Lupin Review: Season 2
By Hector DeJeanJuly 7, 2021
In my review of Lupin’s first season, I opened with the difficulty I had in identifying what the show was exactly. Lupin season two is easier to nail down: It’s a show about a man who wants to get revenge in as stylish and dramatic a way as possible. Putting a bullet into the swine who caused the death of his father doesn’t appeal to Assane Diop (Omar Sy) as much as revealing his foe’s criminal secrets in a theatrical display, complete with costumes and orchestra, and ready to be shared on social media.
Season one ended on a cliffhanger, and Assane wasn’t anywhere near destroying his nemesis Hubert Pellegrini (Herve Pierre), the man who exploited, imprisoned, and ultimately caused the death of Babakar Diop (Fargass Assande). When we last saw Assane, he was frantically searching a Normandy beach for his abducted son, only to come face to face with the one cop who was on to him—Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab).
Instead of arresting Assane, Guedira keeps his profession hidden and assists Assane in finding Raoul (Etan Simon). They end up at an abandoned country estate, where Assane has to rely on little more than his fists and his reaction speed as he takes on Raoul’s heavily armed kidnapper.
Of all the episodes of the entire series, this one really seems to be missing its mojo. It’s one of the few that doesn’t take place in Paris, and the only one that could be set anywhere; that abandoned manor wouldn’t be out of place on True Detective. If the show’s Frenchness gives it something special and enjoyable, then this is the episode most in need of that “bienvenue sur le Continent”.
But subsequent episodes of Lupin more than make up for this, taking viewers across Paris to nearly all of the highlights of that famous city. Look, there’s The Arc de Triomphe! And now we’re visiting the Musée d’Orsay! Over there’s the Place de l’Opéra! Now we’re crossing the Seine on the Pont Neuf! This production really inhabits Paris and shows off those parts of the city that draw millions of tourists every year, and who could resist?
Another thing that makes season two different from the first is that Assane is almost always with someone else, or trying to rescue someone. His relationship with Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) grinds to a halt when she realizes how rocky life would be with him now that a billionaire is trying to kill him, but Assane finds new alliances with Guedira, Hubert Pelligrini’s daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), and a dog named J’accuse. Plus he spends a lot of time with his accomplice Benny (Antoine Gouy), and in flashbacks we see how Assane and Benny, when they were school chums, perpetrated their first cons together. Other than that, the flashbacks don’t reveal much—we already know a lot about the early years of Assane, Benny, Claire, and the Pellegrinis, so not much more needs to be told.
One of the few solo moments for Assane comes when, still looking for Raoul, he puts on a disguise and enters a hotel where Pellegrini is having a press conference, surrounded by security men. For once, Assane’s disguise doesn’t work, and he’s got bruisers chasing after him right away. This was one of the few moments in the series that acknowledged Sy’s imposing, towering build and very distinct features, qualities that would make him stand out no matter what wigs or fake mustaches he slapped on.
In episode 3, Assane and Benny get back to the work of exposing Pellegrini, and Assane begins the charm offensive on Juliette. His seemingly happenstance encounters with her won’t fool viewers at all by this point, but Juliette is charmed for the second time in her life by Assane (they also knew each other as kids), and there even seems to be a spark of something between the two (Claire doesn’t want anything to do with Assane anymore, and already has a new boyfriend, adding to the impression that Assane is interested in a new companion). But Assane seems to like his flirtation the same way he likes his revenge—showy, theatrical, and contrary to the law—and soon Juliette receives a painting stolen from the Musée d’Orsay, where she had encountered Assane not long before. Juliette is initially shocked—especially when two policemen turn up and start asking her questions—but if that’s the way Assane wants to play it, she tests him by asking him to steal something else. Their encounters lead to her agreeing to help Assane expose her father, and in short order, Hubert is in a police station, but magnates rarely have to put up with such indignities for long, and soon he’s back to planning a big charity gala event to raise funds for the less fortunate children of Paris, funds which he will of course pocket himself, with the help of a new financial adviser Courbet (Stefan Crepon). This may be the best episode in the series for locations, with several of Assane’s and Juliette’s encounters taking place in the wonderful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.
The gig is up in the fourth episode: The police not only get Assane’s name and address, but a visit to his apartment turns up a dead body (all of this is courtesy Pellegrini). Now the most wanted man in Paris, Assane collects Benny, who is also on the cops’ list, and the two men disappear—without even leaving the city. Apparently unknown to anyone, except the Paris tourism industry and millions of tourists who visit the city every year, Paris is built on a series of ancient tunnels and passages and is perhaps the only place on earth that can actually charge visitors to examine its sewers close up. Flashbacks inform us that Assane and Benny have been exploring the catacombs since they were kids, and in the present day they are soon leading the police on a chase past the remains of the city’s earlier inhabitants. Like I said earlier, it’s amazing how many postcard locations of Paris appear in this show, and it’s almost shocking that we don’t get to the Panthéon or Les Invalides, but hey, they’re making a season 3. This episode also has several references to the Maurice Leblanc book Arsene Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes, which contains two adventures, “The Blonde Lady” and “The Jewish Lamp;” while Lupin’s “blonde lady” was sometimes a criminal adversary and sometimes an accomplice, Assane’s “blonde lady” is the unsuspecting tow-headed woman who gives him an extended map of the Parisian underground, and to whom he returns the map years later. And a menorah in Assane’s apartment contains a clue which leads Guedira, who picks up on all the Lupin references, to find evidence proving that his boss Dumont is in league with Pellegrini.
Episode 5 brings it all home, and we go back in time to see how various arrangements and players were put into place so that, even with all of France’s law enforcement nipping at his heels, Assane’s plan for revenge doesn’t miss a single step. Assane’s full catalog of skills all come into play: His technological savvy, his ability to read people, his knowledge of Paris, his combat skills, his knack for elaborate confidence schemes, his disguises (this episode probably has his worst one yet, but we’ll let it pass), and above all his P. T. Barnum-level of showmanship. How perfect that it all goes down at a theater—specifically the Théâtre du Châtelet, where the first Lupin play was performed. It’s hard to say too much about this episode without giving everything away, but all loose ends get wrapped up so perfectly that I don’t know what they plan on doing for season 3—frankly, I’m not sure they need to keep telling this story.
One of the things that made the first season so compelling was that it was a crime story in which an immigrant took over and transformed the role of the outside-the-law manhunter. But the tale of the immigrant isn’t so central in the second season, where Assane’s relationships with his friends and family, and his elaborate machinations to ruin Pellegrini, are at the fore. Sy himself said, in an interview with the New Yorker, that a social message was deliberate, but that Lupin’s creators and writers wanted “to integrate it into the intrigue, and to play around with it, rather that just make a statement.” There seemed to be more ‘integrate’ in the first season and more ‘play’ this time around. Assane has become less of a man occupying a shifting, unsteady role in modern France and more a protagonist with a clearly defined moral mission; and Pellegrini isn’t so much representative of an entitled class who destroys immigrants for their own personal gain, and more of a generic plutocrat criminal.
Something else I noticed when I went back and saw how other people reviewed season one was how several critics wondered where the black women were in this series. I didn’t pick up on this when I wrote my review, but it is hard to miss once it’s been called out, and while I’m not going to say Sy and his directors had to cast Franco-African actresses, the almost complete lack of them (we never see anything about Assane’s mother) chips away at the idea that Lupin is saying something relevant about immigration. You’re not really talking about immigrants if you’re not talking about families, and families usually have one or more mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, etc.
My last gripe concerns Guedira, who was a delight in the first season, but who has less to do here. He’s no longer an underdog now that all of his scoffed-at theories about Assane have been proven correct—officers who regarded him as a crackpot before now respect him. All that’s left for him to do is be an effective cop.
Complaints aside, Lupin is still one hell of a watchable show. I’ve already gushed about the locations, and the production quality is also top tier. The editing and the music are especially good, and I can’t complain about a single member of the cast. Sy, especially, makes Lupin a wildly entertaining series. The ease with which he moves through the city, even when he’s on the run, and the fierce delight on his face when a con successfully nails its mark, are damn near captivating. Everyone loves to watch someone who’s good at their job—and despite my sense that the most powerful part of Assane’s tale has now been told in its entirety, I might just come back to see who he hoodwinks in season 3.
Lupin is produced by Gaumont Television and Netflix, and it’s available to stream now!