If you, like many other Netflix subscribers, are looking for a fun, joyous romp that is equal parts cathartic and thrilling, you are better off watching another season of One Day at a Time or some other relatively funny sitcom. In this latest installment of A Series of Unfortunate Events, there is nothing fun, nor joyous about the lives of the Baudelaire orphans.
When we last saw Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in season one, they had been shuffling from guardian to guardian due to the dubious schemes of the nefarious Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) — a one-time guardian eager to snatch the fortune their parents left behind. But aside from dealing with the grief of losing loved ones while escaping from a crazed villain, they also have to deal with the realization that their parents were not who they appeared to be.
Indeed, while A Series of Unfortunate Events finds strength in its zany visuals, colorful cast of characters, easter eggs, and darkly comic writing, its more prominent drawing point lies in its ability to approach weighty topics in ways both satirical and respectful. Season one, right to the first few books of the series, might have started with a Guardian-of-the-Week formula, but it’s served as a springboard to the issues explored in the new season.
From the adults the Baudelaires encounter to the things it chooses to satirize, the series takes a hard look at powerlessness in the face of adversity, particularly when everything seems to be against you.
The second season does a swell job of delving into the background of the VFD, the mysterious organization which plays backdrop to the Baudelaires’ misfortunes. While one could say it’s the enigma of it that drives the season further, it’s also what helps illuminate certain characters and their motives. From the get-go, the suffering the kids go through often feels unwarranted, seeing as they’ve done nothing wrong. But as the VFD storyline continues to unfold, it becomes clear that the Baudelaires were perhaps victims of circumstance — that they were, in a way, thrown into a life of misery from the actions of those before them.
From the adults the Baudelaires encounter to the things it chooses to satirize (a running list includes labor practices, the educational system, the elite mindset, governance, and hospital culture), the series takes a hard look at powerlessness in the face of adversity, particularly when everything seems to be against you. Even the most well-meaning of adults (season two brings back favorites VFD operative Jaquelyn Scieszka and Larry, Your Waiter) couldn’t prevent the children’s misfortunes, despite their best efforts.
But it’s also through this that the series delves into the morally grey ground. We begin to learn more about Count Olaf’s past and Esmé Squalor, one of the season’s standout characters. Indeed, they are reprehensible, but you begin to understand that their motivations for going after the Baudelaires might have some added weight. Not even Lemony Snicket, narrator and chronicler, is safe from scrutiny. Nor are the Baudelaire parents. As the series progresses, the line between noble and evil begins to blur, painting a complicated portrait in the face of all the shenanigans.
But in spite of how depressing the series trajectory appears, it nonetheless provides a glimmer of hope. When everything around them has failed, the Baudelaires manage to make the most out of the situation regardless, finding a way to succeed in even the direst of circumstances. They still keep a sense of nobility within them, never going so far as becoming villainous themselves or deliberately ruining other people’s lives.
Sometimes the good guys do resort to bad guy tactics, and sometimes the world will be against you for no reason. But just because the villains win doesn’t mean you should give up.
And this is perhaps what makes A Series of Unfortunate Events so endearing. Beyond the quirks, it examines real problems and scenarios, exaggeration aside. Sometimes the good guys do resort to bad guy tactics, and sometimes the world will be against you for no reason. But just because the villains win doesn’t mean you should give up.
Indeed, the lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are rife with grief and despair. But it’s also interspersed with small triumphs and moments of brilliance. While it could be speculated that their lives would have foregone such misery under different circumstances, for now, the Baudelaire chronicles serve as a reminder to keep going, keep questioning despite the odds. That perhaps at the end of it all, one could find the world is quiet there.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is now streaming on Netflix.