“Wait. That’s it?!”
“No. There has to be more episodes. They can’t do that to us.”
After binge-watching Netflix’s new French series Lupin in less than 48 hours, my mom and I were left in the lurch when the first season’s fifth and final episode ended on a massive cliffhanger.
Lupin centers on Assane Diop, the son of a single father who emigrated from Senegal to Paris to give his son a better life. A gentleman’s thief, Diop takes inspiration from Arsène Lupin, the French fictional character of a beloved book series written by Maurice Leblanc in the early 20th century.
If you like the slickness of James Bond, the cheekiness of Robin Hood and the red herrings of Sherlock, then you’ll definitely love Lupin. Just like his fictional inspiration, Diop is a master of disguise and deception, often flashing a knowing smile after making a skilled escape. Like any good heist movie, Lupin starts with Diop ready to give up cons and thievery as soon as he uses his skills to clear his father’s name. This brings him face to face with his past and the same powerful man who put his father in jail.
Diop is expertly played by Omar Sy, a French actor best known for starring as a live-in caregiver to a man with paraplegia, played by François Cluzet, in the 2011 comedy-drama “Intouchables.'' For that role, he won the César Award for Best Actor, becoming the first Black actor to take home the award. Sy is also no stranger to American audiences, having appeared in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014), “Jurassic World” (2015) and “Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017). Sy plays the role of Diop naturally, arming the character with charm, wit and craftiness. Through the relationship with Diop’s son and ex-wife, Sy also beautifully portrays how the career of a debonair con man is often lonesome and leaves a messy personal life in its wake.
What I found most striking about the series is how expertly Diop’s experiences as a Black man in France are weaved into the plot. The creators could have made a version of the gentleman thief archetype with only a nod to diversity in casting and no care put into how race, ethnicity and class would affect a character like Diop. Lupin shows the realities of Blackness in France (and much of the white, Western world) through the wrongful arrest of Diop’s father and microaggressions experienced by Diop, but it also adds nuance to the archetype by illustrating how Diop harnesses people’s assumptions and racial stereotypes about him to carry out cons and evade capture.
Diop rarely uses gimmicky prosthetics to disguise himself. Instead, he is able to slip by unnoticed, masked only by the disregard of his white compatriots. At the Louvre, he poses as both an ordinary janitor and high-profile millionaire on the same day with no one the wiser. Police sketches using several eyewitnesses produce vastly different results. He often toys with people’s discomfort around race to gain access and trust.
When posing as the millionaire buyer of a necklace previously owned by Marie Antoinette, the white auctioneer says to him: “I must admit...I wasn’t expecting someone like you as a buyer.” When Diop presses him on what he means by that, the auctioneer stammers and responds that he is “so young.” Diop then capitalizes on the microaggression and the auctioneer’s discomfort by asking to see the necklace out of the safe in order to steal it.
The targets of his cons are also always the elite, white establishment. In one scene, he cons a rich, white, elderly woman into giving him her most valuable jewels and a Fabergé egg. She reveals that the jewels were a gift from her husband who worked to extract diamonds from what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She says, “The locals were sitting on a fortune. They didn’t even realize it. We just helped ourselves.” Diop flashes a smile, saying, “Their loss, right?” He then scoops the jewels into a bag and walks out without any trouble.
After my mom and I got over our shock, we spent the next fifteen minutes frantically Googling the next season’s release date (Summer 2021). Then, I got to work spreading the gospel of Lupin to anyone who’d listen, and I’m not the only one who is singing its praises. Since its debut on Netflix on Jan. 8, Lupin has a 96% “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. It has quickly entered the Top 10 Netflix shows in most countries around the world. A week after its release, it was the number two show in America, becoming the first French series to break into the US Top 10.
You won’t regret putting Lupin on your watchlist, and it’s so gripping you won’t mind the subtitles. With only 5 hour-long episodes, it’s a quick quarantine weekend binge, and by the end, you too will be begging for the next season.