“Still, for the first time in a long time, they’d found a place where the world seemed right, if only for a short time. If they’d found that once, who’s to say they couldn’t find it again?” Lemony Snicket ends Episode 4, The Reptile Room: Part Two, with this harrowing but decidedly optimistic statement that neatly wrapped up the lachrymose happenings in Uncle Monty’s home.
The Baudelaires are riding in a car with Mr. Poe at the end of Episode 4. It’s nighttime. Klaus is the only Baudelaire awake and stares up into a full moon while holding onto his sisters. He’s wistful, probably thinking about finding a peaceful home once again, like Snicket’s monologue implies.
Why do the Baudelaires have to move on from the one place where they found happiness after the tragic murder of their parents? Why is Klaus pondering life while looking out of a car window? Their Uncle Monty died. Which would cause any child to stare blankly into the dark-skied abyss. How did Monty die? Count Olaf injected venom into his bloodstream.
After a whodunit? stream of events, the horrible Count escapes, diving into a body of unnamed water with Jacquelyn on his tail. Mr. Poe ushers the children out of Monty’s home to try once more to find a suitable, safe guardian to restart life with. Where does Mr. Poe think this this fierce and formidable guardian resides? Near Lake Lachrymose.
All it takes is a simple definition and a knack for understanding repeating tropes to see where this is going:
- tearful or given to weeping.: “she was pink-eyed and lachrymose”.
Google’s dictionary app tells us that the forthcoming episodes, The Wide Window: Parts 1 + 2, are going to be as distressing for the Baudelaries, and the viewer, as the last. Until the misery begins, the Baudelaires get to live in a town that houses a restaurant called “Anxious Clown,” an ice cream shack that reminds me of Bluth’s Banana Stand, a half dozen egg restaurants, and a taxi driver that seems to tie together the themes of Moby Dick and ASOUE a little too well. These things (and peppermints!) dwell on the shores of Lake Lachrymose.
FIERCE AND FORMIDABLE
I could go on defining important words used in the dialogue of The Wide Window: Part 1 but it doesn’t take much of a wordsmith to gather that Aunt Josephine, the Baudelaires’ newest guardian, is neither fierce nor formidable. If anything she’s skittish, nonsensical, and privy to falling to Count Olaf’s charms. But, she used to be braver than the Baudelaires can imagine.
Once a snake charmer in Egypt, she’s now stricken and haunted by her past. Josephine lives trapped inside her house atop a churning lake, too afraid to go outside most days. She, like Uncle Monty, knows things that could change the Baudelaires lives forever, V.F.D things. She has books and photographs and intel that would allow the orphans to understand why their house was mysteriously engulfed in flames, why Count Olaf hates them, and why their mother could whistle with crackers in her mouth. Instead, she offers up grammar as a salve to calming a scary, tumultuous world. She follows the pattern many of the adults in the Baudelaires lives have taken, she tries to help them along and extend wisdom about V.F.D, but she falls short because of her own setbacks.
JOSEPHINE’S ODDEST FEARS
1. Electrocution via doorbell
3. Hot soup (no stoves, here!)
4. Her own reflection
5. Count Olaf as Count Olaf
THINGS JOSEPHINE IS NOT AFRAID OF
1. Being in the eye of a hurricane
2. Living in a house that literally leans over a lake, 100 feet above sea-level
3. Cold soup (beside a traditional gazpacho, who is fierce enough to brave cold soup?)
4. Going on a date with a rough-looking “sea captain,” Sham.
5. Count Olaf as Captain Sham
That’s right, the Count is back, and he’s got a peg-leg and an eyepatch this time around.
THE COUNT AND A SNICKET AND AN ANXIOUS CLOWN
The owner/manager/waiter of Anxious Clown is a well-intentioned, brave member of V.F.D. He stands up to Count Olaf and briefly mentions a kerfuffle between the Count and Lemony Snicket. Or a Snicket. Count Olaf looks perplexed and wonders aloud if Snicket is still alive. And, there it is, folks: another V.F.D sub-plot. The story thickens.
What are V.F.D’s ties to a poorly named, beachside restaurant? Why are V.F.D members popping up at every turn of the Baudelaire’s treacherous journey? What did the waiter mean when he said the orphans should have started their “training” a long time ago? Why is Lemony Snicket the narrator of the series and who is he beside a man who follow’s the Baudelaires’ journey but doesn’t interact in it? Will time with AuJo (Aunt Josephine) give us the answers?
I’m sad to say that by the end of The Wide Window: Part 2, Aunt Josephine provides few insights. Her house gives us some clue into the world of V.F.D and the four couples who seems to run in its inner circle by way of a hidden photograph. But AuJo does little to further the Baudelaires’ training. However, she’s still integral to these episodes. What does she do to further the plot? She reminds the audience that Count Olaf is desirable to some women in the ASOUE universe (even while dressed as a captain with a wooden leg made from a broom handle.)
A SUICIDE NOTE AND A SECRET CODE AND A MURDER AND PEPPERMINTS
The drama of The Wide Window: Parts 1 + 2 involves Count Olaf’s plot to get the Baudelaire fortune. He charms her with a meet-cute at the town market and petting zoo. He asks he on a date to chat over fried egg sandwiches. There, he forces Josephine’s hand and has her prepare a suicide note, placing the Baudelaires into Sham’s care. Luckily, Josephine believes in the children and their ability to outwit Olaf and hides a code amongst its contents.
After ridding the town of Josephine, or so he thinks, Olaf sets up meeting with Poe. During a horrible brunch of sad cheeseburgers and fuzzy navels, Count Olaf almost becomes guardian of the Baudelaires again. With the help of Larry, the waiter, the children trigger allergic reactions using peppermints. They know they need to work with the note and are able to leave the restaurant in just enough time to decode and leave AuJo’s house. They find her at Curdled Cave. And they do all of this during a hurricane.
But, if that wasn’t tense enough, on the way back from the cave, with AuJo in tow, leeches surround their boat. Josephine ate a banana before hitting the water and she puts them in grave danger. Their only hope? A ferry Sham captains.
In Count Olaf style, he lets no guardian/V.F.D associate go unscathed. He pushes Josephine over the edge of the boat into leechy waters, only after pulling the Baudelaires on the deck.
The orphans get back to shore and prove that Sham is Olaf in the knick of time, with Poe as their witness. However, this time they don’t allow Poe to trudge them away to a new guardian. They take matters into their own hands and hop in the back of a truck headed for Lucky Smells Lumbermill, a setting in the background of a happy photo of their parents and several other V.F.D friends, found in AuJo’s safe. Olaf gets away, too. The end of this chapter of the Baudelaires’ lives is tearful and familiar. The whole stretch is very lachrymose, indeed.
TO LIGHTEN THE MOOD: POP CULTURE AND OTHER FUNNY (and feminist) ASIDES
- Who was singing “In the eye of a hurricane…” in their best Hamilton voice throughout this block of episodes?
- Raise your hand if you laughed at Count Olaf’s business card. He “rents sailboats” for a living but the picture on the card displays a motor boat.
- Not to get political in a review for a children’s series but I laughed as Count Olaf said he supports the voucher system. Way to be topical, Count.
- I loved Daniel Handler’s cameo. To make Lake Lachrymose even more dreadful, he hawked fish heads in the town market and petting zoo.
- One of my favorite Violet-is-a-badass-moments happens in Episode 6. The orphans and AuJo are stranded on Lake Lachrymose after setting sail from Curdled Cave. Leeches fly into their boat and threaten their vessel from all sides. Violet ties up her hair, as she does, and thinks about ways to call attention to their sinking ship. She knows Klaus needs to start a fire using Aunt Josephine’s scarf but AuJo is unforthcoming and only corrects her grammar while clutching the scarf to her neck. Nevertheless, she persists. She snatches the scarf from AuJo and saves the day. She proves sometimes, grammar needs take a back seat to drive a point home. And sometimes (most of the time in the Baudelaires’ lives) it’s okay to disobey an adult.
- Violet has many feminist moments in the series. She’s a knowledgeable woman pursuing STEM dreams. She’s the fearless leader of the orphans. And she builds machines while taking care of a baby and mourning the loss of her parents. Violet is a hero and a feminist. Luckily, the feminism in ASOUE doesn’t stop there with her character.
KLAUS, ALSO A SCHOLAR AND A FEMINIST
One of my favorite moments of The Wide Window is when Klaus declares, “Plenty of boys enjoy playing with dolls. Although I would rather a book.”
Parents, raise your kids to be like Klaus Baudelaire. Or Violet Baudelaire. Or Sunny Baudelaire, for that matter. Really, we should all aim to be a little more Baudelaire. A little more accepting. A little more brave. And a little more sassy. And a little more willing to jump into the back of a lumber truck and take destiny into our own hands.
If you want to be more like a Baudelaire, catch up on the latest episodes of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. All episodes are streaming now on Netflix.