but he needs more concrete proof re: any of Alain's criminal activity.
Herman and Angela discover that Wim and Lena supposedly left the country on December 18 — at least that's what Thai customs exit cards say — but they actually died on December 18. Nadine goes to check her post office box to see if Dominique made it home — she's been anxiously awaiting word that he's safe, which he was planning on sending to the post office rather than Kanit house, of course — where she at last has a letter.
But as she reads it, she hears a voice call her name: It's Alain, Monique, and Ajay, finally back from their trip. They somewhat menacingly ask if she's seen Dominique, but she says no — then gets in a car with them.
Nine Months Earlier
After becoming acquainted in Chiang Mai, Charles and Dominique are hiking through the wilderness and discussing why Dominique has been traveling for two years: He hasn't gone home yet because he's searching for something different (a wanderer — someone who very much fits the ideal profile for one of Charles' victims).
Some time later, at Kanit House, Dominique is sick in bed. Nadine asks why he isn't going to the hospital, and Charles tells her it's a death sentence to go to the hospital. Instead, he and Monique will nurse him back to health and in exchange Dominique will help around the house. Although Dominique continues to be ill, Alain tells him not to call his parents and to use it as a purge to come into his own self.
But one day in October as Dominique mixes himself his "medicine," the monkey that Alain and Monique keep as a house pet drinks from the glass and keels over. He also notices Teresa's alarm clock in another room, which he recognizes from when he thought he was going to hook up with her at that party. There's something strange going on and he is finally realizing it. Later, he tells Alain and Monique that he wants to stop taking his medicine to see how he feels without it, and also he wants his passport back.
Alain reluctantly hands Dominique his passport — which now has Alain's photo in it. He tries to brush it off as "just a thing he does for the business" and promises to fix it back, but by the way Dominique's tourist visa has expired while he was sick so he's actually kind of in a lot of trouble if the authorities find out. But since someone at the French embassy owes Alain a favor, he'll take care of it.
Later, Dominique drives Alain to visit Suda and her cop dad, where he sees Alain talking animatedly and pointing at him. While Alain was just offering them a ride home, he makes Dominique believe he was ratting him out for being in the country illegally (but not to worry, he'd vouch for him).
Now it's the night of the very first party in the show, November 27, and the poor sick hippie is getting hauled off to the "hospital." When Alain and Monique go away for the weekend Dominique snoops through their house — and finds the sick hippie's passport photo in a bag. (He also snags a knife for good measure because he knows that something is definitely wrong here.)
Dominique is reading in bed at night when he hears some noise in the hallway — Alain and Ajay are taking a sick girl downstairs. She's the lover of the Turk, aka the very first sick guy we met. Monique explains that they're just junkies and heroin smugglers, but Dominique wonders why everyone who comes there gets sick.
At last, he decides to call his parents. He's emotional as he speaks to his father, and his parents are both frantic to have him come home. He tells them that he can't because it's too expensive, then is overcome with emotion and hangs up.
That night, Ajay bangs on Dominique's door — they don't have power, and Alain wants to see him now. Alain shows Dominique a headline about a dead European girl. "Did you meet Stephanie? You would've liked her," Ajay tells Dominique. The men confront Dominque about wanting to leave — why, when they've treated him so well?
Dominique says he misses his parents and wants to go home, but Alain says that he won't be able to because he's a different person now. The man he has become is not the boy who left his parents, and he can't let Dominique leave now because they're brothers. Dominique is even more scared as he hears Wim and Lena struggling in the other room.
Monique isn't too happy with what's going on — she knew they were drugging Dominique but didn't realize it had anything to do with murder — and by the time she, Alain, and Ajay leave for Christmas she looks terrified of Alain.
Once they're gone, though, Nadine knocks on Dominique's door and offers to help him escape. While he's not sure he can trust her at first, considering she helped get Alain clients for his gem business, he relents and they realize he has to get out of there. Nadine, Dominique, and Remi get to work on Dominique's escape: They buy him a plane ticket and help him figure out how to put his own photo back into his passport and sew in a page with a valid visa from another victim and send him home.
At the airport, Dominique's flight is delayed and he's nervous as hell. When he finally goes to board his flight, he sees Alain walking through customs on his way back from a trip. Luckily, the passport agent waves him through and he's finally on his way home. Alain, meanwhile, greets someone with a baby. Who is that?
If the previous three episodes didn't get you increasingly irritated by the random jumps through time, this episode begins with a boy discovering a burned body in Nepal on December 23, 1975 before skipping ahead three months, then returning back to December 1975 a couple minutes later. Why does this show do this to us? Who knows. But that's why we're parsing out various timelines here in case your brain refuses to do it. Anyway, the time periods covered in the fourth episode include December 1975 and March 1976, plus the time between Charles, Marie, and Ajay's departure and arrival back in Bangkok when the timelines finally converge.
Charles, Ajay, and Marie are at the airport waiting for their flight to Hong Kong — but when the boarding announcement for the flight to Kathmandu is called, Charles gets up and ushers them to passport control. They're going to Nepal instead, and they're using the Dutch couple's passports. (Oh, and by the way, Ajay sees that authorities have misidentified the Dutch couple's bodies as the missing Australians and it's "brilliant.")
In Nepal, Charles and Marie stay at a nice hotel and send Ajay to find somewhere cheaper; he eventually winds up at a hostel. At a high-stakes poker game Charles goes all in and loses, and later Marie blows up at him. She's mad he lost all of their money, and she also knows that he's been killing people. He says he needs to be able to trust her and convinces her to drink some drugged tea as a sign of her loyalty. She does, and while she's passed out Charles appears to consider suffocating her — but doesn't.
Meanwhile, Ajay has been partying with some backpackers, and Charles gets mad that he's linked up with a white British girl. Their backpacking is another form of imperialism, Charles says before trying to gouge Ajay's eyes out. Just a little casual fighting between friends!
Back in Charles and Marie's room at the Annapurna Hotel — the same hotel that supplied the matches Nadine used before her escape, by the way — Marie wakes up to a rose on her bed. Charles’ grand gesture to get back into her good graces isn’t much, but since he purposefully starves her for affection, it does the trick. She goes sightseeing and befriends a blonde American girl who gives her some love advice — split if she wants to split, okay? The American girl is thinking of going home too, but has met a hot guy while backpacking who has two rubies to sell so they can be together. Marie gets a look of recognition in her eyes, then asks the girl's name — Lena.
When Charles gets back to the hotel room, he sees two Western backpackers and is immediately annoyed and confused — but then Marie informs him that they have two rubies, and he realizes what has happened. He tells the couple he’ll price them, then regretfully informs them that the gems are actually mostly glass and they were cheated. He and Marie treat them to dinner and give them a ride up the mountain tomorrow, though, and the couple is grateful for the gesture of friendship.
The next day, Marie stays behind as Charles and Ajay take the couple up the mountain; Charles lies and says she's pregnant to excuse her absence. But on the mountain, Charles drugs them and slashes them with a knife — Charles kills Lena first and Ajay kills her boyfriend. They burn the bodies, then steal the rubies (which were obviously very real). As Marie and Charles are checking out of their hotel and paying their long-overdue bill (thanks to the rubies they've now sold) the cops stop them.
It turns out they're being questioned about the missing Americans, and Ajay's party pal is in the other room to identify the bodies. But the girl can't identify Charles and Marie and there's actually nothing linking them to the couple, so they're free to go — they just can't leave Nepal before the investigation is over.
Of course that doesn't stop them, and they go on a partying spree in Goa, India, and Hong Kong, drugging and robbing travelers before they arrive back in Bangkok on March 9, 1976.
At the end of episode 3, Nadine left the post office with Charles, Marie, and Ajay, who had just returned from their Christmastime adventure. And while she tried to play it cool and pretend she wasn't phased by their return, the audience knows that she's actually scared as hell of her neighbors. So is Remi, who's terrified that she hasn't come back from the post office. After being informed that she had been there but left with a woman and two Asian men, Remi knows that he has to go back to the scariest place of all: his apartment. Luckily, as he storms into “Alain” and “Monique's” place he sees Nadine sitting right there looking perfectly comfortable. Remi and Nadine brush off his outburst — he’s just worried at her tardiness — and Alain gives the French couple some money as commission for all the gem clients they'd brought him.
Back in their own apartment, they begin hurriedly packing up some belongings before Nadine has second thoughts — she feels she owes it to Alain's victims to help get more evidence against him, so she's going to stay until the end of tomorrow and see if she can get some photos of concrete evidence. If they're not back at Herman and Angela's place by nightfall tomorrow, something bad has happened.
At the Dutch embassy, Herman scours all the English-language newspapers from September through January to see if he can find more crimes that Alain could be behind. He clips all the stories about dead Europeans in Bangkok, and also finds a headline about a couple in Nepal. His boss isn't happy about what he's doing, but we all know that isn't going to stop him from continuing his investigation.
The next day, they have a normal pool day at Kanit House and Nadine takes photos. Ajay refuses to let her take his picture, though, and it's clear he suspects her of something. Nadine finally makes an excuse to be in Monique and Alain's apartment alone to snoop, and it’s honestly some of the most heart-pounding action in the whole series — particularly since Ajay knows there's something up with her.
After a few more nail-biting minutes of waiting at Herman and Angela's place for Nadine and Remi to show up (an hour after they were due), the couple finally arrives safe and sound — and with a camera roll full of evidence in tow. But Nadine wants more, and is back at Kanit House once again.
Herman hasn't been sleeping, and finally meets up with Siemons to share all of his evidence. Siemons then shares the evidence with the other diplomats in the city, and Herman finally approaches the Thai police with all the evidence he's gathered. He's done it! They're going to raid Gauthier's this afternoon, so it's time to call Nadine and get her out of there — but the phone rings and no one picks up.
After four full episodes skipping back and forth between Charles' crimes and Herman's investigation, the two timelines have converged. Will the Thai authorities be able to nail Charles for his crimes? And will Nadine be able to escape from his grip? We'll find out in the most suspenseful hour yet, which takes place not in different seasons or years, but rather hours and days apart.
March 11, 1976
Nadine finally picks up the phone in her apartment, but can't speak openly because Charles is there in the room with her. Herman sends Paul over just until the police come so she stays safe, but the notoriously terrible Bangkok traffic keeps him from arriving for a while.
Ajay tells Charles that he caught Nadine snooping (and they know she was close to the still-disappeared Dominique), and then brings out a tray of Mai Tais. Nadine knows better than to accept a drink and says it's too early for her, but they pressure her anyway. Ajay and Marie leave on a mysterious errand, and Charles then is able to question Nadine. He punches her, telling her he knows that she helped Dominique — but who's going to help her? Hopefully Paul, who is still on his way but arrives just in time to prevent Charles from taking Nadine upstairs with him.
Herman is awaiting the police's arrival at Kanit House, but the cops call him and tell him they're not sure if they can spare the manpower. Herman talks them into sending people after all, but pauses because Nadine wants to wait until Ajay and Marie have returned. If they're not also captured then Nadine and Remi will be good as dead, so the cops wait until they have word that all three of the criminals are back before they raid Kanit House.
As the police arrive, Charles realizes what's going on and tells Marie and Ajay to put on all the jewelry they can find and to just trust him. As the cops lead him out the door, he sees the map of his apartment that Nadine drew for them — she's in danger.
Three hours later at the police station, the trio take off all their jewelry and hand over the passports and cash in their pockets. Nadine and Henri are reunited and they celebrate their accomplishment with Herman and Angela — they did it! They got Charles, Marie, and Ajay captured. Unfortunately, it appears their joy won't last because Herman gets called to the police station.
There's no Gauthier, he's informed. The person the cops apprehended is an American citizen: David Alan Gore. He's been staying at Mr. Gauthier's residence in his absence, and they have no reason to hold him. No, the cops haven't opened the safe because the owner isn't there, and his release papers are being prepared. Herman convinces the cops to hold him for 12 more hours, but Paul taps out.
Charles and Marie embrace in jail, and she insists to him that she's not a criminal while he reassures her that she isn't and the cops know nothing, so she should continue to say nothing. Herman's American contact comes to the jail to interrogate Charles and Marie, but doesn't really get anywhere. But later Herman gets a call that the real David Alan Gore, an American man Charles and Ajay attacked, didn't actually die. He's alive in Hong Kong. Herman tells Nadine and Henri they can go home, because they've got Alain this time.
On the outside, Suda tries to get her policeman father to help Alain get out of jail, but he can't help — he's only a traffic sergeant. Charles calls her from jail and asks if she still has his briefcase, and she does.
Unfortunately, something fishy is going on and the cops don't have Alain after all — they let him leave. There's someone snooping around Charles and Marie's apartment, too, and when Nadine goes to investigate she realizes it's Ajay. He tells her that he knows what she did and they won't forget it.
The cops open the safe and it's completely empty, and Alain has dinner with Suda, grabs his stuff, and he and Marie ride off into the metaphorical sunset.
Two Days Earlier
When Charles, Marie, and Ajay return from their trip and begin to search for Dominique, they realize that the only thing he took was his passport. They immediately suspect Nadine and Remi of helping him leave, and the couple's nervous behavior doesn't help their case. Charles can tell there is something afoot, so he meets with Suda and asks her to set up the largest single consignment she's ever done. He's setting up some new business in Paris, and Suda obliges by gathering a ton of gems and buyers for that evening — right when the trio first encountered Nadine after their return. It turns out Charles has planned for something like their arrest happening, so the cops had nothing on them at all.
While the timelines of Charles' Southern Asia killing spree and Herman's investigation have converged, that doesn't mean this show isn't going to stop jumping back and forth between time periods. This episode gives us more of Charles' back story, introducing us to his mother, his first wife(!), and his daughter, before jumping back into 1976 and the story we've been following since the first episode.
November 5, 1969
We're at a wedding, but the brunette at the altar with Charles is not Marie. It's another woman altogether: Juliette. There's only one person on Charles' side, his mother. After the wedding, his mother bitterly asks if she should congratulate him on his wedding or his release from prison. He assures her he's planning on having a different future, but what his mother doesn't know is that Juliette is pregnant. Charles is pushing them to move to India so they can raise their child away from Western influences and being blamed every time an Asian person commits a crime, unless Juliette agrees that he should be? Naturally, Juliette says of course she doesn't agree, but she still isn't keen on having her baby in India, a country she doesn't know well.
Juliette goes along with him, of course, and a few years later they're living in Bombay with their daughter, Madu. Charles disappears for a job, and later calls to inform her he's committed one of the biggest jewel heists ever at the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi. He can finally provide the life he promised! But not really, because the cops come and arrest him.
A year later, Charles is in jail but perfectly fakes the symptoms of appendicitis so he can escape back to Juliette. They hit the road with Madu, but Juliette ends up sending her to Paris to live with her mother. Two weeks later they're fighting while driving through Afghanistan and pop a tire before hearing sirens approaching. Turns out Charles has stolen the rental car, and she won't get in trouble because she didn't do anything. She just needs to trust him, because one day they'll all be together in Paris again.
Juliette visits Charles in Kabul jail because her charges were dropped. She's there to tell him she's leaving, and she won't be waiting around for him. She wants a better life for herself and Madu, so she's filing for divorce and heading back to Paris and will never see him again.
Back in the timeline we already know, Ajay is rooting through Charles and Marie's apartment at Kanit House and pulls out a passport for Juliette Sobhraj, confirming once again that Charles has a lot of secrets. But we kind of knew this already.
Herman is consulting with Paul once again, and the Belgian diplomat gives him a gun and bullets before telling him everything he has done wrong. (Now they don't know where Charles is, but Ajay is still in Bangkok and knows exactly where Herman is.) Herman doesn't take the gun...for now. This is probably for the best, because he's incredibly on edge and freaking out about every little thing that happens to the point where Angela confides in Nadine and Remi that she's worried about her husband.
It turns out that Herman eventually did take the gun from Paul, and pulls it on Angela when he hears her walking around at night. He's going nuts, and he's not making any friends in the diplomat community as he sends around information about Charles and Marie (well, actually Alain and Monique). Herman's boss defends him when the Canadian ambassador is upset, but then dresses down Herman in private. The Dutch ambassador reminds him that the diplomatic mission is to influence softly and invisibly, and Herman is being anything but subtle. He needs to take mandatory leave and get out of Bangkok for a few weeks — and this is an order, not a suggestion, so Herman and Angela head to the beach. (She's pissed, because of how much she's supported him and how much he's screwing up right now, but they still get out of town.)
Charles and Marie's apartment is finally back on the rental market, but Nadine is worried that the police missed clues. Remi wants her to chill and forget about everything, but she can't — and calls Herman and Angela to summon them back to Bangkok so they can search the apartment together. Naturally, the Knippenbergs return post haste and eventually find the full stash — drugs, passports (and thus a devastating number of victims), and Marie's diary. Now they know her last name, Leclerc, and that she calls her parents in Quebec every week. The Canadian government finally is able to help out, and gets the address for Charles' mother in Paris, where Marie told them she's heading next.
Meanwhile, Charles and Marie arrive in Karachi, Pakistan and check in to a fleabag hotel (he tells her she'll have luxury when they get to Paris). Ajay is going to join them in a bit, which Marie is not pleased about. She doesn't want him living with them forever. Charles leaves her in the room so he can call up an older couple in Paris and tries to sell them some gems. The Parisians are not too interested at first, particularly because they don't want to change the supplier they've worked with for 15 years. But Charles has sent them a sample of some of his gems, and they're very intrigued.
The couple sips champagne as he asks her if he can really leave it all behind — not whether she can move to Paris, but whether she can forget everything they did in Thailand. He wants them to feel like they can be innocent so they can get married and have a family. But things turn sour when Ajay shows up and Charles shoos Marie away so they can discuss business. Ajay reminisces about the time they came through Karachi in '71 — he made more money in those four days than his father did in his entire life — and about how much he loved Juliette.
Later, Marie asks if Ajay brought what she asked from their apartment. He did manage to snag her rosary, but he forgot her notebook. She freaks out, and tells him that it's pathetic he's planning on coming to Paris with them since there's not going to be any more of the bad crimes that Ajay does for Charles, and he's a monster for doing them anyway. Ajay is like "hm, you seem mad about the notebook. What does it have, your sex secrets?" If he's a monster, what does that make her? They both call him Alain even though they know that isn't his name. You're only here to take Juliette's place anyway. Oh, you didn't know about her? When Marie retreats to a church for confession, Ajay follows, and later snitches on her to Charles.
Charles asks Marie what she told the priest, but Marie deflects and asks about his wife — something he never told her, Ajay did. When Ajay jumps to his own defense, saying that he was just angry because he's given up so much for Charles and considers them brothers, Marie gets pretty racist saying that Ajay has no use to Charles anymore and refers to Ajay as a "little brown dog."
Charles is like "wait, if he's a little brown dog, then what am I?" But Marie insists that's not what she meant. And it seems that Marie is going to win — the Parisian people summon Alain to Paris, and takes Ajay on a long drive before essentially breaking up with him. He can't rely on Ajay anymore because all he's good for is gutter work and they're not partners, and it's time for him to make his own way in the world.
Charles tells Marie that Juliette betrayed him and took their child away, and besides he heard that she's dead now. The couple get back in their car and drive west, getting their passports stamped as they pass through the German-French border.
We're at the penultimate episode, which means that Charles and Marie's time on the run must be coming to an end soon. After all, this is based on a true, easily Googleable story, and if you haven't already looked up Charles Sobhraj then you are a more restrained person than most. Once again we're mainly in the 1976 time period with a few jumps here and there, but the biggest leaps come between locations — Marie and Charles in Paris and Herman and co. in Thailand.
May 1, 1976
In Thailand, Herman, Nadine, and Remi aren't even back on their bullshit — they're still on their bullshit as they hit up foreign embassies for assistance in tracking down Charles. The French embassy in particular is frustrating for Nadine and Remi, considering they're French and Charles is French (and they know of at least one French victim: Stephane, the girlfriend of the Turk who met the same tragic fate as her lover and whose visa they used to get Dominique out of Thailand).
In fact, we see more of Stephane's story: She leaves her daughter with her mother in Paris in order to track down her boyfriend, who hasn't been in touch since he got to Thailand. (Cut to: him in Thailand talking to Marie and Charles, telling them they'll make beautiful babies together — then getting extremely ill.) When Stephane finally shows up at Kanit House looking for her boyfriend, she is freaked out upon seeing that Ajay is wearing his necklace. They calm her down with some "tea," and we all know what happens next.
Herman finally gets some traction with Interpol, though, once he gets a story placed in the Bangkok Post featuring all his best evidence. It makes a splash in the International community (his boss absolutely flips out) and Paul warns that it will follow Herman like a stink for his entire career, but it also gets the attention of an Interpol officer so it served its purpose. Herman's work is extraordinary, the Interpol officer says — there's even a timeline murder board we haven't really seen before, and tells Herman that this evidence has helped him solve Stephane and her boyfriend's murders and they've issued an international arrest warrant for Charles.
In Paris, Charles really does introduce Marie to his mother, and hints at his troubled childhood (there's a stepfather he's never mentioned, who adopted his sister but not him, and it's a shame that his own daughter was taken from him after his wife died). He apologizes for the disastrous meeting afterwards, and expresses hope for the family they will have together. Marie knows there's something missing from his story, though, and goes back to visit his mother. His mom is blunt: Charles has been terrible to the people in his life, and that he's only learned how to mimic love but it's only ever confection. Read between the lines: Juliette's probably alive, babe, because my son is a damn liar.
Meanwhile, though, he's been staking out an apartment — it's Juliette's, where she lives with Madu and her new husband. When he finally confronts his ex-wife, she's freaked out that he's back and shows him a magazine with him and Marie on the cover. She's weirded out that his new girlfriend looks like her (he chose Marie because of that), and she wants him to leave because she's happy now and so is Madu.
Marie wants some answers from Charles: What did he do to the French woman? She can forget, but if she’s going to have his baby she wants to know what happened for real. He swears he only drugged her and took her to the beach — just like he did with her boyfriend — and nothing else. He swears on his daughter that he did not orphan a child. We know the truth, though, because a flashback shows how Ajay absolutely brutally murdered the woman.
They finally meet the French gem dealers, who are skeptical — Alain and Monique are suspects in a Thai news article, which he denies. The dealers still go through with the deal.
The cops finally track down Charles' mom, who confirms the identity of her son (and gives them his real name: Charles Sobhraj), while Marie and Charles have another fight. She can't believe she was planning on having his baby when he's such a liar (she's finally admitted to herself that she knows he was lying about killing all those people). But he tells her that she was complicit, so she was responsible for all of those deaths as well. The cops are on their trail, but they hit the road: Munich, Istanbul, Teheran, Herat, Kabul, Lahore, and finally Bombay, where they plan to lie low for a few weeks until they get back on their feet.
Marie and Charles are still on the run, but since this is the finale, we know we're approaching the end of the road. This episode is back to the time-jumping tricks, but they make sense since the episode covers multiple decades this time (and catches us up to present-day).
June 28, 1976
Charles is driving Marie and some Western tourists through India. They're talking about how everyone should travel because it teaches you kindness and understanding, and Marie is bored. She wants to know how many more of these dummies they need to befriend? Enough to get more money and passports, he tells her. They have some new accomplices but they're not as good as Ajay (namely: they over-drug one dude and he totally dies...and he didn't even have any money or a useful passport).
The next day, in Delhi, one of their new collaborators is nervously asking Monique about the death. He thought they were just robbing people. Marie is freaked out too, and while she's on the phone with her mom talking about how she just wants to come home the guy grabs her bag with their latest score (meaning: all their cash and passports) and hits the road. When she gets back to their apartment and breaks the bad news, Charles lashes out and calls her a cripple, a helpless Quebecois he helped out for a while — she's nothing. At this point, she's resigned to the abuse and is like, Okay. Sure. But at least I know who I am. He, on the other hand, has never been wanted by anyone and if she had his baby now, she would kill it.
A week later, the guy who stole the passports calls the cops in New Delhi to report Charles and Marie's crimes. But Charles sees a potential new score: A group of German tourists who are not only checking into a hotel, but have all of their passports and cash in the same bag.
In Thailand, the FBI and other international agents are all now in Herman and Angela's house taking photos and gathering the evidence they need to investigate the crimes against their countrymen. The Interpol agent wants all of Herman's records — this is not an ask, it's an order — so Herman makes copies of everything and gives the agent the originals. Remi and Nadine finally head back to France, and Angela suggests a nice beach escape now that their work is done. Herman freaks out again, and Angela says that maybe it's time to visit her parents in Germany. "Please look after yourself," she writes in a note before leaving. Herman confides in Paul once again, who tells him he really needs to drop this obsession and live his own life again.
Back in Delhi, Charles is making some poison pills before conning his way onto the German group's tour bus. But he screwed up the dosage in his pills, so the group becomes violently ill during dinner. The cops come and finally catch Charles (and Marie and the rest of their accomplices). Herman finally gets the call that Charles has been arrested, but it's too late — he's finally been edged out of his job in disgrace.
A year later in Delhi, the Thai Interpol agent questions Charles and Marie (and later gives a copy of Marie's interview to Herman for his records), and Charles even admits to a lot of his crimes — but Charles knows he won't be extradited to Thailand, so it doesn't matter. Marie tells her full story, explaining how they did it all.
After seven years in prison, Marie has become sick from cancer and authorities agree to send her back home to die. She visits Charles to say goodbye and asks if he ever questions what they did, but he brushes her off and says he knows the Indians will release him soon. She believes it — he'll be free, and she'll be back in Quebec under the Earth.
July 21, 1997
It's the television interview with Charles we first saw in the premiere — the one where he basically admits to everything since the statute of limitations has passed. Afterwards, Juliette congratulates him on a great interview — they're together again. And Angela sends an older Herman a videotape of the interview to his home in Athens, Greece, with a note saying she hopes he's well.
Six years later, Charles heads to Kathmandu. He's back in Nepal and he's even hired a photographer to take a photo of his arrival to print in the newspaper. Just like he wanted, the cops come and arrest him. Charles insists it's a misunderstanding, but the policeman remembers questioning him nearly 30 years before.
In New Zealand, Herman gets a call from the United Nations building in New York — it's Angela, who informs him that Charles got himself caught on purpose. Charles has always loved both notoriety and escaping, so he sought out some new attention after being out of the public eye for a few years. And while the Nepalese authorities don't have any actual evidence regarding his crimes there, Herman does. He sends Marie's statement over to the police just in time.
Like any good true crime dramatization, we get an update on where all the characters are today. No one really knows why Charles went back to Nepal, but he was sentenced in 2004 for the 1975 murder of tourist Connie Jo Bronzich and lost two appeals. While in 2010 the UN Human Rights Commission said that maybe he didn't receive a fair trial, in 2014 another Nepalese court found him guilty for the 1975 murder of Laurent Carrier. He was sentenced to 20 years for that crime and did not appeal. In December 2020 he was still imprisoned in Kathmandu. And while the Thai police issued an arrest warrant for him in 1976, he has never returned to the country so he's never been charged there.
As for the others, Marie died of cancer in 1984. Ajay was sighted in Germany in 1976 but never again. Remi and Nadine returned to Thailand and are divorced. Paul resigned from the Belgian Foreign Service in 1979 and died in 2004. Dominique lives in his French hometown and has grown-up kids. Thai Interpol agent Sompol Suthimai retired from the agency in 1991 and splits his time between Thailand and France. Herman and Angela left Thailand in 1977, separated in 1989, and have since remarried. Angela worked for the UN for many years before retiring in 2015, and Herman served all around the world and is happily retired — but still has all his Charles Sobhraj files.