The French crime mystery drama miniseries “Black Butterflies,” or “Les Papillons Noirs,” is an intriguing watch that pulls one in with its gradual unfolding. The series has a plot concerning a struggling writer who takes up the responsibilities of being a ghostwriter, and plenty of twists and revelations to make it all the more exciting. However, it is these twists, or the excess of them in my opinion, that mar “Black Butterflies” towards the later episodes, but nonetheless, it is a thoroughly entertaining watch.
‘Black Butterflies Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
Adrien Winckler is a novelist famous for his first and only work, “A Great Silence,” which he published under the pseudonym Mody a few years back. At present, he struggles to write his second novel, titled “Astral Disaster,” as he seems to have run dry on ideas. The writer soon gets contacted by a man named Albert Desiderio, who wants Adrien to drive down to his house outside the city and meet him for some work. Going to the place, Adrien makes acquaintance with Albert and hears the man’s proposal—Albert, who is suffering from a severe kidney illness, wants Adrien to write a memoir of his life based on his recounting. Knowing that this job would be a better fit for his situation at the moment, Adrien agrees to take it up.
The two men decide on an arrangement in which Adrien would visit Albert a certain number of times, hear the elderly man’s story, and then return home and start writing the book. In the very first session, Albert reveals the main subject of his life story—love. Living as a child in the French countryside, Albert was very interested in getting to know a schoolmate, a girl around his age named Solange. The girl would always keep to herself and make no friends, and she was even bullied around town because she was German. Solange’s mother was a sex worker, and she had had her daughter after spending a night with a German soldier during the Second World War. Solange’s identity as a German and the daughter of a sex worker made her face harassment at the hands of the other boys, and on one such occasion, Albert stood up to protect her. Since then, the two became the best of friends, always sticking together and going places with each other. It did not take too much time for the two to become lovers, and they continued to grow up together. During their teenage years, Solange started working as a hairstylist and opened up her own salon. On one occasion, Albert and Solange went to the beach to spend a day of romantic getaway, and they met two boys around their age there. The four started to spend time together frolicking in the sea until one of the boys found alone time with Solange. Taking her out of the water onto the beach, the boy tries to force himself on Solange, and the young woman cries out for help. She is quick to react herself, though, as she gets hold of a corkscrew and stabs her assailant with it. Albert now takes notice of this and quickly kills the other boy as well by drowning him in the water. Adrien listens to all this with understandable shock but does not believe much of it. Little does he know that the tale of love that he has sat down to listen to is smeared much more with blood.
What Is Albert’s Real Identity? Why Had He Hired Adrien Specifically For The Job?
Over the many days that Adrien listens to Albert’s unbelievable life story, the old man presents a horrific tale of a serial killer couple. Soon after the incident on the beach, Albert and Solange had their first sexual experience, and their love kept growing from then on. Albert had also now learned to work as a hairstylist, and together they ran their salon throughout the year, except for a short break when they would go away on vacation to a new place every year. It was during these vacations that the two would kill one or multiple men and escape the place without ever being caught. The first time something like this happened, an American photographer befriended the couple and then tried to force himself on Solange. This time, as Albert reports, her boyfriend came to her rescue and killed the American with a pair of scissors. After the murder, though, in a very twisted psychological state, Albert had sex with Solange right there beside the dead body amidst the pool of blood. Since then, this became a regular intimate act for the couple every year, as Solange would lure one or multiple men and then deny her consent at the very last minute. There had been a few times when the man had respectfully stopped when Solange refused to do anything further, and all these men were spared. But most of the others who forced themselves on the woman were killed mercilessly by Albert, followed by intense lovemaking by the two. Although the local police always investigated the matter, they could not reach Albert and Solange because they would leave soon after the crime and never return to the same place. They lived normal lives without raising any suspicion in their hometown. At one point during the later years, the couple tried the same with a different couple, who turned against them in time and attacked Albert, and left him stabbed. When he was taken to the hospital, a policeman did interrogate them during his investigation of a previous case, but almost unbelievably, the police believed their attackers to be the serial killer couple and did not cast any suspicion on Albert and Solange.
While the first many years of their life as a couple could not get any better, such good times did not last forever, especially because of a specific difference of opinion. Solange dearly wanted to become a mother, but Albert resolutely believed that their habit of killing people every year would make them terrible parents and would only hurt any child they took. Every time Solange would get pregnant, Albert would get the baby aborted, and then, at one point, they even realized that a man they had killed had a baby inside his caravan. Unable to leave the baby there by itself, they took it with them, and Solange obviously wanted to keep it, as she had fallen in love with the baby’s two eyes of two different colors. However, Albert refused her wish once again, and he left the baby inside a basket in a graveyard far from their hometown. Solange realized that her lover would never let her experience being a mother, and gradually she shifted her focus to a different search in life. From her childhood days, she had always wished to know her father, who used to be a German soldier during the war, and now she had tracked his name and address down from old letters from her mother. They had finally found his erstwhile address to be in Genoa and had gone to meet the man, who now had a family of his own. Although the man is at first delighted to meet Solange, he later meets with her to tell her that he cannot meet her or do anything for her anymore. This seems to enrage Albert, and he returns to the apartment and violently kills Solange’s biological father and his wife at that time. After this, the couple returned to France again, but Solange was now more detached from her lover than ever. She had found out that she was pregnant, and one day, when Albert was out for some work, she set fire to their salon and left the country to finally become a mother, having burnt all relations with Albert.
While Albert tells Adrien all this, the writer is obviously very disbelieving at first but then finds out that the names and dates that Albert tells him match with news of unsolved murder cases. At one point, he does not want to continue working on this anymore but also realizes that he does not have many options other than writing this memoir. He is sure that the successful first book was more of a fluke than any creative genius of his, and when his wife Nora reads the first chapter of this new memoir and shows it to his publisher, all of them encourage him to keep writing it. Adrien’s own life is flawed as well, as his marriage with Nora hangs on bare threads at certain times, and he knows he needs to keep writing to keep it working. Some years ago, Adrien used to be an alcoholic and had even been imprisoned for nine months after he had attacked a man in a bar when the latter was trying to force himself on a woman. This woman had turned out to be the love of his life, Nora, and after getting married to her, he had stopped drinking at all to concentrate on writing. Adrien is also seen to be in close regular contact with his mother, Catherine, who works with a group that provides aid and help to women suffering domestic abuse. Catherine herself seems to have been a victim of similar abuse, as a predominant childhood memory that Adrien has is of seemingly overhearing his mother being assaulted by his father. Sometimes after starting work with Albert, Adrien’s marriage with Nora does come to a standstill, as she has a casual affair with a colleague while he does the same with an artist called Nastya. He actually meets with Nastya at Albert’s house, as the old man was a great admirer of the artist and her works. However, after some more time, Albert makes a shocking revelation to Adrien that surprises the writer beyond limits. When Albert had killed Solange’s father and his current wife in Genoa, their apartment also had their young daughter at the time, whose name was Nastya. Albert reveals that he had always felt bad for the young girl, and years later, he noticed her name in the newspaper as she was having an exhibition at an art gallery. Albert had instantly gone there and made acquaintance with the woman, supporting her monetarily as well, but never revealing his true identity to her.
From the very beginning of this new job, and particularly after hearing all this, Adrien cannot help but seriously question why Albert had chosen him out of a country full of writers. While Albert initially claimed that he had chosen Adrien because he liked his first work, written under the pseudonym Mody, the real truth gradually starts to unfold. Some three weeks before his contact with Adrien, a police officer by the name of David Carrel had finished an extensive investigation into the serial killer couple and had found Albert Desiderio to be the same Albert who had committed the crimes. Carrel was also driven by a very personal passion, for he was actually the same baby with two different-colored eyes who had been rendered an orphan and then left in a graveyard by Albert and Solange. Having tracked the man down, the police officer went to Albert’s house all alone and collected evidence, which he sent for DNA analysis. He had then met Albert and knocked him down in a vengeful rage but had stopped himself from killing him, only to then be attacked by Albert. The old man then held the officer captive in an underground bunker inside his greenhouse, and he took access to his phone. It was on this phone that the DNA analysis results had been sent back, and going through them, Albert found that his DNA matched with that of another younger man with a prison record—Adrien Winckler. He had then contacted the writer to meet him and tell him his story but had never intended to tell him the real truth. Albert Desiderio was, after all, the father of Adrien Winckler. This meant that Solange, the woman whose horrific story Adrien sat and listened to for so many days, was nobody but his own mother, Catherine. Adrien cannot deal with such a grave and sudden revelation, and out of rage and grief, he kills Albert by smothering him with a pillow.
What More Does Adrien Learn About His Mother?
Adrien finishes writing the book without the last few revelations and publishes it as a novel written by himself. Albert’s death raises no suspicion as the old man was nearing kidney failure and would have died soon anyway. Albert had incidentally suffered from a rare form of diabetes called Mody, and this genetically transmitted ailment had also made its way into Adrien. The man had cleverly made this his pseudonym, and he published his second work under the name of Mody as well. One year passes in between, and Nora gives birth to a baby son with Adrien, as the couple had lovingly reconciled since the pregnancy. Adrien makes more fame and money for himself, but he refuses to keep any contact with Catherine or let her see his son. Over time, Catherine does bring her son back onto her side, as she admits everything to Adrien and apologizes to him for not telling him anything herself. But things again take an unexpected turn when one day, Adrien goes over to Nastya’s place and indirectly lets her know the whole truth. Nastya is terribly angry with Adrien, claiming that he had lied in the book against Albert, and she then makes another shocking revelation. Unlike how Albert had presented the story of his entire past, it was Solange, or Catherine, who used to commit the murders, and not Albert. It was the woman herself who would lure the men and then kill them, while the rest of the account was accurate. Adrien has a hard time swallowing this, obviously, and he then goes over to Belgium to try and confirm this. After Catherine had left Albert and France, she had gone over to Brussels and married a wealthy doctor called Wim Winckler, and she had always claimed Wim to have been Adrien’s father. However, something strange had gone down in Brussels as well, as Adrien discovers that his mother had killed Wim Winckler. Catherine was always very protective of her son, as she had wanted to be a mother so desperately, and one day, when Wim shouted at young Adrien, she could take it no more. She had stabbed Wim with a knife to his back, in the exact style of her earlier murders, and then beaten herself with the husband’s belt to get marks of abuse on her body. She had then claimed in court that she had acted in self-defense and ultimately had been acquitted. After this, she returned to France with her son and has continued to live there ever since.
“Black Butterflies” intentionally creates a lot of convolutions between fact and fiction, as along with the viewers, the protagonist Adrien himself struggles to understand what the objective truth is and what is someone’s subjective account. After Adrien had met with Albert and started working, his wife Nora had read the first chapter and had told Catherine about it as well. Now the woman had realized that Albert was alive and had tracked him down to visit his house. Here she once again evoked the great unending love that the two had between them forever and convinced Albert to take the fall for her. While Albert was already covering her murders as his own in the account that he was telling Adrien, Catherine now convinced him to tell their son the real truth and present it in a manner that would possibly make Adrien feel like his mother was only a victim. However, Adrien did not take this so simply, and his proximity with Nastya was also perhaps not taken into consideration by his mother. On the other hand, Mathilde, a colleague of police officer David Carell, was in search of her colleague and lover even after all this time. While Carell had perished out of thirst and hunger in Albert’s bunker after the man’s death, Mathilde was still looking for him. She finally tracks down his secretive investigation and finds out all about Albert. After going to the house, she discovers Carell’s body and a name he had left behind on the wall—Mody.
‘Black Butterflies’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Adrien, Nora, And Their Son?
The police quickly start looking for Mody or Adrien, while the writer decides to add a last chapter to his recently published book, in which he will expose the real truth. Racing against time, as the police now chase him, Adrien somehow manages to finish the chapter, and he then calls up Nora to inform her of how cruel his mother was. But Catherine had already gone over to Adrien’s house, and Nora had just left their baby boy with her when she got her husband’s call. By the time she returns to take any action, Catherine has already left the house, and she starts to drive away in her car. Catherine had firmly believed that the evil that her lover Albert had in him had been transferred down to her son Adrien, for he had killed his own father, and now she wanted to (she claims) protect her beloved grandson from this evil of killing. Nora desperately chases the car, and Catherine starts to have visions of young Albert, and perhaps out of the memory of their love, she ultimately stops the car and lets Nora take her son away. On the other side, Adrien also surrenders to the police since his work of exposing the complete truth is also now done. Mathilde sits him down for an interrogation, and the man seems ready to tell her everything he had learned and experienced over the past few months.
Along the way with its twisted plot, “Black Butterflies” also makes use of a few symbolic and thematic points, which the characters choose to either believe or not at various times. The titular black butterflies are one such symbol, which the series does not explain, but they seem to represent an acquisition of knowledge and experience that is directly opposed to innocence. When young Adrien had witnessed the murder of his father but had completely forgotten about it later on, a big blue butterfly in the room turned black. It was after young Nastya had seen her parents’ killers that she started to draw black butterflies, and in both cases, the butterflies, or perhaps their blackness, signify the loss of childhood innocence. In the case of police officer Carell, the black butterflies swarm around him once he has figured it all out, and the swarm that Adrien passes through in his car perhaps points towards the revelations that are about to follow. The show also brings in a concept of the hereditary possibility of criminal tendency and presents two different opinions on it. Nora is a researcher in epigenetics, which she herself explains to be a study of how the experiences and environment of a person can genealogically affect their future generations. On the other hand, Albert tells Adrien of a certain quote along similar lines, which is a variation of the “sins of a father” phrase. For quite some time, Adrien believes this literally, until one day, a reader tells him that the Bible means it in a way that the sins of a father should not and do not affect the life of a child, and it is only after he accepts this interpretation that Adrien lives easily with his own baby son. At the end of the series, Catherine does not still believe in it, and hence she tries to take away the baby. What Adrien finally learns, probably, is that the fate of one lies in their own hands, and we can only hope that black butterflies will flutter to him soon too.
“Black Butterflies,” or “Les Papillons Noirs” is a 2022 Drama Thriller mini-series created by Olivier Abbou and Bruno Merle.