A Series of Unfortunate Events 1.05-1.06: “The Wide Window” Review

Fierce and Formidable

A Television Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

The unfortunate saga of the Baudelaire orphans has been an interesting one till this juncture but it reaches its most intricate, dizzying heights in “The Wide Window”. The two-parter focusing on the Baudelaire’s tumultuous journey near Lake Lachrymose is the most tightly focused yet, giving the protagonists the full spotlight and earning prodigious narrative rewards in return. A part of that return is because “The Wide Window” benefits from a world whose basics have already been constructed. “The Bad Beginning” and “The Reptile Room” suffered due to the dizzying character introductions, world-building, and the construction of the conflict revolving around what appears to be a battle between two secret organizations. While the tonal balance and the acting were excellent, all of that scattered focus left a bit to be desired in terms of narrative and character coherence, especially when it came to Uncle Monty and his relationship with the secret organization the Baudelaire parents were involved in. In the second part of “The Reptile Room”, however, the story smartly began to shift towards the Baudelaire orphans themselves and the show gained a greater degree of focus as a result. The second primary reason “The Wide Window” works so well is that it breaks the formula of the Baudelaire orphans having to simply go along with guardians Mr. Poe has foisted upon them. It’s only happened thrice, but within a season of television, the repetitiveness of going from one guardian to the next could become quite old and quite quickly at that. The Baudelaire orphans rejecting Mr. Poe’s remarkable and frankly fatal ineptitude to take their destinies into their own hands is the most exciting moment of the series so far as the first season looks to wrap up with “The Miserable Mill.”

There’s something about the setting at the dreadful Lake Lachrymose, a beautiful lake under the eyes of someone not terrified of virtually everything, that elevates this two-parter above the previous two. Perhaps it’s the overall emphasis on a vast setting more germane to sweeping natural cinematography, a vastness that also gives organic movement towards adding to the sense of isolation the Baudelaire orphans feel. Their newest guardian, the fierce and formidable Aunt Josephine (a terrific Alfre Woodard) is a woman who is no longer fierce and formidable in the way the Baudelaire children expected her to be. Yet her relationship with the VFD organization seems to be more understandable than Monty’s, which was wobbly at best when it came to his recognition of Count Olaf’s identity. With Aunt Josephine, it still doesn’t entirely make sense in how there VFD has lost touch with her over a long period of time, but hopefully that is answered at some point, even if Aunt Josephine does find herself in, well, not-alive circumstances. It does make sense, however, that Aunt Josephine detached herself from the agency after she suffered a massive personal tragedy with the loss of her husband Ike to the Lachrymose Leeches. Perhaps there was a part of her that knew (as it is strongly hinted at in the two-parter) that Count Olaf was responsible for her husband’s gruesome demise. But regardless of why she did so, she became over time thoroughly terrified of everything, from real estate agents (that part is understandable if you’re in a gentrified neighborhood) to doorknobs (because as she notes, they could shatter at any moment and the shards of crystal could embed themselves in your eyeballs). This being A Series of Unfortunate Events, that tendency to fear essentially everything is taken to an extreme end at points (the doorknobs, for example). There is a redemption of some sort for her as a guardian, however, as she sticks up for the Baudelaires in a moment of true gumption, returning the favor as the orphans had given her that strength to begin with. It is unfortunately her last moment, as Count Olaf shoves her overboard, leaving her to be devoured by the Lachrymose Leeches.

There is an aspect to this series, one ostensibly created for children, that is considerably dark and it harkens back in a sense to the despair of old fairy tales before they were transformed (for better and for worse) into much happier Disney tales. The Bad Beginning had a bizarre aspect to it that worked in its favors, but the murders of Monty and Josephine work to create a real sense of consequences, a sense that at times may have been overshadowed by clever wordplay and spy wonkiness. The death of Josephine strikes as being particularly despicable, however, as she is physically torn apart by terrifying creatures. Perhaps it wouldn’t have struck such a chord if the design of the creatures hadn’t been on full display earlier. It simply is difficult to get the images of those teeth gnawing through a person out of one’s mind during the sequence, another tragedy that once again leaves the Baudelaires alone in this fairly terrible world. The dynamism of the Baudelaires unfortunately isn’t nearly as exciting as the dynamism of the adults, but it is worth remembering that these are curious, quiet children who were raised that way and never had the necessity of really behaving otherwise. There’s certainly a significant amount of grief that the Baudelaire orphans were saddled with, grief that is certainly understandable consider the sheer shock of losing their parents out of nowhere. As they approached their third guardian, however, the Baudelaires had grown more of a spine and sharpness out of sheer necessity if nothing else, which is especially impressive considering how thoroughly incompetent the adults have proven themselves to be in this universe. By the time Aunt Josephine’s (a terrific Alfre Woodard) thorough mortification of essentially everything in the living, breathing universe is revealed, the children have simply had enough. The illusion of the experienced, reasonable adult had fallen away quite considerably. The children bring their own intuitions and cleverness to the forefront to not necessarily save the day, but at least save themselves some bit of hope for the future.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (The Wide Window – Part One):

+Lachrymose News

+“We’re allergic to peppermints” The offside foreshadowing is quite well-done here

+Klaus sticking up for boys playing with dolls while Violet imagines her to be Marie Curie

+“Very fresh dill”

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (The Wide Window – Part Two):

+Poe had a good idea! But he’s a supporter of the school voucher system, so never mind

+The Melville obsessed cab driver is the best

+Plethora and phantasmagorical

+Lake Lachrymose, outside of the leeches, is indeed quite picturesque at night

+“Vastly frightening decision”

+“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person that walked in. …You won’t be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over.”

-The sequence of the house breaking in the storm was a bit too much

Brilliant

9/10

Episode Title: The Wide Window – Part One

Written by: Daniel Handler

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Brilliant

9/10

Episode Title: The Wide Window – Part Two

Written by: Daniel Handler

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Image Courtesy: Netflix

Musings:

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

Preemptive Love Collection

World Vision

International Refugee Assistance Project

World Relief

White Helmets

Syria Relief

International Rescue Committee

Hand In Hand for Syria

Karam Foundation

Portland Refugee Support Group

Lutheran Community Services Northwest

Catholic Charities of Portland

Workers’s Justice

Interfaith Worker Justice

Voz Workers’s Rights Education Project

Medical Justice

Doctors Without Borders

The Syrian Medical Society

Women’s Reproductive Rights

Planned Parenthood

Center for Reproductive Rights

Environmental Justice

Neighbors for Clean Air

350 PDX

Natural Resources Defense Council

Friends of the Columbia Gorge

Columbia Riverkeepers

Sierra Club

OPAL Environmental Justice

Northwest Environmental Defense Center

Greenpeace

Audobon

Crag Law Center

Green Lents

Racial Justice

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice

Don’t Shoot Portland

LGBTQIA Rights

The Trevor Project

Q Center

GLAAD

Friendly House

Equity Foundation

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Imperial Sovereign Rose Court

Human Rights Campaign

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