A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Life is a conundrum of esoterica. As Klaus explains, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery’s (a terrific Aasif Mandvi, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) phrase of choice is in reference to life being a mystery ubiquitous with obscure objects or documents. The lives of the Baudelaire orphans certainly fulfills that phrase. They’re being tossed from place to place, constantly put at the mercy of a system that is supposed to protect them but is being run by individuals who are nothing but terribly inept. The system is thusly rendered useless, unable to protect the very individuals who need its protection the most. The Baudelaires are sharp, quite sharp in fact but their intelligence and unity by themselves aren’t enough to keep them safe. The dark irony is that they ought not to be in the predicament of having to save themselves at every juncture. They’re children. The weakness of the series so far in its early days, made all the more clear by this stronger set of episodes, is that it at times forgets that it is the story of the conundrum of esoterica facing the Baudelaires where the Baudelaire children are the emotional core. The children never had the time to really process in the show so far that they lost their parents, that one day they went to Briny Beach and all of a sudden were made aware by an idiot that their parents were dead and their home had been burnt to ashes. When they get those precious moments of understanding in the episodes adapting the second novel, The Reptile Room, the relative absence of that in the first two installments is made more glaringly obvious. Perhaps it’s the arrival of a guardian that actually treats the Baudelaires with a degree of understanding and kindness without being condescending that brings out those feelings, but the demise of the Baudelaire parents and how that makes their children grieve is felt here in a way The Bad Beginning installments weren’t able to completely accomplish.
Dr. Montgomery was the man to whom the Baudelaire parents had entrusted the care of their children and it isn’t difficult to see why they would do so. He’s a thoroughly charming man, inquisitive and understanding in a way a proper parental figure ought to be. His profession of herpetology is inherently intuitive to the inquisitive nature he possesses, the inquisitive nature that allows for a scientist to blossom and what allows him to see past Count Olaf’s disguise as his new assistant Stephano. That he sees past that disguise injects the story with a burst of energy, one that creates an excitement that builds before it is struck by Lemony Snicket’s narrative conjecture that this kind guardian was nevertheless fated to a horrific demise. That narrative conjecture brings forth a thorough sense of sadness to the story, making the final night the Baudelaire spent calmly and peacefully feel thoroughly tragic. It becomes even more so after the children had accepted their new guardian, had come to some sense of acceptance that their parents weren’t coming home. It’s a tough realization and an incredibly tenuous place to be. To see it so thoroughly torn asunder is heart-wrenching and the tears the Baudelaires choke back upon seeing Dr. Montgomery’s dead body bring the tragedy that opened the series into a deeper, more desperate understanding. Klaus had rightfully been quite wary of Dr. Montgomery at the beginning, as the Baudelaire parents had never mentioned him and Count Olaf had made him weary by himself. To see his growing trust slaughtered by the poison of the Mamba du Mal is cruel, but that is the way of this series.
The balancing of tone is critical here, as the series is a thorough mix of the absurd and the tragic. The comic espionage narrative has to be weighted equally (and I would argue less so) than the abuse and neglect foisted upon the young Baudelaires. Harris’s portrayal of Count Olaf and the show’s presentation of him is especially key. He has to be equally hilarious and threatening, the former of which wins out when he tries to kill Dr. Montgomery with a lamp but the latter of which critically is displayed when he actually succeeds in murdering him. It’s the first murder Count Olaf has actually committed in the series and it’s given the proper weight of terror. He’s still darkly comedic, but there is from this point forth a critical understanding is established that Count Olaf will kill in cold blood when necessary because the pursuit of the Baudelaire fortune is just that critical in his mind. After the murder, The Reptile Room’s second installment becomes an absurd sort of procedural as Count Olaf does his best to put off Dr. Montgomery’s death as a freak accident and the Baudelaire children do their best to ensure that the accident is proven to be the murder that it truly is. Klaus’s reading skills, Sunny’s biting skills, and Violent’s inventing skills all come together to solve the puzzle, even if the hows themselves could have used more emphasis and attention. The murder is proven but Count Olaf escapes in the nick of time, in part thanks to Mr. Poe’s continuing bafflement at how to handle the critical proceedings that are occurring all around him. Jacquelyn, hiding in plain and not so plain sight as a statue, gives the Baudelaires the advice to go to a woman named Aunt Josephine. The Baudelaires do so, leaving behind yet another home that had promised to be theirs, that had promised to warm, loving, and kind. The cruelty is seemingly limitless.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (The Reptile Room – Part One):
+The Incredibly Deadly Viper
+“I prefer long-term television.”
+The spy reading of the screen was fantastic
+The production design on the sets on this series is sublime. This two-parter is overall a visual improvement over the first, where there was a bit too much CGI, especially in the wide shots.
+To see characters so thoroughly in love with reptiles is heart-warming
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (The Reptile Room – Part Two):
+Mr. Poe and the accident
+“Hmm, fleeing the scene of a crime? Highly suspicious.”
+“The adults will take care of it from here.”
+“Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”
+Sunny and the Incredibly Deadly Viper
+The battle of weaponry was hilarious, as was especially the harpoon gun (great foreshadowing there)
Episode Title: The Reptile Room – Part One
Written by: Daniel Handler
Directed by: Mark Palansky
Episode Title: The Reptile Room – Part Two
Written by: Emily Fox
Directed by: Mark Palansky
Image Courtesy: Mashable
Every review from now on will have links to organizations who are in need of resources. Please contribute if you are able:
Syrian Refugee/Refugee Crises
Women’s Reproductive Rights