The first season of Lupin, a French Netflix series, combined the thrill of heist with the wink of magic. Its protagonist, Assane Diop (Omar Sy) – inspired by the fictional, early-20th-century “gentleman thief” Arsène Lupin – pulled off incredible feats: stealing a necklace from Louvre, sneaking inside a prison for a few days to unlock a crucial clue, abducting a senior cop to squeeze out a confession, and much more.
He eventually got close to his ultimate target, Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), an influential business tycoon, responsible for his father’s death. Assane has spent the last 25 years trying to avenge his loss, and now that story has spilled over to the next generation. The season ended with his son, Raoul (Etan Simon), getting kidnapped by Hubert’s henchman, Leonard (Adama Niane), from a Lupin festival.
The second season cuts right to the chase. An investigating cop, Youssef (Soufiane Guerrab), is also present at the festival and tells Assane, without revealing his identity, that he can help find the kidnapper. As Leonard races towards the countryside, Assane and Youssef follow him. Beginning a new season via a high-octane chase may seem like a good choice, especially due to the diverse interlinked motivations: Assane wants to rescue his son, Leonard wants to murder Assane, Youssef plans to arrest Assane. But the chase sequence continues for way too long, diluting intrigue and anticipation.
Like the first season, the portion is intercut with a flashback, in 1995, depicting an incident in Assane’s childhood. But this time, the detour struggles to heighten tension or reveal character. The cat-and-mouse chase hurts the opening even more because the climax for such a segment in a series like Lupin – always serving charming heroism – is predictable: Assane’s triumph.
The mystery and magic are distinctly absent in the second episode too. The straightjacketed story, relying on Hubert using Raoul as a pawn, reduces Assane to a generic wounded figure. We miss his ingenuity and manipulation. If the first season juggled multiple subplots – spotlighting insights on Assane’s past, the relationship with his ex-wife and son, an investigating journalist uncovering Hubert’s dirty trails, and other compelling asides making this world well-rounded – have vanished in lieu of a one-sided stagnant plot. What’s worse: Lupin is a slim part-five series; two indifferent episodes amount to two-fifth of the total runtime – not promising at all.
The series opens a bit in the next episode, when Hubert’s daughter, Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), who had a soft spot for Assane, sees him outside a restaurant and calls him inside. This tonal change and plot turn raises some hope, but it is dashed by the realisation that this ‘accidental’ meeting is quite contrived. So, the continued sloppiness prompts an obvious question: Why is this series so intent on sabotaging itself? The answer is revealed later in the episode, offering a possibility that would have escaped most audience members. Novice conmen win battles; a gentleman thief wins the war.
This change is important, because it returns the series to its home turf: a mix of mischief, mystery and fun. The third episode’s two-fold climax – signalling Hubert’s downfall and Juliette’s imminent heartbreak – is both balanced and surprising. Like a true sequel, Lupin’s second season is a mirror image of the first, right down to the lateral inversion. If the first season began on a strong note and lost its way, then the follow-up is initially mediocre but improves considerably in the subsequent episodes.
Besides Sy, who retains an assuring screen presence, two other characters – Benjamin Ferel (Antoine Gouy), Assane’s best friend and accomplice, and Youssef, a diligent cop smart enough to see the big picture – elevate the series by infusing some much-needed vitality and purpose. Gouy’s Benjamin, a perpetually calm and happy presence, prevents Lupin from being morose, adding just the right amount of tonal variation that a series like this craves. Guerrab, all nervous energy and intense focus – almost always a step away from solving the puzzle for once and for all – is the series’ moral spine, providing good-old thrill, as he assembles clues and unlocks patterns.
The editing – marked by delightful match cuts (reinforcing the parallels between the past and present) and sharp segues (building an unceasing momentum and bridging vast passage of time) – continues to be a highpoint of this series, too. But the cinematography is a real revelation and a distinct improvement. The dynamic camera movements – often sweeping through the air to cover frenetic scenes and characters – heighten tension and produce arresting moments. In less assured hands, these flourishes would have looked forced or flashy, but here it builds sufficient intrigue. Even the lighting is appropriately dramatic, complementing the series’ (often self-aware) melodramatic world.
The climax is quite straightforward – it’s a hero’s world after all – but, by withholding a crucial piece of information, the last episode springs a delightful surprise. The second season’s last half is a good example of genre fiction, reaching its well-defined end through considered means. The show ends on a note of unmistakable pathos – tying triumph to inevitable loss – but the makers don’t exploit that vulnerable nerve. Because to know Assane is to let him be, to let him live the only way he knows: as a gentleman thief always on the run – an embodiment of a magic trick: tricking senses in plain sight, making you question your common sense, appearing and disappearing like a rabbit in a hat – someone so fixated on avenging his father’s death that he ended up losing his own family.
Featured image: A still from season 2 of Lupin. Photo: Gaumont Television