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'The Serpent' Episode 4 Review: A Busman’s Holiday and Twisted Mind Games

Laura Martin
·5-min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

From Esquire

We’re now half way through the grisly tale of one of the world’s worst serial killers. Charles Sobhraj, but if all that murder is beginning to leave a bad taste in your mouth, don’t worry, we’re off on holiday!

Except, it turns out it’s more of a busman’s holiday, as Alain, Monique and Ajay are simply off to rob, drug and senselessly slaughter more innocent tourists against a different South-East Asian backdrop.

While Monique had been picturing a chic little getaway - “Hong Kong and Paris for the new year!” - they’re actually flying out to Kathmandu in Nepal, where Alain/Charles (Tahar Rahim) promptly loses all their cash in a gambling session. With the hotel manager, no less, which is hardly the cleverest of moves as he’s then on their back for the rest of their stay about settling up their bill.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

It’s interesting that the change of travel plans seems to be the first red flag that bothers Monique/Marie-Andree Leclerc (Jenna Coleman). While she’s been happily drugging Alain’s victims and complicit in knowing exactly how he and Ajay (Amesh Edireweera) then “deal” with them, it’s really the fact that Alain so easily lost their cash that really tips her over the edge, which is an incredibly skewed moral code.

“You disgusting dog!” she screams at him in the street, after he blasely tells her it’s “vulgar to put so much value on money”. He grabs her arm, and stares her down: she knows she’s trapped.

Charles’ mind games with Marie-Andree

In a twisted mind game, he then crushes up some of his “medicine” used to treat their new friends, pops in in a teacup and asks her, as if she’s Alice in Wonderland: “if you drink that, will you wake up?” It’s irrelevant to Monique, who all but downs it. “This is how I love you”, she declares, and promptly collapses on their bed.

While Monique is out for the count, Alain is off to terrorise the other third of their weird thruple, Ajay. Ajay’s actually taken a bit of time off (well, it is his holiday too!) and is tripping with a young Mia Farrow-a-like, who disconcertingly keeps speaking in self-help psychobabble, while obsessing over Shiva the destroyer. Ajay jumps over to the dark side, and the drugs see him pouring out all the heinous crimes he’s been responsible for recently, but Mia’s too off her face to realise that he’s actually scarier than any villainous mythical god.

The visit from Alain - who simply walks into their hostel bedroom - leaves Ajay in no doubt who he is enslaved to, and how his own death will be his only escape in this life. Talk about a comedown, no wonder he bursts into tears.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

An escape for Monique?

Meanwhile, Monique’s reflecting on her own fucked up relationship with Alain. It’s not until she explains a small part of their entanglement to an American hippie couple - Connie-Jo and Laurent - that saying it out loud makes Monique realise that she’s in an abusive, coercive relationship. Is this the defining point for Monique, where the scales fall from her eyes and she makes her escape by jumping on the hippie trail bus to Tehran? No, it is not. Instead, when she hears they have jewels to sell, she lines the couple up to be Alain’s next gruesome murders. They’re next found, their bodies charred and still smoking, by a small Nepalese boy, after a tasteless bloodbath in a killing field by Alain and Ajay. Mercilessly grim viewing.

Jarring spree montage

This is where The Serpent falls down a bit, as there’s then a montage of the trio living the highlife in Nepal, as they carry out more robberies and murders. Look, we’re all fans of a heist movie or series, when the anti-hero con artists or burglars get away with what looks like a victimless crime, then live it up on the proceeds of their looted gold bars/jewels/cold hard cash. But there’s a massive disconnect through this particular highlight reel that shows the gang living a charmed life - to the banging soundtrack of Harry Nilsson’s Jump Into The Fire - which is presented as a kind of fun jaunt, when in reality we know there were many real victims slaughtered by these sociopaths. It’s incredibly jarring viewing.

The capture?

As to whether anyone’s going to catch up with the Serpent and his trail of destruction, well, there’s four more episodes still left, so it’s unlikely to be anytime soon. Despite being brought in for questioning by the Nepalese police, Alain and Monique are let off, back to Bangkok to pick up their regular scam.

What they don’t know is that Nadine, their neighbour is on to them. Playing Nancy Drew, she manages to take some photos of them, which she then delivers to Knippenberg (Billy Howle), the diplomat who seems to be the only person in the country bothered about the spate of murders of young backpackers.

Anyone who exclaims anything positive in a thriller is always a signpost that the opposite is about to happen. So forgive us if we’re skeptical when Knippenberg says triumphantly to his wife: “we’ve done it Angela!”. After handing in the photos to the local police, they’re going to bust Alain’s flat. But - in the exact same cliffhanger as episode three - where’s Nadine?

Points of note

  • In a sickening game, Alain and Monique not only use their victims’ passports to travel (and confuse authorities) but start calling each other Willem and Lena, the couple they burned while still alive

  • This episode sees the return of the world’s worst foreign diplomat, the drunk Aussie, but he is at least instrumental in linking Charles and Marie-Andree with drugging and robbing the Aussie couple as their first hit - they’re identified by their “little fluffy white dog”

  • What was in the tea Ajay and his friend drank? It’s likely to be opium, in the form of poppy seed tea, also called kuknar, that was popular on the hippie trail

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