Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events asks viewers to look away. It promises that every show, from episode one’s The Bad Beginning to episode eight’s jaunt at the Miserable Mill, will wreck your evening. Immediately, upon hearing Neil Patrick Harris’s voice in a theatrical, albeit emo tone, I knew the series would do nothing but make my day. And maybe, in a flair of dramatics Count Olaf would approve of, my whole life.
Dramatics aside, how could the series make your whole life? Let’s meet the players, set the scene, and unravel Count Olaf’s masterful plot. You’ll soon fall victim to the sad series’ dark charms and never-ending secrets.
THE BAD BEGINNING
Why are the first book of the series and the first chunk of two episodes to air on Netflix named The Bad Beginning? It all starts with a grey day on Briny Beach and miserable words from Mr. Poe (a sufficient banker, a haphazard guardian-selector, and an all-around stuffy man.)
Poe suddenly appears on the sand of Briny Beach to tell the three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, that their parents have perished in a horrible but mysterious fire. This sentence begins the series of unfortunate events that will take place in the Baudelaires early lives.
MEET THE BAUDELAIRES
Violet, Sunny, and Klaus Baudelaire are three intelligent but unlucky orphans. Violet, the eldest, is an innovator. She invents gadgets, engineers machines, and thinks clearly by tying her hair up in a ribbon. Being the oldest, she’s the protector of the group. In the beginning, she is the orphan most likely to give Olaf a shot to prove himself worthwhile. She quickly learns he’s not to be trusted after he harms her younger two siblings (but this treachery is revealed later.)
Sunny Baudelaire is just a baby when her parents die in a fire. Even though she’s too young to talk properly when we meet her, she’s a sassy spitfire. Her interests range from the music of Tito Puente to biting things–from carrots to rocks. Her CGI moments are as cute and charming as her subtitled thoughts and chubby cheeks.
Klaus Baudelaire is the middle child. He’s a researcher and a voracious reader and the world’s best lawyer 25 years from now. Klaus is a quiet, bookish kid with a big heart and a lot of facts swimming through his brain. He’s quick to call out Olaf for his debauchery and anxious to move away from his new guardian.
MEET THEIR MISERY
Count Olaf, prone to musical asides and treachery, lives in a dark mansion across from a lovely home owned by the Honorable Justice Strauss. The Baudelaires are provided with a blip of hope when they see Justice Strauss’s abode. You can see their spirits lift as they take in the pink trees and the cute shutters and learn that Justice Strauss can cook, has great career, and has always wanted children of her own to love and dote upon.
Mr. Poe, feeling no empathy for the orphans, steers them next door, straight into Count Olaf’s clutches. Olaf’s mansion is dark. It looks like a place where a murder of crows flock for feeding time. Or where a murderous theater troupe performs off-off-off-Broadway plays. And that’s where the Baudelaires will stay. Shortly, after they are passed off to Olaf, they learn that’s also where they will complete banal and disgusting chores and cook family-style meals for his friends (pasta puttanesca, anyone?)
And, shortly after the Baudelaires are charged to Olaf, he learns that just acting in loco parentis for the orphans for a short amount of time does not grant him their fortune.
Olaf’s snake brain wakes up when Mr. Poe lets him know that being the orphan’s legal guardian doesn’t allow him to use their money. Olaf is theatrical, sure. His flair for the dramatic sometimes trumps his true villainy, but his quick thinking and treachery toward the two youngest Baudelaire siblings clues the audience into his real evil in Episode Two. Olaf is more than just a song-and-dance man in want of a fortune. He’s able to bring together a pack of misfit actors and make them do his bidding. He changes his look at the drop of a hat and can fool hard-working adults. He’s truly an evil man. Though he and his troupe provide some comic relief, he’s not just a goofball.
Olaf knows that he only needs one orphan alive to gain the fortune. After stealing Sunny from her bed and caging her in his tower room, many feet above ground, he tells the orphans if they don’t comply in his marriage plot he’ll send her falling from the air. Meanwhile, Klaus and Violet perform in his play. Ahem, Al Funcoot’s play, entitled “The Marvelous Marriage.”
The performance is so dull it makes most of the audience fall asleep. However some, including Klaus, Violet, Justice Strauss, and Mr. Poe’s secretary, Jacquelyn, and her friend Gustav, remain anxious for what’s to come.
Klaus and Violet are anxious because Count Olaf made them aware of his plan before taking the stage. Klaus tried to research ways to wiggle Violet out of the binding marriage but to no avail. Violet’s mechanical mind is working throughout the show: she tries to think of ways to stop the marriage and get Sunny safely to the ground. Justice Strauss is nervous to perform. She dreamt of being a stage actress as a little girl and while she holds the key to stopping the marriage, she’s too awestruck by the theater and it’s inner-workings to see that The Marvelous Marriage is just a ploy for the Count to marry Violet legally. Jacquelyn and Gustav are anxious because they know something is awry they just can’t figure out what.
Meet Jacquelyn. In a backstory very important to The Bad Beginning (one where Olaf dresses up with articles of clothing stolen from people on the street, calls himself Yessica Haircut, and convinces Mr. Poe to have the orphans live with their closest relative geographically) we also get to meet Jacquelyn.
She’s a fierce VFD secret agent who poses as Poe’s secretary to gain intel into the Baudelaire case. She’s also a new addition to the story. In my opinion, she a great addition. She is an adult who cares about the Baudelaires and helps them throughout the first season. The orphans are still very much alone in the world after their parents pass but Jacquelyn provides some respite. She will help unlock the secret world of VFD. She also knows to keep an eye on Olaf and his schemes.
During The Marvelous Marriage, Jacquelyn meets up with Gustav, another VFD player, and watches the show for signs of duplicity.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
While Count Olaf, ahem, Al Funcoot, writes and stars in his play, the supporting cast keep the villainy rocking behind stage. The Hook Handed Man watches Sunny from inside the tower. The other actors fill in onstage but keep an eye on Klaus and Violet to ensure they don’t try to run. It’s not until Violet signs the marriage certificate with her left hand and Sunny escapes from her cage that the immoral plot is revealed and the supporting actors come to Olaf’s rescue. A henchperson kills the lights and the troupe is able to escape without arrest.
TWO SURPRISE CHARACTERS
The end of The Bad Beginning proves to have an awful ending. The orphans try and make peace with their tragedy only to be stuck with a guardian who wants to murder them. He is not able to steal their fortune but he promises to find the orphans and harm them in the future.
All the while, in another part of town, two parents try and race home to their children. Who are these parents? What are they trying to figure out? Why are they in handcuffs? The mystery extends past the cause of the fire that destroys the Baudelaire mansion at the end of The Bad Beginning. The first two episodes only begin to unravel the complexities of VFD and the members, both good and bad, it employs.