By now you’ve probably either watched Lupin on Netflix or had someone in your life strongly suggest that you make time to watch it. If not, maybe consider getting new people in your life? I’m joking! But not really, because Lupin provides some exquisitely escapist and entertaining drama complete with heists, disguises, multi-layered deceptions, social commentary, and one man upon whom genetics has bestowed many blessings.
When we first meet Assane Diop (Omar Sy), he is working as a janitor at the Louvre where he often stops to stare, awestruck, at the artwork. He’s most taken with a diamond necklace called The Queen’s Necklace, which was once owned by Marie Attoinette. In the 1990s the necklace was stolen from the wealthy Pellegrini family. Now, having finally recovered it, the family is auctioning it off with the proceeds going to their foundation.
The thing is, though, Assane has dreams that are bigger than being a night janitor at the Louvre. He has an ex-wife (Ludivine Sagnier) and a son (Etan Simon) to help support. And soon enough, he convinces some loan sharks with whom he has an overdue payment to defer killing him in order to join him in a plan to steal the necklace during the auction. Then, on the night of the heist things appear to go woefully wrong (think car crashing through the Louvre levels of wrong), but, the thing is, maybe Assane Diop isn’t actually a night janitor at the Louvre or a man who can’t repay loan sharks at all.
No, it turns out that Assane Diop is a man with a very complicated past, an even more complicated present, and ties to both the Pellegrini family and the necklace. When Assane was about fourteen, his father, Babakar (Fargass Assandé), a Senagalese immigrant, worked as a driver for Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre) until he was accused of stealing The Queen’s Necklace. Soon after that, Babakar died, leaving Assane an orphaned ward of the State, his only inheritance the memories of his father and a copy of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar with which young Assane became enthralled.
Now, years later, Assane considers himself a gentleman thief and master of deception, styled in the image of Arsène Lupin. He’s absolutely charming and utterly convincing as he beguiles morally questionable wealthy people, which is, of course, why he’s so damn appealing to watch and easy to root for as he cons and steals his way through life. And it’s not just the costumes that he wears that disguise him. Assane’s whole body shifts when he becomes a new character. When he’s an unassuming IT guy, his shoulders hunch and he looks at people from a deferential stance. When he pretends to be a police officer, he moves with confidence and calm, leaving no room for questioning his motives. He uses illusion, sleight of hand, distraction, and gallons of charm to fool people entirely. I’d argue, though, that he’s most interesting when he’s himself. He wears a newsboy cap and long wool coat, often paired with more casual clothing, like a hooded sweatshirt and brightly colored sneakers. He moves with a kind of slouching grace and a relaxed control as if everything is going according to his plan. His face alone, which, as I said, is Genetically Blessed ™, is enough to charm people into a lot of things, but he also has a glint of mischief that makes it feel like he’s letting you in on a secret joke—even if, in reality, the joke turns out to be on you.
The series moves back and forth between the present, the near past, and the distant past, gradually building a fuller and, we presume, more accurate, picture of Assane’s life and understanding of his growing obsession with…certain things. You know what? My fingers are so itchy to tell you more, but I’m not going to because so much of the fun of watching the series are the sudden shifts in direction that it takes. It doesn’t even matter if you can predict what some will be beforehand. Events happen out of chronological order, but not in a way that’s overly confusing. It’s more like every time period allows for a different perspective on the same scenario and causes you to reconsider everything you saw before. And each layer of understanding allows for more things to click into place until you see, for example, the way certain escapades that seemed haphazard and reckless have actually been planned to absolute perfection. (Did I sometimes wish that we had time to also get to know a bit more about the other characters? Like the police officers who are chasing him, or Assane’s friend from high school who helps him in his schemes? I did. And I still hold out hope that they will get more time in subsequent episodes. There’s always room for improvement.) And, it’s probably for sure a fantasy that one human person could manage to pull off so many disguises, scams, and plans so perfectly and continue to escape victorious and unidentified, but much of the joy in a series like Lupin is in that illusion and the escape it provides.
And watching the choreographed escapades is part of what adds enough levity to the show to prevent it from feeling too dark or maudlin. There’s a scene in a park where the police think they have a suspect, who is dressed as a bike delivery person, surrounded, but instead the police end up flailing and chasing him across a park as more and more identically dressed cyclists converge on the same spot. It felt a little bit like a Keystone Cops scene. Of course, in the chaos the suspect slips away. In general, the cops are completely stymied by Assane’s disguises and capers. (I do want to talk to you about the one cop who isn’t completely baffled, but I fear it will spoil things, so message me once you’ve watched it and we’ll chat.) Even getting a sketch of Assane is nearly impossible because everyone remembers him differently.
It’s not explicitly said, but the fact that people don’t notice him or remember his face seems to be a clear nod to internal bias and racism. In general, the show addresses racism and classism through small interactions and moments. This isn’t a series that’s going to have long monologues about systemic racism, but that doesn’t make its approach any less effective. Maybe it’s more effective. Early on Assane says that, “Those at the top don’t look at the bottom,” which he constantly uses to his advantage, but it is also telling when it comes to class and race. You see it in the moment when Mrs. Pellegrini, not recognizing Babakar, reaches over to lock her car door. Or when Mr. Pellegrini tells Babakar to put the car in the garage so it doesn’t get wet, not acknowledging that Babakar is soaked to the skin. It’s in the way the boys at school poke at Assane and assume he doesn’t belong there. You see it in the way that Asaane, correctly, explains that people don’t see the janitors at the Louvre. They look past them, through them, and around them, but never at them. You hear it when Mr. Pellegrini calls Babakar a “monkey” before playing it off. Or when someone asks Assane if black people can swim. Or the way an auctioneer is surprised by a “bidder like you.” Or when a wealthy woman cheerfully explains how easy it was to mine and export gems from Belgian Congo.
A lot is made about how Assane lives by a code. That he honors his word and is loyal to those he cares about. Okay, so yes, all of that is important. But there is an aspect of Assane that made me want to scream. He is constantly showing up late (or not showing up at all) for his son. His ex-wife is always calling to remind him about things like his son’s birthday and then looking mildly annoyed but also patiently exasperated when he fucks things up again. WHAT. THE. FUCK. First…Ugh. I don’t even know what is first. First, can we start normalizing fathers having their shit together when it comes to their children? Can we stop expecting mothers to do all the emotional labor of remembering birthdays and getting presents and making time for children? And then being all wowed the one time a father shows up at the last minute with some wild plan? Do you know how much energy it takes to keep all of that shit straight in your head? A fucking lot. That’s how much. Seriously. And it’s not just birthdays and big things. It’s keeping track of when your smaller humans last bathed, if they’ve brushed their teeth, checking on their emotional well-being, keeping track of schedules. It’s constantly weighing and balancing their needs and your needs. It’s balancing short-term gains and long-term goals. And we need to stop having it be acceptable and normal that mothers then also have to do that work for fathers as well. Fathers are grown ass men who can learn the same skills as mothers. Second of all, Assane lost his father when he was young, so wouldn’t that light a fire under his ass to make sure he’s around for his kid? Third of all, I get that he’s very busy doing thievery and shit, but his ex-wife is also busy working and raising their child. And Assane has like three computer monitors and appears to have the ability to do all kinds of fancy computer-related stuff, plus he manages to schedule complicated schemes down to the second. But he can’t set a damn reminder to buy a present for his kid or pick him up on time? I call bullshit. It’s a choice, conscious or not, to be incompetent and let someone else take care of him. It’s not charming. I’d be entirely happy to never watch one more scene where a man plays a bumbling dad who means well, but always falls short. Or where the dad is the hero for just showing up and doing the bare minimum. Hey, writers, find another way to humanize men in general and Assane in particular!
Phew. Sorry. I just really needed to get that off my chest. Even with that ire, I still really enjoyed the series. Though you should be forewarned that it ends on a humdinger of a cliff hanger. Actually, I don’t even know if I’d call it a cliffhanger. It’s like it ends in the middle of a scene, which somehow makes it even more frustrating that we have to wait for the next set of episodes to drop.