The Miserable (possibly Macabre) Mill starts off on a very different page than the book series did. Now, these articles are not intended to be a comparison between the Netflix show and the literary work of Lemony Snicket. Still, it is important to note that, while the Baudelaires willingly left Lake Lachrymose to head to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, in the book the mill itself was an ACTUAL GUARDIAN that Mr. Poe felt was fit to raise three children. I am grateful for the cinematic freedom that the show’s creators had with this, because having a lumber mill as a guardian was a very odd concept to comprehend when reading these books. It may have made sense later on, but at the time it was so strange (but then again, nothing the adults do in this series seems to make sense), and I am curious as to how the show will pick season two up with this twist, since, in the books, the orphans don’t venture off on their own until the Book 8.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s take a look at what miserable misfortunes and malaise may happen. Upon stumbling literally out of the woods onto the lumber mill property, the Baudelaire orphans soon find out that they are not figuratively out of the woods. Since trespassing is not allowed on the property, the children are forced into service as employees of the mill by Sir, its owner, and his ridiculous expectations of (illegal) child labor. But that’s not the only sketchy thing going on at Lucky Smells: the employees get paid in coupons, they are given gum for their five minute lunch, and their living and working conditions are definitely not OSHA-compliant. Not to mention that Sir treats his partner, Charles (who seems to have a crush on Sir, showing the danger of love and infatuation!), like a servant rather than an equal. In addition to these violations, there is a new, very cruel foreman overseeing the workers whose face is covered and his voice is muffled, which is in no way unsettling or concerning.
Violet insists on staying at the lumbermill, in order to find answers about their parents. We found out in The Wide Window that the Baudelaire parents were once at Lucky Smells, along with Aunt Josephine and Uncle Monty. Could this have possibly been a secret meeting place for their secret organization?! But alas, all the books at the Lucky Smells library are about the history of Lucky Smells Lumbermill, with one section about the Baudelaire family blacked out by Sir. And why is that you ask? Because apparently the Baudelaire parents burnt the place to the ground! The workers at Lucky Smells are not incredibly inviting to their new coworkers, except for Phil, who is overly optimistic, but at least he is kind to the children.
Speaking of optimists reminds me of optometrists, specifically an optometrist who is Count Olaf’s ex-girlfriend. Ah, we get into the nitty gritty real quick with this episode! NPH really pumps up his dramatics here to concoct a plan with Dr. Georgina Orwell, the local eye doctor. We see some more character development here about Olaf’s past and his prior involvement with the Baudelaire parents.
Unnerved by the possibility that their parents may not be the people they knew, feeling that they would not find the answers they need here, and clearly disgruntled by the amount of manual labor he is forced to do, Klaus attempts to convince his siblings that it is time to leave Lucky Smells. But Violet, being the know-it-all older sister (gosh Violet don’t be like that!), thinks there is still more to learn at Lucky Smells. Violet will eat her words not long after her feud with her brother. The aforementioned foreman trips Klaus, who then breaks his glasses when he falls on the lumber mill floor. Thankfully, the one benefit Lucky Smells’ employees do get is vision insurance, which is strange since this is normally a costly benefit that is not always offered by employers.
Klaus gets escorted to Dr. Orwell’s spooky, eye-shaped building by the foreman and we don’t see him for some time. He undergoes some rather peculiar and not-so-board-approved optometry procedures. He returns late at night, after his sisters spent the day worrying about him, despite Phil’s constant reminder that doctors are our friends (an opinion Snicket disagrees with). When morning arrives, the Baudelaire sisters are overjoyed to see their brother, but something seems off. Klaus’s glasses were repaired, but his brain seemed to be wired wrong. Thankfully, he snaps out of it before a horrendous accident could happen at the mill due to Klaus’s dazed behavior and limited knowledge of lumber mill equipment.
With Klaus back to normal, Charles shows up to tell the children that they have a visitor. Confused, they follow Charles. Per the mill rules, entry by non-employees constitutes trespassing which is apparently punishable by forced employment, so the Baudelaires must meet their visitors at the visitor center behind the incredibly fancy gold door. AND HOLY MOLY SHEESH GOSH WHAT?!?!?!? THEIR PARENTS ARE THERE? WHAT IS GOING ON??? On the other side of the door we see the parents reaching for the door. We see the Baudelaire orphans reaching for the door. We see the parents open the door. And then we feel our hearts drop. Because the parents don’t open the door to the mill, but instead open the door to the Quagmire household and are greeted by their children, Duncan, Isadora, and Quigley. The Baudelaire orphans (who are, in fact, still orphans) are greeted by Dr. Orwell and Count Olaf, disguised as a receptionist. He really does pull off that shade of pink well. Talk about an emotional roller coaster and an unexpected twist.
It’s nice to at least have Lemony Snicket to fill in some of the gaps of information while you’re yelling at your television in the middle of the night. And it’s comforting to know that while Mr. Poe may be completely useless, he is at least trying to find the Baudelaires, even if it’s only because he may lose his job if he doesn’t. And while the arrival of Count Olaf/Shirley St. Ives in a wig and stockings may be the children’s worst nightmare, at least Klaus can see what’s going on with his new glasses. Actually, maybe he would be better off if he couldn’t see Olaf in a wig and stockings….As it has been with every other situation, none of the adults believe the children that this Shirley woman is Count Olaf in a disguise. If I had a dollar for every time an adult was naive in this show, I would probably have the equivalent of the Baudelaire fortune.
Somehow, Klaus is back to his dazed and confused and very obedient state. Smells like hypnosis at Lucky Smells Lumbermill. This time, Klaus does not snap out of it before causing a horrendous accident due to his dazed behavior and limited knowledge of lumber mill equipment. RIP Phil’s leg. At least the employees have half-price hospital visit coupons. This has all caused an “inordinate” amount of chaos at the mill and stress in the Baudelaires lives, now that there is a threat that Sir will send them away. Shirley reveals that she just so happens to want to be a mother to three sad orphans.
It’s revealed that Sir has a deal with Dr. Orwell and “Shirley.” While Sir wants to have the orphans as workers because they’re an economic bonanza, he isn’t willing to keep them around if they cause problems. So Dr. Orwell and Shirley decided to start causing problems. Like having Klaus break a worker’s leg while hypnotized and operating heavy machinery. But Klaus isn’t the only one being hypnotized. Orwell has her claws deep into Charles too. Not sweet, oblivious Charles, who now hates the children thanks to Orwell’s evil doings! At least Klaus is back to normal and the children begin to research and read about hypnosis and try to figure out how to stop it.
Ah but we’re not out of the woods yet. Someone sneaks into the dorms in the middle of the night and lucky boy Klaus is back at it again, being a weird, zombie-like person. Violet notices his absence and, hearing noises coming from the lumbermill, goes to find her brother. Olaf/Shirley is there with poor Charles tied to a log and Klaus is operating the saw that will bring him to his untimely death unless they can break the hypnotic trance. Violet is able to figure it out there! Inordinate! Inordinate snaps Klaus out of the hypnosis. Charles is saved. Dr. Orwell is not so lucky, having fallen in the furnace. But the lumbermill is on fire?! The lumbermill is on fire! And so is the Quagmire house.
With one villain out of the picture, Mr. Poe comes to the “rescue” (if you could call it that). The Baudelaires find out the truth that their parents were not responsible for the fire at Lucky Smells Lumbermill. Sadly though, as usual, Olaf gets away and leaves a trail of misery behind him. At least now the workers at Lucky Smells, who were also hypnotized by Dr. Orwell, so that Sir did not have to pay them, now have their free will back. The children are now off the boarding school and while they don’t know it yet, they are about the meet some very important people.