BBC One and Netflix’s The Serpent is nearing the end in its harrowing true story of Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) – aka the same serial killer and conman who brutally murdered and robbed at least 12 Western tourists along the so-called ‘hippie trail’ in the 1970s.
Throughout the series, the show has presented Monique/Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) as a victim of coercive control and ’love bombing’. In the process, it has suggested that her role in Sobhraj’s grisly string of crimes is… well, that it’s not necessarily one of a willing accomplice.
And, in the show’s penultimate episode, writers have leaned into this theory hard, as a meeting with Sobhraj’s disgusted mother finally causes the scales to fall from Marie-Andrée’s doe eyes.
“Whatever you do, whatever he says don’t think you can have a normal life with him,” insists Ma Sobhraj to Marie-Andrée.
“Loving such men is a curse.”
Then, saying the one thing we’ve all been screaming at Marie-Andrée via our televisions since this twisted TV series began, Sobhraj’s frustrated mother snaps: “Are you stupid? Charles lies.”
It’s not long, then, before Marie-Andrée gets to wondering about Stephane (Alma Jodorowsky).
As shown in flashbacks, Stephane left her young daughter with her mum in Paris in order to go and search for her boyfriend Vitali (Ilker Kaleli) in Bangkok. The same Vitali whom, as we all know too well, Sobhraj murdered early on in the series.
Horrifyingly, Stephane also ends up in Sobhraj’s clutches. And, just as she did for Vitali, Marie-Andrée pours the young woman a glass of iced tea laced with drugs.
But what happened after that, Marie-Andrée asks of Sobhraj in our current timeline. What did he do to Stephane?
Well, Sobhraj may claim that he “just left her at the beach,” but grisly footage confirms the truth –he burned Stephane alive, just as he did all those other poor people who unwittingly wandered into his path.
Marie-Andrée doesn’t press the matter. Maybe she doesn’t want to press the matter. But then she learns from the papers that an international warrant has been issued to every police force in the world for her and Sobhraj, and she finally sees red.
“What have you made me?” she yells. “It says I’m a murderer!”
Cue her unfaithful lover (Sobhraj has been busy wooing his ex-wife behind Marie-Andrée’s back in this episode) reminding Marie-Andrée that the death penalty is waiting for her in Thailand if she’s caught in France, giving her little choice but to flee back to Bombay with her partner.
But was Marie-Andrée truly a victim of Sobhraj’s grooming? Or did she wilfully participate in the murders of her own accord?
Well, speaking in an interview with The Mirror, the real-life Nadine Giles (who lived next door to Sobhraj and Leclerc in Thailand), has suggested that Marie-Andrée was yet another “prisoner” of the serial killer.
“I felt sorry for Marie-Andrée because she was a sad and simple person, not the movie star we see in the series,” she says.
“And she was Charles’ prisoner. She told me, ‘I have no passport, no money and if I try to leave he will kill me’.”
Coleman, of course, has said that she was drawn to her role in The Serpent because she was interested in the questions surrounding Marie-Andrée and whether or not she was “brainwashed” by Charles Sobhraj.
“I think the [question of] ‘is she a victim or is she not’, how much of her was brainwashed, how much of it was a choice to be there and a choice to live in the delusion,” she told the Radio Times.
“I think that’s what’s really interesting, to make the choices that she made in keeping this reality in a way that she could so that she could keep existing and being with Charles.”
The real Marie-Andrée, too, has claimed that she was also a victim of Sobhraj.
However, as portrayed in the TV series, she didn’t just help to drug victims; she also used the stolen passports of Sobhraj’s female victims once he’d killed them to steal their money.
And it is worth noting that Marie-Andrée was charged with these same crimes in real life, despite protesting her innocence.
No wonder, then, that many have argued Marie-Andrée must have been aware of the violent incidents going on around her.
“You can not be in an apartment and there are people who are chained in your apartment without seeing them,” contemporary journalist Huguette Laprise told Radio-Canada.
And one victim of Sobhraj (who was lucky enough to escape) is reported to have said: “She had to know about it.
“Anyone with eyes and ears could see what was going on in this apartment.”
Where is Marie-Andrée Leclerc now?
The real Marie-Andrée was captured at the same time as Charles Sobhjraj in July 1976, when an attempt to drug a group of French students went wrong.
They were convicted of murder in 1980, but she later appealed and was released, although she was told she couldn’t leave India.
Three years later, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and was granted permission to return home to Canada.
She died on 20 April 1984 at the age of 38, still claiming innocence.
The final episode of The Serpent will air on 14 February at 9pm on BBC One. All episodes are currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
Images: BBC One
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.