In Episodes 1 + 2 of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire siblings become the Baudelaire orphans. Mr. Poe, their go-between who tries to stick them with a suitable guardian, lets them down and gives them over to an actor, Count, and all around bad guy: Olaf. Why is Mr. Poe so gullible? We have an idea: a mixture of laziness and career-based stress. Why is Count Olaf so evil? He’s a terrible actor, the leader of a band of misfit theater players, and short of cash, just to name a few reasons for his stress and want of the Baudelaire fortune.
Who else from the series suffers some career-based stress? Probably Lemony Snicket, the all-knowing narrator. Snicket re-visits the haunts of the orphans well after they’ve left the scene for their next misadventure. He recounts the narrative for the audience and includes every dark detail. He also clues the audience into the secret world of V.F.D, an organization the Baudelaire parents were members of.
Speaking of the Baudelaire parents, they may still be alive. Episode 2 gave us a peek of two adults racing to get back to their children. In jail accessorized by handcuffs and party clothes, they try to escape and continue their mission. Could they be the orphan’s parents? It’s easy to imagine; they share the same complexion, the air of riches, and tread though the same places. But, in true Snicket style, The Bad Beginning ends with a cliff-hanger that keeps the audience guessing the true identity of the mysterious adults.
If you were a fan of Lemony Snicket’s book series (of the same name as the show) you might remember each book ended with a beautiful illustration by Brett Helquist.
Helquist’s last pages were usually a sketch of the orphans in some kind of turmoil, moving from one place to the next trying to escape misfortune. The illustration at the back of The Bad Beginning shows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny staring out of the back of Mr. Poe’s car. Helquist’s image points to the next adventure for the Baudelaires while providing a nice summary for the story that came before it. The theater where The Marvelous Marriage was performed stands at a distance and they wave to Justice Strauss. Notice a snake wraps it’s body around a streetlamp. The image provides a sneak peek to the Baudelaire’s next move (spoiler: it’s pretty snaky,) while reminding the audience that Count Olaf lingers.
After a show of true villainy, Count Olaf, while performing on-stage in The Marvelous Marriage, tries to legally wed Violet. His plan is thwarted, and not a minute too soon. With a clear reminder of the past, the Baudelaires beat on, hoping to find a loving home.
THE REPTILE ROOM
Episode 3 sends the children to their Uncle Monty’s (full name, Montgomery Montgomery) mansion. He lives off Lousy Lane, which smells like horseradish and flanked with scraggly, crab-apple-less trees. Though dismal scenery surrounds his house, his home is magnificent, with a glass reptile room and many marvelous creatures inside for research and inspection.
While living with the herpetologist, the Baudelaires see sunny skies, play with Monty’s impressive reptile collection, and are promised an expedition to Peru, where they’ll row in an orange canoe and research, work, and learn together. These are definitely the most colorful episodes of the series. The hues call the audience to contrast these scenes to the scenes of Episode 1 + 2 when the Baudelaires lived with Olaf.
Where Count Olaf had the Baudelaires scrubbing slimy toilets with toothbrushes and playing with rocks, Monty provides hours of entertainment. Olaf’s home was grey with rotting wood, stormy skies, and treacherous towers. Monty’s home is green and reflective of the nature and sun. In Episode 4, after Count Olaf kills Monty, the skies turn grey again. Until that time, Monty’s world is lit with the promise of scientific adventure and baked goods.
A HERPETOLOGIST AND A GUARDIAN
Like Episodes 1 + 2, the series continues to split the characters into four categories:
1. Children who are respectable, smart, and capable (and have the surname, Baudelaire)
2. Adults who cannot be trusted
3. Good adults who ultimately become foiled by their inability to believe children and/or see past their own desire/situation.
4. Adults who function outside the main narrative (Snicket, un-identified parents, etc.)
At first, Uncle Monty creates a fifth category: “nearly perfect guardian.” He’s intelligent, a leader, and a trustworthy scientist. He’s a baker and a cinephile. (These are all characteristics independent of being a good guardian but they make living with someone more enjoyable.) Toward the middle of Episode 3, however, he careens toward the third category after he fails to see Count Olaf’s true identity and purpose. He dies by Episode 4. His demise is due to Count Olaf’s treachery.
STEPHANO, THE FIRST OF OLAF’S DISGUISES
Stephano (Olaf) arrives to the house when Monty is out buying peaches for the upcoming Peru expedition. The Baudelaires instantly see through Count Olaf’s eyebrow-less disguise. They try to throw him out but he wields a machete; the Baudelaires quickly lose all hope of a happy life with their Uncle.
Uncle Monty returns home and meets Stephano. He knows something about Stephano is off but he chalks it up to the wrong reason. Monty has just come across a new, rare species, one of his own finding, The Incredibly Deadly Viper. Monty believes Stephano is a spy who will thwart his trip to Peru and steal his secret species.
ZOMBIES IN THE SNOW, JACQUELYN, AND SECRETS
The tension between the Baudelaires, Stephano, and Uncle Monty comes to a head at a screening of Zombies in the Snow. What sounds like a normal horror/zombie flick is actually a secret message sent by V.F.D (and Jacquelyn) to Uncle Monty. The film aims to warn him about Count Olaf’s plot and pleads him to get the Baudelaires to safety (in Peru.) The message is sent through subtitles and decoded with a spy glass–the same spy glass Klaus pulled from the rubble of his parent’s mansion after the fire. Who’s behind the message? And why is Jacquelyn in the center of all V.F.D happenings of there series?
In a series of unfortunate events (ha!) Count Olaf blocks the message, allows Monty to confront him about being a herpetological spy, and rushes to kill him to get the orphans out of the county (with Monty’s tickets to Peru) and into his clutches. In one of the best episodes in the series, Episode 4, he fails, again. But the murder and simultaneous interruption of a new, quiet life harms the orphans and throws them, once more, into a tumultuous sequence of whodunit and moving on.
Episode 4 is a masterpiece of mystery, fun, chills, and disbelief. Jacquelyn, dressed as a statue in Monty’s garden maze, watches over the orphans without lending a helping hand. With Jacquelyn so close by while Olaf murders their guardian and continues to wreak havoc in the reptile room, the viewer questions why.
Why does she remain perched on a topiary, waiting instead of jumping in to aid the Baudelaires? Why does she jump off of the bush to tell Klaus she’ll find his spy glass (after Olaf snatches it) and disappear? Does it have something to do with a V.F.D initiation? Or is it more of a plot-driven reason? To allow the orphans to shine while the adults fumble about in the reptile room trying to both cover up and figure out a murder?
Jacquelyn and Olaf have a stand-off at the end of the episode that leads to even more questions. What’s the nature of their relationship? Why does Olaf have a problem with certain members of V.F.D (especially those the audience expects to be “the good guys?”) Where they previously, intimately involved? (Or is that just me searching for a ship?)
Jacquelyn brings many questions and just a few answers to Episodes 3 + 4. One answer is that V.F.D wants the Baudelaires to begin their “training” with the society. And all signs lead to the spy glass being the beginning of their journey with V.F.D.
What was your favorite moment of Episode 3 + 4? Mine was Stephano explaining to Monty how to pronounce the name of his herpetological society. If you’re not caught up to Episodes 5 + 6 of ASOUE, all episodes are streaming on Netflix. We’ll catch you next week, where we’ll talk Aunt Josephine and the unraveling, complex personalities of the orphans. Until then, leave the questions you had after finishing The Reptile Room in the comments. And let me know if Uncle Monty was your favorite guardian, too!
*all images via Netflix unless otherwise captioned