You didn’t look at me. You saw me, but you didn’t really look.
The French mystery thriller series Lupin (2021- ), created by George Kay and François Uzan, was inspired by the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. The fictional character was conceptualized by Maurice Leblanc in 1905, and first appeared in a series of short stories in the magazine Je sais tout (English: I know everything).
Assane Diop (Omar Sy) is a master of subterfuge, using Arsène Lupin as his role model, the story of whom Assane was introduced to by his father. When the man is accused of theft by the wealthy Mr. Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), he is brutally ripped from Assane’s life. Twenty-five years after the tragic loss of his only parent, Assane is on a mission to not only prove his father’s innocence, but to execute vengeance on those responsible – even if that means sacrificing the things he holds most dear.
The evolution of the series resembles a spinning kaleidoscope of disguises and intrigue. Assane’s charisma rivals his vulnerability, painting a picture of a real man with extraordinary – and wholly believable – capabilities. His character arc is convex, and stores beneath its curve a multitude of fears and hopes that peel back the layers of a thickly-woven persona.
All the while, however, he retains control of the unfolding events, showing an ability to adapt to constantly shifting circumstances. The protagonist seems like the perfect blend of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, taking the valor and intelligence of both, but stripping himself of the pompousness of the former and the mysticism of the latter. The most rewarding aspect of his character, however, is his imperfection.
As the episodes unfold, it becomes quite evident that Assane is, in many ways, the villain of his own story. This loyal depiction of the dualism of human nature is, in no small part, thanks to Omar Sy’s dedication to his character. Even those, who exist on the periphery of Assane’s vision are wonderfully fleshed out as characters. The only jarring component is the police force, which resembles a pack of enraged dogs, biting and mangling everyone around them with brutal dismissiveness and a sense of holy righteousness.
Lieutenant Sofia Belkacem (Shirine Boutella) is hard to stomach as a woman, whose steely attitude is meant to make up for her lack of open-mindedness. The rest of the police force is either too busy admonishing the quiet, brilliant detective with all the leads, or giving in to corruptive self-interest. Whether this is a thinly veiled censure of the French police – or law enforcement in general – remains open to interpretation.
Thankfully, Lupin is the kind of series that grips a single narrative and hangs on for dear life. Though every episode delivers a new twist and a darker threat, the goal is never blurred, and the justification for the characters’ behavior is never pushed over to the realm of the far-fetched and ludicrous.
This very drive, reflected both in the script and the protagonist’s mounting desperation, is exactly what makes the series so engaging. Much like the first season of Peter Nowalk’s How to Get Away with Murder (2014 – 2020), a compelling mystery begs to be solved, and by the time its outer layer is ripped off, we hunger for the rationale and repercussions that are sure to follow.
This hook, secured snugly between the viewers’ ribs, becomes a burdensome weight when the end of part one flashes across the screen, and only the promise of a second part remains. However, the show’s cliffhanger ensures that the audience will crawl back for the continuation of the story. And with its cinematic music and moody photography of Paris, the French series outshines some of the better known options on Netflix.