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‘Lupin Part 2’ and the Compounding Fracture of Release Schedules

Is the latest batch of Netflix’s hit heist series a second part or a second season? Whatever it is, it’s halted the momentum of a brilliant first act.

Netflix/Ringer illustration

At a time when it seemed like there was nothing new to stream, Netflix’s Lupin was an oasis. It exuded flamboyance and style, released in the desert of the pandemic entertainment landscape. Over the course of five episodes, Assane (Omar Sy), master thief, outmaneuvered his guileless foes with grace, dexterity, and playfulness. The show’s skill at subverting dramatic buildup—occasionally with revelatory flashbacks revealing some well-placed pawn or a key card being lifted, sometimes with a good, old-fashioned “Yakety Sax” chase—won it a modest level of mainstream American popularity, unusual for foreign language television. (The series is a French production.) And then, after a cliffhanger conclusion, there were six months of silence. Earth continued to spin on its axis. And I sort of cooled on Lupin.

Midseason hiatuses are hardly new, but ordinarily they come after the realization of at least one plot strand, about 13 or so episodes into a season. It’s an ending that promises a greater, more spectacular ending. Part 1 didn’t end so much as stop; as a consequence of a long-running blood feud with French oligarch Hubert Pellegrini, who also framed Assane’s father for grand larceny, Assane’s son, Raoul, was kidnapped. This happened just as Guedira, a detective alienated from his colleagues with somewhat limited investigative capability, finally caught up to Assane. A wry ending sequence promised new episodes “soon”; perhaps George Kay’s creation, inspired by the exploits of Maurice Leblanc’s fabled Arsène Lupin character, stayed away a little too long. No longer a surprise and attracting more attention than just an “unlikely hit,” Lupin now has the burden of distinction. It needed to capitalize on the long-dormant momentum of a half-season.

Part 2 of Lupin premiered last Friday, immediately resuming the story with a new director: Ludovic Bernard creates a sense of urgency with wobbly third Bourne-movie-esque camera work. The footage tracks tiny European sedans as they rip through the rural highways of northern France. With Assane’s son missing, there’s an overriding sense that things have gotten serious, and yet, as always with Assane, the situation is actually well in hand. “Chapter 6” culminates in a big, multistage fight in an abandoned mansion between Assane and Leonard, Hubert’s main henchman and Raoul’s kidnapper. It goes on for five suspenseful minutes despite Assane being a skilled martial artist and Leonard having a much shorter reach, but just as I began to clearly envision the tale of the tape, Assane grabbed Leonard by the collar and pitched—pitched—him out of a third-story window, neutralizing the threat entirely. I laughed, and the music didn’t suggest that it was meant to be funny.

Tricks and gaffes that were charming in Part 1 feel a little tired in Part 2 because we were given an opportunity to grow accustomed to their rhythm—to anticipate them. An arc centering a rekindled romance with Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), Hubert’s daughter and Assane’s past lover, is almost too obvious as he flatters so much to deceive: a candlelight dinner, a Vespa ride through all the breathtaking sights of Paris. Still, it’s satisfying to see how he bends their situationship to his own vindictive ends, and enjoyable to watch Sy develop chemistry with Hesme. To be fair, though, Sy has chemistry with pretty much whoever’s on-screen.

Lupin is hardly concerned with character development, so you’re watching it with plot foremost in mind. It’s hard to pick up the story in the middle and not wonder whether you might be more invested had Lupin been released as a single season of television. As streaming services pull back from binge culture, with the silver screen being the main mode of visual entertainment for the foreseeable future, release schedules have become more serialized. “Erratic” may be a better word for the Disney+ shows, which are somehow released both every three days and biweekly. The first three episodes of Invincible were dropped together on Amazon Prime, and then the following five were released each Friday. And in the past six months, Invincible and multiple Disney+ shows have come and gone. Not to be too facile about it, but it’s difficult to sustain a viewer’s interest in a story presented in parts over a gap of time without an attention economy, without weekly recaps, without some sort of update from the series creators.

That is, of course, unless you’ve got Omar Sy, who always commands attention. Late in Part 2, he’s caught at gunpoint on a thin catwalk, high above a symphony stage. He calmly explains to the guard that he’s got his safety on, which is nonsense, because the guards have been weapons-free, on high alert for going on 10 minutes now. Sy grins, walks over, flicks the safety off, and slips past, letting the air out of a tense situation once again.