The Lego Batman Movie: Review & Discussion

With the success and unexpectedly smart meta-writing of The Lego Movie, as well as my passion for all things Batman, I have been awaiting the release of The Lego Batman Movie for quite some time. And I am glad to say that it did not disappoint. Keep in mind the most important part to me of any movie is always the writing. I will touch a bit on art style here, but what makes this movie truly shine is not just how good it looks–which, to be fair, it looks amazing–but what the movie used its time to say.

The movie begins before the images actually appear onscreen. Will Arnett, voice of Batman, opens with “All important movies start with black.” True to the meta-writing style of The Lego Movie, Lego Batman is completely aware that he is in a movie and this is his opening. As a character, Lego Batman is self-important, self-righteous, self-serious, angsty, arrogant, and “dark”. From his clothes to his self-perceived attitude, Lego Batman believes he is God’s gift to mankind– the coolest, smartest man in the known universe, and he deserves exactly all of the hype that the citizens of Gotham bestow upon him.

Lego Batman is a parody of every “serious” Batman written in the past fifty years, beginning with Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” and more recently Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. In fact, The Lego Batman Movie takes special time and attention to single out Nolan’s movies for criticism beginning in the title sequence. Utilizing the steely-grey Warner Bros. logo and clouded background that opened The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Will Arnett grunts his approval in his carefully crafted “pretentious, gravelly, edge-lord” voice that is also derivative of the Nolan movies and the absurd voice Christian Bale made famous during his tenure as Batman and Ben Affleck seems to have continued in Batman vs. Superman 

Halfway through the movie, Alfred remarks that Batman has been going through a strange phase as of late–though he does take time to mention all the previous “phases” Batman has gone through over the years as movie posters and the title screen for Batman: The Animated Series scrolls by in the background. “And then there was the 60s,” Alfred mentioned, during which the movie cuts to a clip of Adam West’s 1960s live-action Batman show.

Though The Lego Batman Movie is soundly a Lego Movie, from art style to the utilzation of villains from other properties Lego has the rights to, The Lego Batman Movie is most concerned with being a Batman movie. By referencing all the previous film incarnations of Batman, The Lego Batman Movie makes a very clear statement that this movie is a direct inheritor of the Batman franchise’s legacy. Though these many invocations are used for critique, this movie avoids a common pitfall with satire in that instead of simply critiquing the ridiculousness of the “ultra-self-serious, ‘I work alone’ Batman,” the movie offers up an alternative interpretation of Batman that it argues is a more fulfilling and ultimately more heroic Batman than the Batman we’ve seen grow increasingly dark and violent over the past 50 years.

The first sequence of the movie would seem to support Lego Batman’s ideas that he has an active and fulfilling life–it is flashy, busy, and everything is about him. Every villain and his brother has teamed up to plant a bomb under Gotham City. Batman reveals himself to the villains and starts a self-made mix on his iPod in order to beat them up to it. The song that plays features Patrick Stump (lead singer of Fall Out Boy, for those of you unaware) doing a SPOT ON Batman impersonation. The lyrics include Batman praising himself incessantly–for everything from “never missing leg day” to “being the coolest”. Once it is just Batman and the Joker left standing, Joker reveals the whole plan was an elaborate ploy to convince Batman to have to choose–between finally capturing him, his “arch nemesis” of 78 years, or saving Gotham. Joker was not, however, expecting Batman to say that he, “Doesn’t do [relation]ships,” or “wouldn’t say Joker is his number one villain,” that he’s “fighting a few different bad guys right now,” and that he, “like[s] to fight around.” With Batman’s final assertion, “You mean nothing to me,” Joker flies away on the verge of tears, utterly heartbroken, and suddenly I entered this weird alternate reality where Joker has more humanity and heart to him than Batman.

Batman goes on to disarm the bomb, save the day (or eternal night in Gotham’s case), and bathe in the fanfare Gotham’s citizens supply him. After shooting some Batman merch into a crowd of orphans where Dick Grayson makes his first appearance, Batman returns to the Batcave. The fanfare is gone, not even background music plays as Batman greets the Bat-computer with “I’m home.” His exclamation echoes off the cavern walls. Batman heats up his lobster dinner in a microwave in Wayne Manor and eats by himself. He stares at the Wayne portrait gallery hanging on another expansive wall of a suspiciously empty room, and ends up in an equally large home theater, surrounded by empty seats, watching romantic comedies and laughing at the protagonist’s professions of love and companionship. Looking around he realizes, somewhat pathetically, he’s the only one there to laugh. In the trailers, much of this sequence was featured punctuated by “One is the Loneliest Number”–which is fine for a trailer, but this sequence is perhaps made more poignant by the complete and utter silence of the movie. The loneliness and emptiness that pervades every scene where Batman is home succinctly argues the whole case The Lego Batman Movie makes regarding a necessary change Batman as a character needs to take: Batman needs a supporting cast. Movies like The Dark Knight, in elevating Batman to a symbol, have completely robbed Batman of his humanity–including his need, as a human being, as Bruce Wayne, to connect with others. When Bale’s or Affleck’s Batman inevitably goes home at the end of a long night fighting crime by himself, Alfred has gone to bed, and the only thing waiting for him is a cold dinner. That is not glorious. That is not cool. It’s just fucking sad.

In deciding to treat Batman as a human being, and not just a “symbol,” the movie attempts to offer a reason for Batman’s active refusal to accept new people into his life. “You’re afraid of being part of a family again,” Alfred says to Batman. Though he denies it, this fear of losing those who want to be close to him becomes the hurtle Batman must overcome to save Gotham from a jilted Joker. Not only that, but Batman must come to terms with the fact that, in attempting to push people who care about him away, he has acted far less than heroic.

Overall, the writing of this movie was punchy, but also perceptive. This is probably the only Batman interpretation I’ve ever seen that has had the guts and understanding to label Dick Grayson Bruce’s son, not “ward,” and to label Alfred “surrogate father.” Those are the roles that these characters play in Bruce’s life, regardless of whatever their official titles are. Instead of just satirizing a character that, with all of the crappy, self-serious writing surrounding it has every reason to be satirized, they simultaneously poke fun as well as offer a solution to the problems of characterization that the Batman movies have suffered recently. Not just that, but the animation itself was flawless, the movie despite everything was still kid-friendly, and this is probably one of very few movies I will insist on buying in DVD/Blu-ray when it comes out.

GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Miserable Mill

The events of “The Miserable Mill” signal this season’s close. The Baudelaires find themselves not in a home, but in Lucky Smells Lumber Mill where–despite child labor laws–they are put to work by Charles and “Sir,” the owners of the lumber mill. Work at the lumber mill is arduous,tedious, and morally objectionable. Instead of salaries, they are paid in coupons; and instead of lunch they are fed chewing gum. The children try to comfort themselves by thinking surely, Count Olaf would not show up here, but alas, he does–and this time, he is joined by an ex-girlfriend, Dr. Georgina Orwell. He and Georgina join forces against the Baudelaires in an attempt to once again snag their fortune. Aided by Dr. Orwell’s talent for hypnosis, she and Olaf come very close to snagging custody of the Baudelaires once again. However, viewers may gain some satisfaction in knowing this time Olaf is run off by an angry mob, and not the witless Mr. Poe.

Zach

Of all the conclusions to this chapter of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, of all the terrible, horrible, painful things I thought would be inflicted upon them, I never once suspected this twist.  The reveal that Mother and Father were not, in fact, that Mother and Father was heartbreaking and perfectly executed.  From their initial introduction in the first episodes, to the introduction of the second set of children during this arc, the show-runners of A Series of Unfortunate Events, show their complete mastery of dramatic convention and knowledge of where exactly to press the audience’s heartstrings to keep them watching.  It was an incredibly bold choice, spending the whole series dragging out this plot line only to rip it out from under us, and then under the characters.  It is entirely fitting within the themes of the show: that there is no happy ending. Not for us, not for the Baudelaires, and not for Mother and Father.

While the audience mourns the loss of the false hope  that the Baudelaires might ever be rescued, the Baudelaires struggled at Lucky Smells Lumbermill.  Caught up in the dastardly schemes of a dastardly businessman, his weak-willed husband, and an even more dangerous foe in the personage of Dr.  Georgina Orwell (Catherine O’Hara), the actually competent ex-lover of Count Olaf.  Faced with a competent opponent for the first time, without any means of escape we see watch as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny learn that even without the shackles of societal expectation upon them, sometimes they just aren’t clever enough to overcome everything.  As the three pontificate on whether or not there’s any lesson learned during their misadventures, they conclude that their mission is and should remain:survive.  Survive Count Olaf’s schemes, survive the incompetence of their guardians, survive the malice of their future enemies.

Unfortunately the Mill plotline itself, and their struggles to clear their parents name, lacked the dramatic weight of their time at Lake Lacrymose.  While I found Sir and his partner Charles very funny, and I enjoyed the ever increasing scope of the conspiracy surrounding Count Olaf and the secret organization, I couldn’t help but feel, following the dramatic reveal about Mother and Father, that whatever information the kids got wouldn’t be meaty.  And it really wasn’t, at least not in terms of plot relevance. Instead, as I sit here thinking about it, what the kids really gained was a peace of mind. Despite all that their parents kept from them, they were ultimately good people.  They were still heroes and that is so important for the children and the audience.  It lets the kids know that no matter what happens, they can be rest assured that their parents loved them, that they were not in any way “like” Count Olaf, and that the kids’ conception of their parents is still valid. For the first time in the series, the absolutely worst possible thing which could happen to the kids doesn’t happen, instead they find some small amount of validation.

It’s an refreshingly hopeful lesson for our group of depressed young orphans to learn.  Yet at the same time the audience is not left without hope during the melancholic musical number which ties up in a dour, dark bow this season of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  The Buadelaires are not alone, they are not the only orphans without parents.  They are not the only victims of Count Olaf’s schemes.  Lemony Snicket is not dead.  The Baudelaires are not as alone as they might feel, and the next season promises to bring together three plotlines at play in what will almost certainly be a tragedy of unimaginable scale.  A Series of Unfortunate Events never compromises on the dark material it portrays, it makes no excuses, nor does it try to blunt the blows, yet at know point does the tragedy overwhelm the audience.  It’s a masterly-crafted tragedy from start to finish and it get’s a hearty recommendation from me.  I can’t wait for next season.

 

Katelyn

From the end of “The Wide Window” now throughout “The Miserable Mill” the show has made a number of important changes that do not effect the story of the Baudelaires so much as the interpretation of events.

After Aunt Josephine’s death, rather than wait for Poe to once again fail to capture Count Olaf and find themselves back in either of their care, the Baudelaires make a decision to go “off book” and seek out the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, where they have been led to believe they will find more information on their parents, the mysterious fire that killed them, and why all these supposed family friends were kept a secret from them. This is a significant departure from the books, in which the Baudelaires accept having to travel with Mr. Poe once again and having him assign a new guardian. The show’s choice thus tells us they have developed a different interpretation of the Baudelaire children than the books did. These Baudelaires have become emboldened by their experiences, and they have also become rightly distrustful of the adults occupying their world. They no longer trust Mr. Poe to look out for their interests. In fact I am recalling the end of The Reptile Room when they demanded to go live with their Aunt Josephine that they were already showing a desire to exert control over their lives that finally came to fruition here.

This gift of the Baudelaire’s agency also happens to soften, to a degree, the nature of how the Baudelaires end up at Lucky Smells Lumbermill. In the book, there have been no clues linking the mill to their parents or any dealing with them that the Baudelaires wish to follow; rather, “Sir,” the owner of the mill, has simply put in to have some children work for him. His mill is something I would liken to the poorhouse of Oliver Twist–practically a prison. He does not pay his workers, barely feeds them, and employs children. Consciously. Sought them out. It is much easier to watch children offer to work and have a mostly-despicable, somewhat-idiotic person accept their offer than to fathom for a brief moment we’ve entered a world where child labor laws no longer apply and a banker would hand over a teen, a preteen, and a baby to be put to work in a mill.

Speaking of notable changes, the not-so-subtle change to the text surrounding Sir and Charles’ relationship was rather refreshing. The language of the book never excluded the possibility of a gay relationship, and I have read that the nature of Charles preparing Sir’s omelettes and ironing his clothes, all details present in the book, had suggested to readers of the series that Sir and Charles might be in some sort of romantic partnership. Nonetheless, an explicit and humorous confirmation was much appreciated on my part.

The major thing I want to talk about regarding The Miserable Mill would be the “non-twist” regarding the parents we’ve been following since episode one. As someone who had read the books, I was incredibly perplexed by the introduction of those characters. Zach turned to me at the beginning of the series and said, “Wait. The Baudelaires’ parents are dead, right?” to which I replied, “Well. Maybe. They are definitely dead in the books but it might be different here.”

Because I’d noticed this trend for the series to try and alleviate some of the more painful events of the story, I thought perhaps this would just become a running thing–a light, witty background to give readers hope that the Baudelaires might not be as alone as they feel–that their parents were always just around the corner.

Well, I am happy to say that I was wrong and did not have enough faith in the writing of this series. In fact, their decision to con the audience into believing the Baudelaires and their parents were about to open a door and be reunited was executed brilliantly. But I think something that should not be overlooked in regards to this scene is what that scene so clearly establishes for the world of the Baudelaires–tragedy is not localized to the Baudelaires.

In an earlier scene, the Quagmire children–who begin to play a role in the series beginning in The Austere Academy onwards– are introduced early to contrast the Baudelaire’s current situation. Snicket mentions if you wake up to a butler bringing you fresh orange juice and blueberry pancakes, you’ll probably have a good day. If, however, you wake up in a mill to someone banging pots and pans together, you’re probably going to have a bad day. The Quagmires are the children that wake up to blueberry pancakes and orange juice; they still have it all. And the Baudelaires are the children stuck in a mill. However, it is that same night (or a very short time later) from a day filled with blueberry pancakes and reunions with their parents where the Quagmires’ house burns down in much the same fashion as the Baudelaires’.

These events signal to viewers the tragedy is not just limited to the Baudelaires. Though their tragedy is central to the narrative, it is not exclusive. We will be meeting more children, like the Quagmires, spending more time with those like Snicket who have experienced misfortune, and there will be no end to the number of evil people we encounter–like the person we catch a brief glimpse of responsible for the fire at the Quagmire mansion.

Ending the season on a somewhat cliched sing-song note reminding viewers happiness is “not how the story goes” was a little bit excessive in my opinion and really the only negative thing I have to say about it. The song lasted a little too long, was a little too repetitive, and did not seem to contribute to the story more than wrapping up where each of our characters are ending this season. It’s a callback to the opening of each episode, “Look Away,” sung by Neil Patrick Harris in an Olafian fashion–but I really did not feel like the whole cast needed to be brought in on it. I’m a fan of musicals, but considering there’d been no other occurrence of singing within the show that wasn’t one of Olaf’s performances, it felt very out of place, despite all the show’s best efforts to make it work.

That said, overall the show was exceedingly well done, and I eagerly await the next season, which has already been green-lit by Netflix.

Thanks for reading!

 

He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Wide Window

Episodes 5 and 6 of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events detail the events of the third book in the series by the same name in which the Baudelaires go to live with their kind but extremely paranoid and omni-phobic Aunt Josephine. Aunt Josephine is described as having once been a “fierce and formidable” woman who lost her edge when her husband, Ike, died. Now she lives at the top of a hill overlooking Lake Lachrymose in constant fear that she will catch a splinter in the door, her phone will electrocute her, or worse–real estate agents. Before the Baudelaires can get settled, Count Olaf and his terrible acting return once again, this time as “Captain Sham.”

Zach

At long last both the audience and the Baudelaire orphans get what they’ve wanted for so long.  Some answers.  A whole lot happens in this arc, but I am particularly drawn to the the growing abilities of the Baudelaire orphans and the continued mystery surrounding the secret organization which is responsible for much of the upsetting scenario which the children find themselves in.

As the series has progressed,the Baudelaires have grown less and less confident that anyone around them will be able to help them.  Even the “fierce and formidable” Aunt Josephine proves to be less than capable of helping them or seeing through Olaf’s disguise.  Rather than waiting for Count Olaf to kill their aunt as he did their uncle, the Baudelaires immediately set about attempting to both stop him and learn more about the mysterious, vaguely secret organization which appears to tie together their bizarre guardians with their parents and Count Olaf. Though their attempts are frustrated again by a literal force of nature, that the kids are finally taking their fate into their own hands is a delightful development. Violet in particular takes firm control of the situation as the eldest, working to keep her siblings safe, standing up to her Aunt Josephine, and being their biggest advocate against Count Olaf as he fools Poe for the third time.

I have to admit, Poe’s shtick is getting tired this far in.  I was so relieved when the kids ditched him to head off to the mill.  I doubt they will find the answers they seek there, but at least they’re taking the initiative and refusing to allow themselves to submit to his “care.”  The mill itself was a discovery on Klaus’ part, who spent this arc sifting through Aunt Josephine’s library in an attempt to find information on this vaguely secret organization that they’re just beginning to realize exists– and that just about everyone they’ve been involved with so far was in it.  The kids at last have some purpose, a goal to work towards outside of survival, though they may not like what they find out.

Speaking of learning: Lemony Snicket. Apparently he’s maybe dead?  And also a part of the mysterious, vaguely secret organization?  Our delightfully dreary narrator’s integration into the story raises a whole host of questions, and his relationship with Mother and Father, as well as the apparent scope of Count Olaf’s machinations.  There is more going on here than just a series of unfortunate events, but will the Baudelaire children figure it out before they lose the rest of their allies?  With Mother and Father swiftly converging on the children’s location, next episode is sure to be full of revelations both happy and distressing.

Katelyn

Thus far we’ve seen a very faithful adaptation of the source material from this TV series (excluding the references to VFD, which I will cover with “The Miserable Mill” post). However, with “The Wide Window” comes a very significant departure from the books. I am not someone who insists on complete and blind faithfulness to source text–especially when aspects of the source text can stand to be improved. That said, usually I would prefer a more strict adherence to text. In this case, I am old enough now to accept that the original Series of Unfortunate Events can be repetitive in nature and thus become monotonous for adults to read. As a child, the repetition was somewhat comforting; as an adult, trying to read through the same plot arc 13 times (as there are 13 books in the whole series), I quickly grow tired of: Baudelaires meet new guardian, Count Olaf shows up, no one believes them, Baudelaires foil Olaf’s plans, Mr. Poe takes them away, rinse and repeat. If the show had decided to follow the source text completely, no amount of witticisms from Patrick Warburton would’ve saved it.

So while I was expecting and–dare I say–hoping for some departures from the source text, I was not expecting to have a character like Aunt Josephine evolved like she was. I suspect part of the motivation for this evolution was an attempt to make the story a little easier to watch, and honestly I completely understand the writers’ motivation. I’ve noted to Zach on several occasions that they seem to be cushioning some blows in the show, like warning the viewer almost immediately that Uncle Monty would die so the audience had time to prepare. The books as they were could be incredibly heartbreaking; it was always one of my theories as a child that Snicket stopped writing sympathetic guardians for the Baudelaires after The Wide Window because watching so many good people die at the hands of Olaf would’ve become unbearable.

That said, Netflix’s series completely rewrote Josephine’s death scene to the point of rewriting Josephine herself, allowing her to die somewhat nobly–really, all anyone in this series can ask for. I’m going to let my English major show a little bit here now and quote the conversation leading up to Josephine’s death from the book so you can see how different it was in the show for yourself.

“Oh no,” she said. Her eyes were wide with fear. “Don’t throw me overboard,” she pleaded. “Please!…I promise not to say anything to Mr. Poe!” Aunt Josephine said desperately. “I’ll go someplace and hide away, and never show my face! You can tell him I’m dead! You can have the fortune! You can have the children! Just don’t throw me to the leeches!”

The Baudelaires looked at their guardian in horror. “You’re supposed to be caring for us,” Violet told Aunt Josephine in astonishment, “not putting us up for grabs!”

Captain Sham paused, and seemed to consider Aunt Josephine’s offer. “You have a point,” he said. “I don’t have to kill you. People just have to think you’re dead.”

“I’ll change my name!” Aunt Josephine said. “I’ll dye my hair! I’ll wear colored contact lenses! And I’ll go very, very far away! Nobody will ever hear from me!”

“But what about us, Aunt Josephine?” Klaus asked in horror. “What about us?”

–Lemony Snicket, The Wide Window p 187-189

Now to contrast this scene with Netflix’s show, Josephine’s life ends not only standing up and defending her newly-adopted children, but standing up for herself to Count Olaf, and saying she was ready to be fierce and formidable again. She manages to reclaim herself, and instead of sniveling and begging, becomes someone the Baudelaires can be proud to have called their guardian. But in rewriting Josephine, Netflix fundamentally rewrites the kind of adults we should expect from this world.

In the books, Josephine was the last “good” guardian–however, as you can tell, she is not even that. She is much too quick to give them up to save herself when, as their guardian, she should be the one protecting them from Olaf, not the other way around. (In the book Sunny, the baby, has positioned herself between Olaf and Josephine in order to protect Josephine. If that ain’t messed up I don’t know what is.) The books thus set the standard for the kind of adults the Baudelaires can encounter and clearly establish that the only ones looking out for them and their safety is themselves, and as such, they develop a very strong bond among themselves as they struggle to survive in a world of adults actively trying to take advantage of them, hurt them, or at best, ignoring them. The show has attempted to alter this worldview by rewriting characters like Josephine and by inserting characters like Mr. Poe’s secretary who assure the children (and more so the audience) that she will actively be seeking to help them from behind the scenes. The children, despite everything, do not feel quite as alone and helpless as they do in the books, and I think this subtle alleviation of bleakness has ultimately made the show more watchable. My only hope is that they do not go overboard and start to write too optimistically. This is a literal series of unfortunate events. Snicket’s warnings of tragedy and sorrow will become cheap if the show tries too hard to comfort its audience.

 

He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Reptile Room

On this edition of He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events, “The Reptile Room.” One of the most heartbreaking stories in the habitually horrible tales of the Baudelaire orphans, “The Reptile Room” is another two-part episode detailing the events of the second book of the series by the same name. The Baudelaire children are taken to live with Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, the guardian they would’ve been living with if not for the incompetence of Mr. Poe, the stupid-but-well-meaning banker and executor of their parents’ will. Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, or Uncle Monty for short, is an eccentric herpetologist that was a friend of the Baudelaires’ parents in life. But, alas, Count Olaf has not given up on attaining the Baudelaire’s fortune yet, and disguises himself as a new assistant of Uncle Monty’s named Stephano.

Zach

There’s a lot I appreciated about this arc, but a lot that indicates there may be future frustration on the horizon for A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Aasif Mandvi was a delight as Doctor Montgomery Montgomery, and his particular brand of guardianship was a welcome change of pace from the benign neglect we saw in the previous arc by Judge Strauss. Uncle Monty is well portrayed as a well-meaning, if a little eccentric, guardian for the Baudelaires, who is honestly intent on showing them how to navigate this strange and tragic world they now inhabit.  In particular it was nice for another adult to acknowledge immediately how awful Count Olaf’s acting is, which means Monty acts as a nice reprieve from the tragedy which always inevitably follows.

My only complaint about Uncle Monty is that he is only with us for a such a short time before dramatic irony intervenes and threatens to reset the status quo once again.  It’s a harsh lesson, but an important one as it firmly establishes to the orphans and the audience that the only ones they can rely on are one another.  The other focus of this arc involves Mother and Father escaping from whatever dastardly trap Count Olaf set for them and setting off to find and rescue their children, with the other members of their organization attempting to alert Monty and enlist his aid.  As someone who was worried that the show would get repetitive in regards to the children’s frustrated attempts at working their way out of this situation, I am happy to see that there is a larger plot at play here beyond Olaf’s greed.

It is only frustrating that, halfway through the series, the Baudelaire orphans still know as little about the secret organizations and conspiracies as they do.  I worry that the payoff for these sequences might be something Sonnenfield and co. are holding off for next season, which would be supremely frustrating. It is disheartening to watch the children be continually frustrated by their age and continually be put in danger because of the idiocy of the adult community.  I understand that this is done so purposefully, both because unfortunate things ought to happen in a show called A Series of Unfortunate Events, and also because its a key part of the series critique on the ways in which “polite society” is complicit in the horror and abuse inflicted upon the most neglected members of our communities.

Men like Mr. Poe are not evil, in fact they likely see themselves as good men.  Yet his refusal to take the children seriously, to always believe the adult in the room, is repeatedly a tacit acceptance of the abuse and violence inflicted on the children.  Mr. Poe stands in for every adult who has ever turned a blind eye to injustice and violence because it’s “none of their business.”  It’s an excellently written criticism, and the audience feels the anger and frustration the Baudelaire’s feel at their own lack of agency in a world that is willing to look the other way to Count Olaf’s schemes if it gets them back before banking hours.  It is because of that frustration that I hope this does not become a recurring a scenario. We have seen Poe fail before, in this exact same way.   While the appeal of the show lies in the unfortunate events, I hope that the latter half of the season has a little more variety in how these events transpire.

Katelyn

Before we began watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, I told Zach one thing that I thought he needed to know about the story of the Baudelaires. Though our dear narrator Lemony Snicket often warns his viewers to “Look away” and stop watching the series–something which I might call a clever bit of reverse psychology if I believed in it–Mr. Snicket directs our attention towards the wrong cause of the sadness and misfortune that the Baudelaire children experience and that we, as viewers, react to.

The true tragedy in this series is not the despicable Count Olaf. He does terrible things; you cringe and curse whenever his ugly mug shows up in proximity to the Baudelaires. But the true sadness, the heartbreak, always derives from the fact that the people in the Baudelaires lives–those who could, those who should protect them–do not. It should not be the Baudelaires always figuring their way out of their terrible situations with inventions, research, and the occasional bite from Sunny. It should not fall on the Baudelaires to protect their guardian from the murderous plans of Count Olaf. But it always is, because the one rule of the universe the Baudelaires occupy is that adults never listen to children, even if they’re right, because of the simple fact that they are children.

Mr. Poe is the worst perpetrator of this pattern, because he and Olaf are the only constants in the children’s lives. I recall that by the end of reading the series as a child I had lost all respect or sympathy for Mr. Poe. Despite the fact the children were always right about Count Olaf’s disguises, his actions, his plans, Mr. Poe always ignored them because of the simple fact they were children. And his stubborn adherence to these ideals put the children’s lives in danger countless times. One of the saddest things I believe we have to watch in this series is not the children’s interactions with a murderer, but watching them plead and beg Mr. Poe to listen, only to be dismissed in the most nonchalant and callous manner imaginable–with a smile, a cough, a ridiculously scathing “Now Baudelaires you’re being rude little children. You’re obviously just hysterical,” and being sent up to their room. As if they are not terrified, nearly crying, begging, pleading. Go to your room.

Uncle Monty, though he is kind and well-meaning to a fault, is also guilty of this crime. Not nearly to the extreme degree that Mr. Poe is, but he believes that his own assumptions of Stephano’s true identity as a “spy” from the Herpetological Society, and not Count Olaf. It’s pure vanity, in fact. Instead of believing for one second this man was after his new wards, Monty believes it’s all about him. His reputation, his genius. I think his conceit even shows in the naming of The Incredibly Deadly Viper. It is a misnomer, he says, meant to pull a prank on those at the herpetological society who made fun of his double name Montgomery Montgomery. But Monty shows an awareness of the stigma against snakes; in attempting to seek a small bit of revenge for a largely harmless amount of teasing, he puts the life of The Incredibly Deadly Viper in danger because the adults are so willing to believe his misnomer, believe that it was The Incredibly Deadly Viper that killed him, not Count Olaf. It is Monty’s disbelief of the Baudelaire’s that costs Monty his life, and the viewers are left not just cursing Olaf, but cursing Monty for his vanity, his stupidity, his refusal to believe the Baudelaires just like Poe.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the relief of temporarily thwarting Count Olaf’s schemes never quite matches the cost. And I think something that this show has proved particularly adept at is explaining how in very few words. With Uncle Monty’s death, not only are the orphans once again homeless, but so are all the reptiles that Monty loved and cared for in The Reptile Room. One by one they are all carried out of the house and loaded into a van. And when Snicket comes on screen at the end of the episode to give one of his final monologues, the once-sunny and lively reptile room is empty. The cages gone, the bookshelves empty, and the dim light of the moon show