mind games

Lupin’s Murky and Menacing Coda, Microscopically Examined

The final moments of season three suggest the continued presence of a mastermind equal to, or maybe even better than, Assane. Photo: Emmanuel Guimier

Deep spoilers ahead for the third season of Lupin.

The first few episodes of Lupin’s third season are extremely slick, propulsive TV. They also feel a bit like an extended finale for season two, which ended with Assane Diop skipping town after taking down his archnemesis Hubert Pellegrini, the billionaire who framed Assane’s father, Babakar, and later orchestrated his murder.

Until someone kidnaps Assane’s estranged mother, Pellegrini is the only real big baddie this series has known. To fill his shoes in season three, we get the much less rich and powerful Jean-Luc Keller, an old boxing coach who knew Assane when he was just a kid. In the late ’90s, Keller played Fagin to orphaned boys like Assane; now he’s back in Paris to get revenge on the teenager who framed him for killing a cop.

But by the very, very end of season — and I’m really talking the last minute here —  we seem to arrive all the way back at the beginning, with a vague and menacing coda that implies Pellegrini’s been tending to his vendetta against Assane from behind bars all this time. Let’s take a closer look.

Wait, what just happened?
Don’t worry, I rewound this scene 15 times so that you don’t have to. In the final moments of the season, as Assane settles into his cramped prison cell after turning himself into Guédira, he receives an envelope from the cement box next door. Inside is a photo of young Assane holding a Lupin novel: The Cagliostro’s Revenge. (You’ll remember that the first Lupin novel Assane ever read was a birthday present from Babakar, who chose the book from Pellegrini’s library.)

Assane, whose own cell is outfitted with the complete works of Maurice Leblanc, picks up his copy and reads from it: “The riddle was within you. Within the secret of your soul. In order to trap you and to build up your trust, I welcomed the love you pretended to have for me. Perhaps you believed I felt it myself, and you ended up truly loving me. And thus, you lost any clarity of mind.” As Assane reads from the book, his voice blends with the voices of other characters throughout the years; his face is replaced by their faces.

Assane’s mother, Mariama, with whom he has just been reunited.

Benjamin, Assane’s loyal partner-in-crime, whom Assane has betrayed.

Hubert’s daughter, Juliette, a past lover of Assane’s.

And lastly Hubert himself, standing in an identical room in the same cell block — exactly where Assane put him at the end of season two.

The scene has the overall “oh shit!” effect of a mid-credits sequence. It’s directly connected to what we’ve just watched but it’s designed to create buzz and maybe spin out some fan theories for what could happen next.

What does it mean for what we’ve just seen?
The coda’s meaning is murky, but it has the potential to shift our understanding of everything that happened in season three. Pellegrini was always a formidable foe for Assane, but the men operated differently. Assane was the clever thief, able to outmaneuver Pellegrini. Pellegrini, on the other hand, manipulated Assane (and Assane’s father) using his money and influence. The scene suggests that Pellegrini is a mastermind equal to, or maybe even better than, Assane — that the entire season, from the moment Mariama is introduced, is a Rube Goldberg device designed to put Assane in prison.

Because as taut as season three was, there were some foundational questions of motive and timing that bothered me. For example, after 25 years incarcerated, how could Keller have known that Assane’s death was fake? The last time we saw the guy, he was running a ragtag youth gang out of a boxing gym; now, minutes after being released from prison, Keller’s demanding Assane deliver a Manet that was stolen while he was on the inside. And where did he get the start-up capital for this elaborate revenge mission? It feels more than possible someone was bankrolling Keller’s retaliation.

And then there’s the problem of Mariama, who gets singled out in the coda. Despite being absent for more than half her son’s life, she suddenly turns up at his (fake) funeral without a smartphone? (If you recall, she’s bumbling around Paris with a map when Keller’s partner, Manon, catches up to her.) How? Are we meant to believe mamère has been tracking her son’s movements from Senegal all this time and just happened to read his (fake) obit? And how did she get from Dakar to Paris so quickly? I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that someone was pulling her strings, or at least setting her up as a mark for Keller.

I suppose one must also allow for the slim possibility that Assane has picked out the wrong passage in The Cagliostro’s Revenge and misconnected the dots. After all, it’s just a photo in an envelope that he receives.

What does it mean for what comes next?
Netflix has yet to confirm a season four of Lupin, but by the looks of the coda, the writers are ready for it. One can only reanimate a dead feud so many times without straining plausibility, so whatever happens should be a blockbuster showdown between men who have just equaled the score. Pellegrini cost Assane his relationship with his father; Assane alienated Juliette from her father. Assane landed Pellegrini in jail and now, it seems, Pellegrini has repaid the favor.

It’s impossible to know as Assane reads the passage whether the voices and faces he’s imagining are running through his own mind or Pellegrini’s. Is it Assane we see doubting his mother’s reappearance in his life, or is it Pellegrini mentally ticking off all the relationships of Assane’s that he’s already corrupted?

The last we see of Mariama, she’s standing on a train platform with Assane’s wife and son as an integrated member of the family. But that scene, in which Benjamin also joins them, curdles after the coda. We know Mariama to be a great crook; she survived by her wits in Senegal and even helped Assane this season. She may not have been on Keller’s team, but it’s easy to imagine that Pellegrini owns her in some way. “In order to trap you and to build up your trust, I welcomed the love you pretended to have for me. Perhaps you believed I felt it myself, and you ended up truly loving me.” That could easily double as a description of the relationship between a mother and son recently reunited after decades of silence.

But perhaps the most troubling implications are for Assane’s friendship with Benjamin Ferel. In season three, Assane chooses his mother’s safety over Benjamin’s. He was justified in thinking he could undo the harm, which he did when he sees that Benjamin is freed from jail, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the friendship can endure this breach of loyalty. Benjamin has always been Assane’s greatest ally; now he may prove a liability.

Or it’s all just mind games. The point is that Pellegrini has caused the most cocksure thief on television — “the bigger the lie, the more they’ll believe it,” he tells a conspirator in the season premiere — to doubt himself and the people around him. Whatever else is true next season, Assane Diop won’t be the same Lupin.

Lupin’s Murky and Menacing Coda, Microscopically Examined