A Series of Unfortunate Spoilers – The Bad Beginning

Friday the 13th (otherwise known as the unluckiest day of the year, even though sometimes we are graced with more than one) was also the release date for the new Netflix original series A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring and produced by Neil Patrick Harris. Adapted from the children’s book series of the same name and written by Lemony Snicket, AKA American novelist David Handler, the show follows the terrible misfortune of three newly orphaned children and the dark mishaps they experience that no one should have to endure, let alone orphans.

Now the purpose of a Spoilers! article is to do exactly what the title means: give away the ending. In the Netflix series, each book (there are 13 of them, each with 13 chapters) is broken down into two episodes. Four books are covered in the series, making eight episodes total for the first season. I have to say I am a little disheartened – a word here that means immediately lost confidence in this new show’s ability to go with the theme of 13 – however I hope that NPH and the cast can prove me wrong. So turn back now reader before these unfortunate events are unraveled before you much like the sad, itchy sweaters given to the children by Mrs. Poe.
To begin, we must start at The Bad Beginning.

Their lives devastated by a terrible and mysterious fire, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire find themselves cooped up in Mr. and Mrs. Poe’s home before being delivered to their new guardian Count Olaf. Mr. Poe, a banker who really has no experience in dealing with the foster care system or social services, appears to be just as useless as he is in the books. As for the rest of the Poes, his wife indulges in crazed paparazzi, and something just doesn’t seem right about his kids. After their uncomfortable stay, the Baudelaires pack up their few belongings, including a mysterious trinket Klaus found at the burnt ruins of their family’s home, and are escorted off to meet Count Olaf, the famous actor, and the Baudelaire childrens’ closest living relative. Sadly, their guardian was not Justice Strauss, Olaf’s incredibly kind and interesting neighbor who is played by Joan Cusack, well known as Sheila from Shameless, A.K.A. the nicest lady EVER!

I am not sold yet on NPH being the nefarious villain that is Count Olaf, especially not with random musical numbers popping up in the middle of a scene. I suppose they could never truly make the series as dark as I would like it, but I’m hoping they spice things up in the next few episodes with more treacherous behavior. I can kind of see how they wanted to make him seem goofy at first, as long as it doesn’t continue like it did with the Jim Carrey version.

Anyway, the Baudelaire orphans live with Count Olaf for an indeterminate – word here that means uncertain but definitely longer than anyone should have to – amount of time. They are forced to do super gross chores, experience physical, verbal, and psychological abuse, all while sharing one dingy bed. The orphans brought all these issues to Mr. Poe and even mentioned some to Justice Strauss but they did nothing! I’m sorry but there’s this thing called DCPP (Division of Child Protection and Permanency, formerly known as “DYFS”) that exists to prevent abuse in foster and adoptive homes. But I guess Justice Strauss missed that class. Or maybe it just doesn’t exist in the world of the Baudelaires since no one really knows what country they live in or if it’s an alternate universe.

So the abuse continues. In fact, it actually gets worse. The Baudelaires discover that Olaf is really out for their fortune and the viewers learn that it was Olaf, disguised as a consultant, who convinced Poe to appoint Olaf as their guardian. One thing I can’t argue with is the sheer uselessness of any adult in this series. The books depict this very well and even has a line that I’ll never forget that says something like: “the only thing Mr. Poe ever seemed to be good for was coughing.” Coughing and being gullible, in my eyes.

Side note: having a narrator in this show is incredibly useful. Lemony Snicket, played here by Patrick Warburton (better known as Puddy!), narrates all 13 books, often pausing to define words, explain phrases, and just add in a little extra to the plot to help out. Warburton does an excellent job of this while traversing through the mysterious underground tunnels. In the books you don’t really learn about some of the mysteries until book five, and the tunnels until about book six, but I feel that they are a great addition to the show. I was annoyed at first that they were not following the timeline of the books, but these changes help the series move along because there were times in the books that it kind of dragged. I feel like that was partially because of their reading level. If anything, the book series matured with the reader, which was enlightening. However, showing the complexity of the plot earlier on really pulls the viewer in. 

Meanwhile, back to the plot. Left to their own devices, the Baudelaires begin researching law in Justice Strauss’ extensive library. Once Olaf announces that the orphans will take part in his play “The Marvelous Marriage,” this research continues at an alarming rate. Klaus believes that Olaf plans to legally marry Violet in order to gain access to their fortune by using the play as a decoy, and deceiving Justice Strauss to “act” as the judge in the play. Justice Strauss, blinded by potential fame, goes along with the play and ignores the warning of the children. Klaus, determined to reveal Olaf’s nasty plan, confronts him and tells him he knows what he’s up to. But Olaf is on to him. So baby Sunny is captured and placed in a cage dangling from the super spooky tower in Olaf’s home. The two other children are threatened that if they do not comply, Olaf’s creepy associate with the hook hands will cut the rope and Sunny will plummet to her most untimely death.

These threats don’t stop Violet’s determination, and her disgust in marrying Olaf also probably fuels her resolve. She stays up all night inventing a makeshift grappling hook, climbs the tower to rescue Sunny but instead comes face to face with the hook-handed man. Foiled again, the Baudelaires have no choice but to participate in the wedding unless they want to lose their baby sister. And so the show must go on!

The Marvelous Marriage appears to be a very boring play. Olaf seems to be the only character and Violet has no lines except “I do.” She says that line, signs the legal marriage license provided by Justice Strauss as a “prop” and ultimately meets her doom. Olaf boasts of his accomplishment to the audience, Poe is in disbelief, Justice Strauss is distraught, and yet Violet and Klaus know that they fooled him. Knowing Sunny is now safe, the two older siblings reveal that Violet actually signed with her left hand when she is clearly right handed, a small tidbit of information that was provided in the very first scene at the beach.
So the Baudelaire orphans stopped Olaf’s first devious plan to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. I’m not 100% sure if signing something with your non-dominant hand really nullifies a legal document, but for the sake of Violet’s future I’ll accept it. Yet this does not stop Olaf from escaping since all the useless adults merely sat in horror that such a thing could happen regardless of how many warning signs there were and how many complaints the children voiced.

Tune in next week to meet Uncle Monty, hear Mr. Poe cough more, and maybe find out WHY THE F%*# THEIR PARENTS ARE ALIVE???? BECAUSE THEY SHOULD BE DEAD AND I AM BOTHERED BY THIS BUT I SHOULDN’T BE. So maybe I lied about being okay with all these plot changes and the cool underground tunnels. Oh, how I was wrong. But at least now I get to see more of Cobie Smulders!

Trish Reyes

The cake is a lie, but I haven't let that stop me yet.

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