The Serpent - Dissecting if Marie-Andrée Leclerc is a victim or a villain

Abby Robinson
·5-min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

From Digital Spy

The Serpent spoilers follow.

In a world in which we're conditioned to disregard nuance in favour of labels which denote good, bad and little else, Marie-Andrée Leclerc poses a problem.

The medical secretary from Quebec, Canada met Charles Sobhraj in 1975 on her travels in India and became enmeshed in his web of deception and murder.

If you had asked her if she was capable of not only tolerating such monstrosities but performing an active role in them before her path crossed with that of Sobhraj's, Leclerc would, in all likelihood, have been appalled at such a question.

But she did, only stopping when forced to by the authorities.

Photo credit: Roland Neveu - BBC
Photo credit: Roland Neveu - BBC

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Leclerc reportedly denied any knowledge of the murders which the pair orchestrated and carried out, but journalist Huguette Laprise told Radio-Canada that "we cannot be in an apartment and there are people chained in our apartment without seeing them".

The Serpent certainly chooses to portray it that way and while specific details have been changed for "dramatic purposes", with "all dialogue imagined", Leclerc's proximity to Sobhraj would suggest that she understood what was unfolding, even if she was not present during their victims' final moments.

But what the BBC drama does raise questions about is the extent to which Leclerc herself was a victim of Sobhraj.

When we first meet her, she is not only dissatisfied with the man that she's with but, you sense, her very existence. Sobhraj, a predator who is an in expert in calculating whether or not someone is of benefit to him, senses her vulnerabilities before burrowing into her.

Lerclerc willingly steps out of her old world and is subsumed by his, but with how much understanding of what that entails?

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

The promise of a happy life in Paris, free from such darkness, is consistently dangled before her, Leclerc daydreaming about carrying Sobhraj's babies and strolling along the Champs-Élysées.

Only the real Leclerc, who died of ovarian cancer in 1984 at the age of 38, truly knew her own self, but in the series, while Sobhraj appears to revel in the lawlessness and thrive in moments of chaos, for her it's about survival; a necessary evil.

When the pair are slipping drugs into the drinks of unsuspecting tourists, Leclerc is 'Monique', operating in a fantasy world, with the belief that this nightmare will, eventually, end.

Their future, glittering in her mind's eye, justifies the means, with every handhold from Sobhraj, every caress and sweet nothing, interspersed with flashes of his malice, ensuring that she remains locked in. This is a fictional dramatisation, of course.

Photo credit: Mammoth Screen/Roland Neveu - BBC
Photo credit: Mammoth Screen/Roland Neveu - BBC

"What was an interesting thing to oscillate between…[was] the person that she was, and this narrative that she's living," Jenna Coleman, who plays Leclerc, said (via RadioTimes). "It's almost like she created her own narrative, and she's living in her delusion.

"For me it was more about squashing the truth, not accepting the reality of what was actually going on. And meanwhile, she's almost living her own movie star life in her mind.

"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?'; I think that's what's really interesting, to make the choices that she made in keeping this reality...so that she could keep existing and being with Charles."

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Related: The Serpent viewers have one major problem with "gripping" premiere

The truth of Leclerc's state of mind remains clouded in mystery.

In the series, she gazes at Sobhraj with adoration, drinking him in, but there are moments when her eyes betray alarm as the mask slips.

Is that horror hinged on the depravity of what the pair are doing? Or does she only fear for her own safety? Or is she concerned that Sobhraj has an untameable wickedness within him that threatens their life together?

"I felt sorry for Marie-Andrée because she was a sad and simple person, not the movie star we see in the series," Nadine Gires, a woman who became friends with Leclerc and played a pivotal role in the capture of the pair, told the Sunday Mirror. "And she was Charles' prisoner. She told me, 'I have no passport, no money and if I try to leave he will kill me.'"


Photo credit: Mammoth Screen/Roland Neveu - BBC
Photo credit: Mammoth Screen/Roland Neveu - BBC

The Serpent doesn't attempt to justify what Leclerc did, but through her diary entries and a handful of moments when the mental scaffolding that she's constructed starts to teeter, we understand that to describe her as evil is simplistic.

There's a scene when Sobhraj hands Leclerc a concoction and instructs her to drink it as a means of gauging her loyalty to him. It could kill her and yet she consumes it regardless, showcasing her complete abandonment of self – the hallmark of an abusive relationship and the starkest indication that Leclerc was never an equal, only ever an instrument.

Through her, we gain a window into codependency and control, and how quickly and violently relationships can spiral into a blend as toxic as the cocktails that the duo were mixing for the travellers they preyed upon.

Sobhraj's crimes were sustained by his mastery of manipulation. Leclerc, herself capable of exploitation and turning a blind eye to deadly effect, existed on a diet of that throughout her time with him. Unlike those that died at their hands, she had a degree of autonomy. But to discount the invisible chains that tethered Leclerc to Sobhraj would only amount to half the story.

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