All good things must come to an end. The same remains true for unfortunate things, too. Even A Series of Unfortunate Events must come to an end. With season 3, that’s exactly what the Netflix adaptation on the Lemony Snicket series does. The books are pretty notorious for their lack of any kind of real resolution or concrete answers to the mysteries presented throughout the series. So, with that in mind, how does the show handle the ending? The answer: much the same, but a bit different. Featuring a bit more resolution than what was found in the books, season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events brings the somewhat uneven series to a satisfying conclusion.
Season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events adapts the final four novels of Lemony Snicket’s acclaimed novels. The series follows the Baudelaire orphans – Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith / Tara Strong (voice)) – after they’ve suffered a terrible tragedy: the deaths of their parents and the destruction of their home. The orphans are sent to live with Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a villain who will stop at nothing to obtain their fortune. Their journey will take then into the wilderness of a snowy mountain, to the depths of the ocean, to a mysterious hotel, and all the way to a deserted island. There are no happy endings in this story, so what will become of the Baudelaire orphans?
I stopped reading A Series of Unfortunate Events somewhere around book eight or nine, so this season featured my first exposure to the final four stories of the series. To be totally honest, the first two stories of the season – The Slippery Slope and The Grim Grotto – reminded me why I stopped reading the books around that time. Everything was starting to feel like more of the same. The Baudelaires would end up someplace new, only to find that Count Olaf was there. They’d have to thwart his schemes, which they’d do, and then escape. Lather, rinse, repeat. The same rings true for the TV adaptations of those stories. This problem started appearing during season two but was mostly forgivable thanks to the additions of a number of subplots not present in the novels that helped expand the overarching mystery of V.F.D. This season tries to do that, but as there are so many questions we’re wanting answers to as the season starts, it’s hard to sit through four episodes that feel like stuff from last season in order to get to the juicy bits of the story. It’s not that those first four episodes are bad, far from it, and they do feature some nice little tidbits that do bring us closer to answers, but it was just hard to really get excited about this season until we reached The Penultimate Peril.
That being said, there is a whole bunch of stuff that happens in those first four episodes that are good, exciting, and important to the overarching story. We’re introduced to two new characters, The Woman With Hair But No Beard (Beth Grant) and The Man With a Beard But No Hair (Richard E. Grant), who are revealed to be the ones who ultimately swayed Olaf to the fire-starting side of V.F.D. They prove to be pretty sinister villains who play an important role in future episodes. Their presence also gives Neil Patrick Harris some new emotions to imbue Olaf with. Through the inclusion of The Woman With Hair But No Beard and The Man With a Beard But No Hair, we begin to truly see how insecure Olaf is and how much he craves attention, affection, and reassurance. He was starved of it by his parental-figures and now he acts out in order to get something close to it. It adds an interesting new layer to the character that ultimately pays off in a really satisfying way in the finale. Also introduced/expanded upon in these first four episodes are the Sugar Bowl and the Medusoid Mycelium, two things that will prove very important as the series wraps up.
Episode five of this season, The Penultimate Peril – Part 1, is where all the events of the entire series start to come to a head. A mysterious “J.S.” invites pretty much everyone who’s ever encountered the Baudelaires to a rendezvous at the Hotel Denouement. Kit Snicket (Allison Williams) recruits the Baudelaire orphans to infiltrate the hotel and uncover the identity of “J.S.” so they can determine whether the mysterious person is a friend or a foe. The episode plays out like a murder mystery for a while as the orphans follow the hotel managers Frank and Ernest (both played by Max Greenfield) and uncover the real identity of “J.S.”: Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack). It turns out that Justice Strauss felt guilty for the role she played in The Bad Beginning and dedicated her life to researching and following the Baudelaires as they went from place to place. Now, she has gathered all the members of V.F.D. in the Hotel Denouement in order to place Count Olaf on trial for his crimes. Meanwhile, multiple V.F.D. members have enacted a plot to capture the Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really get resolved, but the bowl is kept out of the hands of Count Olaf and Esme (Lucy Punch), so I guess that’s something.
The real resolution comes in episodes 6 and 7 (The Penultimate Peril – Part 2 and The End, respectively). Episode 6 features Count Olaf’s trial (and the predictable outcome of it), but it also provides us with some of the most concrete answers we’ve gotten in the whole series. Esme and Olaf finally reveal to the children why they want the Sugar Bowl and just what their mother did to them that made them hate her so much. This is revealed to us in a flashback scene where we see Beatrice (Morena Baccarin), Esme, Lemony (Patrick Warburton), Olaf, and Kit all at an opera. Beatrice wants to steal the Sugar Bowl in order to protect the world from the Medusoid Mycelium, and she does so, causing Esme to become very upset with her and launch a poison dart at her. Lemony and Beatrice retaliate, but Olaf’s father is caught in the crosshairs and one of their darts kills him, inspiring a deep hatred for the Snickets and the Baudelaires in Olaf and Esme. By the end of the episode, Olaf has kidnapped the orphans, burnt down the hotel, and escaped to sea with them.
Episode 7 provides us with even more answers as the Baudelaires and Count Olaf find themselves stranded on an island led by the mysterious Ishmael (Peter MacNicol). Ishmael, it turns out, was the original founder of V.F.D. and, after the schism, retreated to this island and started his own commune. At some point in the past, the Baudelaire parents had come to the island and invented a cure/vaccination to Medusoid Mycelium in sugar form that they hid in the Sugar Bowl. Count Olaf releases the Medusoid Mycelium onto the Islanders, inadvertently infecting Kit Snicket (whom he didn’t realize had crashed on the island, too). Kit is unable to take the cure because it has negative effects on unborn children, so she dies while giving birth to her daughter – whom she and the Baudelaires name “Beatrice”. Olaf tries to save Kit and ultimately dies from wounds he’d suffered at the hands of Ishmael. The Baudelaire orphans and Beatrice eventually escape the island for destinations unknown. The episode (and the series) ends with a scene that (sort of) adapts The Beatrice Letters, with Beatrice Baudelaire II finally meeting up with Lemony Snicket and telling him the full story of the Baudelaire orphans. It’s a touching ending and the whole episode is surprisingly genuine and emotional. It wraps everything up nicely, leaving some mysteries unanswered but enough mysteries solved that it all feels very satisfying.
I really really enjoyed this adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s books. They did everything an adaptation should do correctly: they respectfully told the story of the source material in the best format for the medium while also expanding on that source material and tying everything together a bit neater than the books did. The addition of the V.F.D. subplots planted earlier in the TV series than it was in the books really helped tie everything together in the end as a lot of the groundwork had already been laid. The season contained the same quality of acting, set design, directing, music, and writing that the previous two seasons had. While the first episodes suffered from the repetitive nature found in the novels, the final three episodes were the best of the series. They offered plenty of closure, answers, emotions, and really fun scenes. All in all, these three seasons were an excellent adaptation of a lovely book series. I absolutely recommend it.
4.5 out of 5 wands