‘Unfortunate Events’ Season 2 Review: A Miserable (Most Enjoyable) Thrill of a Ride That Raises the Stakes

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There’s a moment at the end of episode 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2 (“The Austere Academy”) where Count Olaf asks the Baudelaires: “How do we learn to give up?”

It’s a moment where Count Olaf believes he’s finally won. Where he’s a mere move away from getting the Baudelaires in his grasp and their fortune in his greedy hands. He’s taunting them at their lowest. Because how could three children possibly defeat a sinister villain such as himself?

It’s the moment where us, the audience, is to believe that there’s no possible way that the Baudelaires could possibly ever defeat this cruel, disgusting murderer. And yet, the moment that follows is the moment where us, the audience, can believe for the first time that the Baudelaires can actually win.

The Baudelaires should just give up, Count Olaf says. And why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t they want to stop fighting after all of the misery and misfortune they’ve endured throughout the course of five books and 10 episodes of television? They’ve lost their parents. They’ve lost their guardians. They’ve lost their friends. They’ve lost any semblance of safety and security that they’ve been able to feel since that dreadful day on Brimy Beach where their entire lives were changed. It would be easier to give up and to give in. It would be easier to not prolong the inevitable for too long.

But instead of giving up, the Baudelaires decide to fight. Their answer to Count Olaf? You can never give up. When you find yourself in terrible circumstances, you just keep struggling. You struggle until you’re finally safe. You struggle until you find friends. You struggle until you ultimately defeat the evil that’s stalking you. You struggle repeatedly. But you don’t ever give up.

It was a powerful message that the Baudelaires learned early on in this second season of Netflix’s hit series A Series of Unfortunate Events (based on the miserable (incredible) books by Lemony Snicket), and it’s that message of constantly struggling and constantly enduring horrible circumstances but never giving into the fear that drives this entire second season. But more than that, it gave the Baudelaires a purpose. They realized why they were fighting. For each other. For the Quagmires. For their parents. For their guardians. For the truth.

From the very beginning of this second season there was this sense of a renewed purpose for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. Armed with half a spyglass, a photograph, and knowledge of a mystery, the Baudelaires launched into this season with the intention of discovering the purpose behind all of the unfortunate events that have been plaguing their lives. There had to be a reason.

The first season of Unfortunate Events felt like the Baudelaires were just trying to survive the treachery of Count Olaf. But this second season felt like Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were taking control of their lives. The mystery of what the Baudelaire parents were a part of — what they soon learned was the V.F.D. — and rescuing the Quagmire triplets were the driving forces behind this season. Everything the Baudelaires did they did with a purpose. But they also had to deal with the nuisance and obstacle of Count Olaf and his troupe along the way.

I always feel like I’m watching these books come to life in a way that I haven’t been accustomed to as an avid reader. Usually I’m promised faithful adaptations that should hit significant events and preserve the essence of the story. But more often than not, it’s the opposite. There are too many creative liberties taken to the point where the spirit of the book is tarnished. But even with the changes, Unfortunate Events again managed to deliver an adaptation that was faithful to the source material. Because the essence of this story and the resiliency of the Baudelaires shines through like the sun that never seems to shine on them.

Of the creative liberties that Netflix has taken with the Unfortunate Events books, the one that is the most evident is the different perspectives that we get in this story. We saw some of that in the first season, but it’s much more prevalent in season 2 as we meet more of the V.F.D., learn their backstory, and even get flashbacks. While I’m sure some might not like that direction, as a reader of the books I feel like it’s a nice compliment getting to see these different characters and what they were doing while the focus was solely on the Baudelaires.

When you’re adapting anything, there are going to be changes. Because telling a story on paper is much different than telling it on screen. But the changes the Netflix series made feels more complimentary because it didn’t do it at the expense of the source material. It was more of a companion to the books with its suspense and thrill.

While Unfortunate Events have never been devoid of drama and adventure (if you could call it that), there was a thrill in this second season that wasn’t evident in the first season. As the mystery of the V.F.D. unfolded — and the Baudelaires set off on their own — the stakes were considerably raised. These are three children that have grown exponentially from the beginning of the first season to the beginning of the second season. They’ve been forced to grow up faster than any of them should, and they’ve learned how to stand tall in the face of adversity.

You can see the growth in Violet, Klaus, and Sunny from the beginning of season 1 to the end of season 1 and from the beginning of season 2 to the end. These characters, like any human being, are molded by their experiences. But unlike most human beings, the Baudelaires have had to endure constant hardships and tragedy. But they haven’t let it define them. They’ve learned that, no matter what; no matter how hard it gets; no matter how impossible the circumstances may seem (just look at the season 2 cliffhanger), that they’ll never stop fighting.

Just as the season began with the Baudelaires declaring their refusal to give up in the face of adversity, the season ended with the Baudelaires in the most dire of circumstances (and cliffhangers.) And while things seem impossibly tragic and doomed to end in sadness, the Baudelaires have already shown us that they’ll handle this struggle like they’ve handled the previous eight. They’ll keep fighting until they finally get to the end of this series of unfortunate events.

Favorite Book Adaptation: The Hostile Hospital

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This might be my favorite installment of this second season — and not just because it was one of my favorite books in the series. This was the first time that the Baudelaires were truly on their own. When they’re not only on their own, but where they’re “on the lamb” for the murder of Jacques Snicket (who was actually killed by Count Olaf.) I feel like this was the installment where you really felt just how big the stakes have been raised. Even as someone that’s read the books and knows exactly what happens, I felt myself visibly shook. I was on the edge of my seat devouring every second. I was shouting at my television. It was an experience.

Least Favorite Book Adaptation: The Vile Village

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It wasn’t that I disliked these episodes, but compared to the rest of the books/episodes it was the least satisfying. It felt that same way when I was reading the book. And given how the Netflix series has done a phenomenal job translating the story from page to screen, I had a similar reaction. I loved getting to see Jacques Snicket and the Quagmires, but the rest of the season was so strong that something had to take the bottom spot.

Most Torturous Cliffhanger: The Carnivorous Carnival

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I knew it was coming before it happened, and this cliffhanger still had me freaking out and gesticulating widely at my television. It was the perfect place to end the season, and the perfect scene to leave fans gasping and grasping at straws while the countdown for season 3 wages on. Just as the Baudelaires think they’re going to get closer to uncovering the truth about the V.F.D., Count Olaf was the one that managed to outsmart them. It separated Violet and Klaus from Sunny (who was now being held by Olaf and his troupe), as well as left Violet and Klaus on a literal cliffhanger.

Unfortunate Events — while it hasn’t been made official yet — will return for its third and final season to wrap up the series of unfortunate events of the Baudelaire children on Netflix.

A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 is now streaming on Netflix. You may look away, but let it play.


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