Pissed-off Toff

Quiz 3 (The Serpent) – the answer

in And for a Laugh...

Pissed-off Toff provides the answer to the question he set in Quiz 3.

Here is the answer to the question that I set in Quiz no. 3, which you can read in the And for a laugh section of this blog.

Nobody got there, I’m afraid, so I keep my £20 note.

The question concerned the plot of The Serpent, the BBC-Netflix co-production which consists of two parallel stories, both told in a constant sequence of fast-forwards and rewinds … so much so that one sometimes wonders whether the scriptwriter and his editors have lost track of their own plot.


How is it, at the end of episode 3, that the terrified Dominique, sitting in the departure lounge of Bangkok airport on 20 December 1975, sees Charles Sobhraj returning from Hong Kong, when everything elsewhere in the story leads us to believe that Sobhraj left Bangkok on 18 December 1975 and did not return till early March 1976?

Is this a huge ‘plot-hole’ in a complicated narrative that the producers have lost track of? Or is there a rational explanation for what appears to be a glaring anomaly?


No, it is not a ‘plot hole’. There is a rational explanation, thus:

Together with his lover Marie-Andrée and his evil accomplice Ajay, Charles Sobhraj leaves Bangkok on 18 December 1975. Although he has told Dominique that they are going on a short business trip to Hong Kong, they in fact fly to Nepal, and do not return to Bangkok until March 1976.

Now penniless and trapped in Kanit House in Bangkok with no valid travel documents, Dominique is convinced that his jailers will be returning at any moment. Taking control of the situation, his capable French neighbour Nadine replaces the photo of Dominique in the passport which Sobhraj had locked away and doctored for his own purposes (Dominique knows where Sobhraj hides the key to his safe); she sews in a valid exit visa taken from another passport; and she buys him an air ticket to France, departing on 20 December.

Still scared out of his mind and convinced that Sobhraj has all sorts of powerful connections with the police, Dominique is sitting in the departure lounge of Bangkok airport, when who should he see, but Sobhraj himself, returning from Hong Kong. It is unmistakably him: the same thick black hair, the same oversized dark glasses, the same buttock-hugging trousers … and he is even carrying the same burgundy-coloured briefcase.

Except that it is not in fact him. It is someone who just happens to look identical and who just happens to have the very same briefcase. Now in complete meltdown, Dominique bows his head so as to avoid detection; and after various knuckle-biting delays, he makes it onto the plane. In the meantime, and unseen by Dominique, the Sobhraj figure is greeted by a European woman and her fair-haired child who are waiting for him in the airport.

So this is not a plot hole. Scared witless as he is, Dominique thinks that he sees Sobhraj. But in fact he sees someone else. And in a scene lasting only a second or two, this is revealed to the super-alert viewer … because we know that Sobhraj is in Nepal, and we know that back in Bangkok he doesn’t have a European wife and a fair-haired child.

Introduced for reasons of dramatic tension, Dominique’s sighting of ‘Sobhraj’ in Bangkok airport is therefore a wild coincidence which, although not a plot-hole, lies well beyond the bounds of plausibility; so much so that in narrative terms, it only just stands up. It took me ages to get there. And bearing this in mind, my next quiz question will not be quite so tricky and long-winded. That, I fear, was a mistake.

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