French actor Omar Sy returns in another knockout turn as self-styled “gentleman thief” Assane Diop in Part 2 of Netflix’s surprise French hit series Lupin. In my review earlier this year, I called Part 1 a “delightful contemporary reimagining of a classic character in French detective fiction, Arsène Lupin—a gentleman thief and master of disguise who was essentially the French equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.” I was delighted to discover that Part 2 is even better, with twists, turns, and surprise reveals galore—all without sacrificing those crucial character-enriching quiet moments that add a bit of depth. It’s the best series of 2021 thus far.
(Spoilers for Part 1 below.)
Lupin’s original creator, Maurice LeBlanc, featured his gentleman thief in 17 novels and 39 novellas, so there is plenty of source material to work with. The Netflix series is the creation of Louis Leterrier, who directed the 2013 heist thriller Now You See Me, in which a band of magicians pulls off ingenious robberies. So it’s easy to see why he was drawn to this project. Per the official premise, “As a teenager, Assane Diop’s life was turned upside down when his father died after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. 25 years later, Diop will use Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar as his inspiration to avenge his father.”
In Part 1, we met the Senegal-born Diop (Omar Sy) while he’s working as a lowly janitor at the Louvre. On exhibit at the time, in advance of a public auction to sell the piece to the highest bidder, was a jeweled necklace that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.
It was this recently recovered necklace that his father, Babakar (Fargass Assandé), was falsely accused by wealthy financier Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre) of stealing when Diop was a boy. Diop was out for revenge for his father’s subsequent suicide. After duping local gang members into pulling a decoy heist, Diop disguises himself as a wealthy potential buyer and crashes the auction—and ultimately walks away with the necklace. (The pilot drew heavily from LeBlanc’s The Queen’s Necklace—the title of the pilot episode, which incorporates several plot elements of the original story.
That was just the beginning of the story as we learned more about Diop’s history—including his relationship with childhood sweetheart Claire (Ludivine Sagnier), the mother of his son Raoul (Etan Simon)—and why he modeled his artful schemes on the exploits of Arsène Lupin. Diop’s anonymity was at risk, since the police took particular notice of that high-profile heist. Captain Romain Laugier (Vincent Londez), Lt. Sofia Belkacem (Shirine Boutella), and Det. Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), were part of the team investigating the Louvre heist. Guedira was also a Lupin uber-fan; he was the only one in the department to notice the similarities between Diop’s work and the fictional gentleman burglar.
The only real flaw with Part 1 was that it was far too short—a mere five episodes—and it ended with a maddening cliffhanger. This was likely due to a pandemic shutdown, because Part 2 is very much a direct continuation of the same larger narrative arc rather than presenting Lupin with a fresh mission and antagonist(s). In the Part 1 finale, Diop believed he could reveal Pellegrini’s rampant corruption to the media—only to find that doesn’t really work when one’s enemy pretty much controls the press. Pellegrini is a crafty little weasel and sent one of his goons, Léonard (Adama Niane), after Diop as he traveled to Étretat with his family to mark the birthday of Arsène Lupin. Diop bested Léonard in their confrontation on the train, but the goon retaliated by kidnapping Raoul.
Part 2 picks up with Raoul’s kidnapping at Étretat. Diop vows to recover his son and bring down Pellegrini once and for all, but that’s going to be difficult since Pellegrini has used his extensive contacts in the government, media, and police force—including corrupt Paris police Commissioner Gabriel Dumont (Vincent Garanger)—to frame Diop for a crime he didn’t commit. Diop is now the most wanted man in France.
So Diop and his loyal ally, jeweler Benjamin Ferel (Antoine Gouy), decide to disappear for a bit to concoct a new plan while in hiding. Meanwhile, Pellegrini is setting a trap for our gentleman thief: a symphony performance in honor of Arsène Lupin to raise funds for his daughter’s charitable foundation. Claire’s loyalty has finally been pushed to the breaking point with the disappearance of her son. And might there be a rekindling of the old romance between Diop and Pellegrini’s daughter, Juliette (Clotilde Hesme)?
Omar Sy remains the standout performance, looking more like a French James Bond than ever. But he’s bolstered by a stellar supporting cast, especially Gouy, Hesme, Sagnier, and Guerrab. The casting of young Diop and young Claire was particularly inspired; you really believe those young people would grow up into the adults we’re rooting for in the present day.
The writing is tight, and the story zips along at breakneck speed, building some genuine nail-biting suspense along the way. Much of that suspense arises from wondering just how long Diop can maintain the high-wire act, given Pellegrini’s vast resources and formidable cunning. Ultimately, what makes this series so delightful is the revelation, over and over, of how Diop eventually outwits his various antagonists, even as the net begins to tighten. Who doesn’t love to cheer on the underdog? It’s also a terrific example of competence porn, one of my favorite subgenres.
Both seasons of Lupin are now streaming on Netflix, and together they make the perfect binge-watch. Netflix has already renewed the series for Part 3, so we’ll be getting lots more of Diop’s dashing exploits in the future. Watch it in French with English subtitles—trust me, the English-dubbed version is cringe-inducing.