I’ve always hated goodbyes, my fellow Unfortunate friends. Yet, here we are. The last hurrah, the final bow, the end scene. Season one of A Series of Unfortunate Events comes to a close with The Miserable Mill: Part Two. Our plucky youngsters discover the mysteries behind Lucky Smells Lumber Mill and whether their parents played a significant role in its fate. Grab your debarker and don’t forget to sport your most melancholic frown, for the end is nigh upon us. Spoilers creep around with as much discretion as Count Olaf pretending to be, well, anyone.
We open in Mortuary Money Management with our constantly befuddled Mr. Poe (K. Todd Freeman), hacking a lung while surrounded with photos of the Baudelaires. His wife Eleanora Poe (Cleo King) is sitting with him, observing her husband endure a fit of hysterics. Poe laments that he’s called within 100 miles of Lake Lachrymose and no one has seen the children. He fears he will get fired for losing the Baudelaire orphans. Suddenly, the phone rings, causing poor Poe to jump with fright. But Mrs. Poe is having none of it. “Get a hold of yourself!” she demands after she slaps him. Mrs. Poe answers the call and proceeds to put the caller on speaker phone.
“Poe, this is Tamelane. I’ve received orders and I can’t let you go. But if you don’t find those orphans I’ll make sure you’re handing out cannolis to in continents on the new account, is that clear?” the caller says, making it pretty clear. The caller then asks Poe to “take it off.” No, not like that, you weirdos. We see Poe is wearing a pin that says “#1 Banker,” which he reluctantly removes while sobbing. “Let me know when you find the orphans,” the caller adds before hanging up. Poe promptly passes out. When he wakes, we see Mrs. Poe standing over him. “Leave it to me, Artie,” she says. She informs him she used to be an investigative journalist. “It’s time I got back to my roots,” Mrs. Poe proclaims excitedly as she leaves. Poe proceeds to faint again.
Later, our narrator Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) makes his entrance. “Seeing in black and white is often a way of saying someone looks at the world in an oversimplified and often incorrect way,” he tells us. Lemony then reminds us of everyone who lost their lives in the unfortunate tale of the Baudelaires – how their deaths were portrayed in the media versus what actually happened. He also tells us of two accidents that occurred at Lucky Smells Lumber Mill while the orphans worked there.
Meanwhile, Klaus (Louis Hynes) is sporting his new spectacles courtesy of Dr. Orwell (Catherine O’Hara) and Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). “Thank you. I can see,” Klaus states blankly. “Of course you can. I’m an excellent optometrist,” Orwell boasts. “Well, hello little girls, what are your names?” Olaf asks Violet (Malina Weissman) and Sunny (Presley Smith). “You know our names and that wig and lipstick don’t fool us,” Violet says with malice. Olaf introduces himself as Shirley, Dr. Orwell’s receptionist.
Sir (Don Johnson) and Charles (Rhys Darby) sidle up to them on their bike. “What’s all this? I don’t pay you in gum to stand around and gabber,” Sir says gruffly. “I hope you’re having a nice visit with our optometrist,” Charles adds politely. “Charles, listen, this woman is a notorious villain and she’s not a woman,” Violet tells him. Sir informs her that Dr. Orwell has provided free eye exams to employees for years. “And there’s nothing villainous about free healthcare,” he adds. “Clearly she’s a woman, look at her pantsuit,” Charles says. I’ll have my politics with a side of subtlety, thank you very much.
Olaf chimes in by asking Sir if he considered their proposal. While Sir dismisses the subject as nothing to concern Charles, the latter disagrees. “Doesn’t concern me? I’m your partner,” he protests. Orwell offers to give Charles an eye exam, as his vision appears to be “cloudy and color blind.” “Can’t have a cloudy, dull-eyed partner. How would you make my omelettes?” Sir asks. The latter offers Orwell and Olaf a ride on his bike. “What a nice lady,” Klaus comments, voice devoid of emotion. The Foreman voices over the intercom that visiting hours are over. Klaus immediately springs into action, running the stamp machine in the mill. Violet worriedly observes him.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Your brother is smiling,” Phil (Chris Gauthier) says encouragingly. “He would never operate a machine without reading the manual first,” Violet replies. The Foreman prods Klaus to move as fast as he can. Violet reveals to Phil that Dr. Orwell did something to her brother, that he’s “like a zombie.” When Phil mentions having seen a film titled “Hypnotists in the Forest,” Violet is struck with an idea. Maybe Klaus has been hypnotized! Well, we know this due to dramatic irony, but she doesn’t. Phil tells her to look on the bright side, as annoying optimists are wont to do. “Look on your right side!” a worker shouts at Phil.
Suddenly, we see a large crane hook is swinging to and fro due to Klaus’ operation of the stamping machine. It smacks innocent bystanders. Klaus pulls out wiring in said machine and it begins to malfunction. The machine knocks over the debarker, which crashes unceremoniously on the ground. Phil is unfortunately hit by the hook and the giant stamp falls on him.
Meanwhile, we see Jacklyn (Sara Canning) in a black and white film on TV: “Hypnotists in the Forest.” Lemony is watching said film. “Many people think hypnosis is only in scary movies,” he says. “Those people are wrong.”
Back in the mill, Phil shouts “I’m okay!” The stamp merely fell on his legs. “Code red!” The Foreman screams. We see Sir get up in his office. Klaus clambers down from the stamp machine. Everyone attempts to help Phil by lifting up the stamp, while hypnotized Klaus walks away. Violet ties her hair back, her pragmatic mind working overtime. She steals gum from another worker and uses it to fuse the severed wires in the stamp machine together. Violet is able to lift up the giant stamp via operation of the machine, revealing Phil’s very much severed leg. “Oh boy, half price pedicures for life!” he shouts giddily. Violet tells Phil he must go to the hospital, and the others agree to help.
Meanwhile, Sir enters the mill to see what the code red was about. “It can’t be fixed,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone. Charles follows him, saying Phil’s leg just needs some help. The Foreman points the finger at Klaus as having started the accident. “He said he knew how to operate heavy machinery,” the Foreman adds. “That’s not true,” Violet says, defending her brother. Sir then accuses the Baudelaires of returning to Paltryville to finish what their parents started. “Perhaps we should reevaluate our safety procedures. Or perhaps we shouldn’t let children near dangerous machines,” Charles says. Sir ignores this and threatens to send the Baudelaires away if they make another mistake. “This mistake has cost me an inordinate amount of money,” he adds.
Suddenly, we see the lights switch on in Klaus. It appears the word “inordinate” acts like a trigger for his hypnosis. He snaps back to reality. “It was an accident. Klaus didn’t mean to hurt Phil. I know it,” Violet tells Charles emphatically. She encourages Charles to speak up for himself if he can’t do it for them. “I’ve been a silent partner for too long,” he replies. “This mill has too many secrets…it’s about time you learned one about your parents,”Charles continues. Sir calls for him. “Meet me, after lunch, in the library,” he whispers to Violet.
Once Charles leaves, Klaus speaks up. “I don’t understand. Everyone is staring at me like I’m a pariah,” he comments, bewildered. Violet is happy her brother has returned. “What happened to Phil?” Klaus asks. “We need to talk,” his sister says.
Later, Lemony reveals a meeting that happened earlier. We see Sir sitting at his desk. “We have a good deal, you and I. You provide me with a steady stream of employees to practice my craft. I send them back after I’ve fixed how they see,” Orwell starts. Sir comments about the increased collective morale of his workers, how they’ve been positively impacted by the eye exams. Olaf is there, dressed as Orwell’s receptionist named Shirley. Shirley feigns dropping a pen to get a snippet of private conversation with his cohort. “Does he really not know how you make his workers so compliant?” Olaf asks. Orwell says Sir gets free labor and they split the profits 50/50. “You’re terrible and I love it,” Olaf comments, turned all the way on.
After this little exchange, Orwell encourages Olaf to tell Sir his story, as Shirley the poor receptionist. She’s just a poor worker who desperately wants children, “three of them to be precise,” he adds. Olaf accurately describes each of the Baudelaire children as those he wants, including Violet with “an enormous fortune, I mean bank account, I mean heart.” “It’s a moving story, but frankly, one that defies all belief,” Sir responds. He also mentions that he has three orphans in his possession having those exact qualities. Olaf immediately says he’ll take them. Sir refuses to part with them on the grounds they are an “economic bonanza.” The owner of Lucky Smells Lumber Mill proffers his only exception – he would give them away if they made a “costly mistake.” Olaf’s gears are turning at this.
Meanwhile, Violet and Klaus hash out what’s happened while the latter was under hypnotic influence. “I can’t believe it,” Klaus says. “It does sound like something from a scary movie,” his sister agrees. Violet mentions that Charles wants to help them. Klaus tells her if Orwell did something to his brain he has to fix it. The middle Baudelaire decides to go back to Dr. Orwell’s office. We see him walking alone, until Violet grabs his hand. “What’s that thing Samuel Beckett said?” Violet asks. “‘I can’t go on…I’ll go on,'” Klaus replies. “Let’s ‘go on’ together,” Violet says. Aw. Sibling love at its finest, folks.
Later, we hear Olaf sounding agitated on the phone. “Was it fatal? Just a leg? Call me when there’s a real maiming,” he demands, hanging up. Dr. Orwell tells Olaf to purchase her a new box of gloves. “Do I look like your receptionist?” Olaf asks in irritation. “Yes, now act like one,” Orwell retorts. In the midst of arguing the two draw their daggers on each other in tandem. “Perhaps some old flames are better snuffed out,” Orwell comments. “Georgina, you little minx,” Olaf coos in approval.
Meanwhile, our Baudelaires are closing in on the optometrist’s office. They climb a ladder, which deposits them at the eye-shaped window. Once inside, they ascend a staircase up another level. “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Partner trouble. But you know all about that, Charles,” Orwell says. Charles is strapped to the same chair Klaus occupied, wearing a vacant expression. “Yes, sir,” he replies, voice devoid of inflection. The Baudelaire kids are observing this interaction from above. Orwell initiates the hypnotic process, convincing Charles that him and Sir would be happier without the orphans around. Olaf makes his theatrical entrance. “I really wanna practice saying the secret words,” he whines. “Why? So you can take over and you won’t need me anymore?” Orwell replies.
As the two lovebirds continue to bicker, Klaus realizes he was hypnotized. He tells Violet that hypnotism is induced by a “trigger word” of sorts. Suddenly, Olaf averts his attention to the staircase. Our orphans seek refuge in a broom closet while the Count searches for the source of an apparent “noise.” Klaus looks behind him and is shocked by what he sees.
Then, our miserable narrator interjects with some melancholic wisdom. “We all have skeletons in our closet,” he starts. Lemony goes on to describe the figurative definition of the phrase. “Unless you’re a murderer or a taxidermist it is rare to have actual skeletons in your closet,” Lemony says.
Unfortunately, there are literal skeletons in the closet with the Baudelaires. “I’m sure many doctors have skeletons to study anatomy,” Klaus reasons. “But Dr. Orwell is an eye doctor. Skeletons don’t even have eyes,” Violet counters. So, you’re saying Orwell is potentially a murderer? I certainly wouldn’t peg her as a taxidermist.
Later, the trio trudges back to the employee dormitories. “We need to figure out the word that breaks the trance,” Violet says. Klaus asks her if she remembers said word that brought him back to reality. They temporarily argue over their next move. The tables have turned this time – Violet now wishes to run, while Klaus wants to help the mill workers break free from Sir. “Trying to run away, are ya?” Sir interrupts, catching them red handed.
While Sir has them cooped up in his office, he mentions a certain receptionist wants to adopt them, saying he can “vouch for her fully.” Violet tries to tell the lumber mill owner that Klaus is not responsible for the accident, that he was hypnotized like the rest of Sir’s employees. Later, Violet says they must discover the trigger word for the hypnosis or another accident could occur. Even worse, they could end up in the poorly manicured hands of Count Olaf…again.
Back in their dorm, Violet procures a rather large volume of the”Verified Functional Dictionary” for them to peruse in their research. Klaus begins reading every word listed alphabetically to test the hypnotic waters. Unfortunately, this results in a slew of irritated mill workers complaining about the racket caused by the Baudelaires.
Later, Klaus is fast asleep when a mysterious man shrouded in darkness whispers in his ear. “Lucky boy, would you like to get to work?” he asks Klaus in a sinister manner. “Lucky boy” turns out to be the catalyst for Klaus’ hypnosis. He rises and makes his way toward the lumber mill. Violet and Sunny are on his tail.
Meanwhile, we’re reunited with the Baudelaire parents in their exquisite mansion. “Things look bad,” Mom (Cobie Smulders) says. “Sometimes when things look bad they turn out to be worse,” Dad (Will Arnett) replies. They are reading an article regarding the Baudelaire fire. We see their “children” observing them, perplexed. “It’s time we mount a vigorous fire defense,” Mom declares. After dismissing the children’s inquires of fires, Mom puts them to bed. Dad pulls out the very same telescope that Klaus once owned. Outside, we see a parked car with a figure shrouded by a giant newspaper. Said person is clearly spying on the Baudelaire parents. A laser light shines indoors, catching a photo of the Baudelaire family on fire. The flames quickly spread and engulf the entirety of the mansion.
Later we see Olaf, still under the guise of Shirley, barking orders at Klaus. “You’ve been fortunate so far, you little twerp, but not anymore!” the Count proclaims. “You tell ’em, boss!” Hook Handed Man (Usman Ally) says, popping out of where the Foreman usually sits. We see poor Charles, hypnotized and tied to a log – one which will unfortunately meet a saw Klaus is operating. “Would you like to send that log into that saw?” Olaf asks him. “Yes, sir,” Klaus answers obligingly. Violet rushes inside, screaming Klaus’ name. “You’re just in time to see the accident,” Olaf tells her. Violet makes a break for the Count, but is impeded by Hook Handed Man. He hooks her (hee hee).
Meanwhile, Klaus turns on the saw. “I’m unstoppable!” Olaf shouts triumphantly. Hook Handed Man mentions the word “fire,” which seems to snap Charles out of his hypnosis. “Where am I? What’s going on?” he asks, frightened. Violet believes the trigger word is “fire,” and proceeds to shout it at her brother. He continues on his sawing path. “You will never find the word to save your brother,” Olaf sneers. Charles is moving, slowly but steadily, toward the fatal blade of the saw. Violet escapes the metal clutches of Hook Handed Man and goes inside the Foreman’s box. She screams “Fire!” over the intercom, which of course wakes everyone up. They all snap out of their hypnosis in tandem. The angry mill workers form a mob outside the building as Hook Handed Man attempts to bar their entry.
Little Sunny, meanwhile, commences chomping on Charles’ restraints. “Lucky, would you like to cut the log faster?” Olaf asks Klaus. “Lucky, would you like to reverse the direction of the log?” Violet counters, playing along. They engage in a battle over who can control Klaus. “Lucky, don’t listen to your sister,” Orwell demands, scooping up Sunny. She opens the furnace with one hand, while gripping Sunny precariously with the other. Hook Handed Man is fighting to prevent the mob from entering but is ultimately losing. “I don’t need a partner. I was better off alone,” Olaf says to Orwell. “Are you breaking up with me again?” Orwell asks incredulously. They bicker some more.
Suddenly, Violet is struck with a word: “inordinate.” Memories flood her of said word being used in multiple conversations. She shouts it at her brother. Her plan works, and “inordinate” breaks the trance. Orwell is not happy about this. “Now he’s no loner hypnotized,” she says. Klaus scrambles to stop the machine and unties Charles. “Put my sister down,” he demands Orwell. “You may have saved Charles, but there will still be a fatal accident at the lumber mill tonight,” Orwell replies. Then the mob overpowers Olaf’s henchman. Orwell, in surprise, tosses Sunny and accidentally falls into the furnace herself. Luckily, Violet catches the youngest Baudelaire. Olaf and Hook Handed Man escape.
“From now on, Count Olaf works alone,” Olaf proclaims as they flee the scene of the crime. Hook Handed Man helps his boss hoist himself over the fence and they disappear, like a thief in the night.
Meanwhile, Sir arrive at the mill. “I don’t recall assigning a night shift, but I fully approve,” he says, cigar in hand. “What do we want? Freedom!” the mill workers shout in unison as they surround the mill owner. Fortunately (or unfortunately) he also escapes.
Then, the next day brings in a bevy of reporters and photographers to the scene of the crime. Mrs. Poe giddily snaps a photo of the furnace that consumed Dr. Orwell for her newspaper. “Hypnosis? Child labor? Count Olaf in a dress? You children certainly have lively imaginations,” Poe says to children, chuckling. He goes on to inform them Mrs. Poe stumbled upon them by accident. Charles meets them for a last time before leaving. “Baudelaires, I want to thank you for saving my life,” he says. “You certainly are clever children,” he adds. He tells them he will search for Sir. As a parting gift, Charles imparts them with the missing page from Sir’s book detailing the events of the Paltryville fire. They discovered not only did their parents stop the fire, they helped save the survivors.
As they leave the mill they spot Positive Phil, lumbering about on crutches. “Look on the bright side – you’re alive!” he shouts gleefully.
Later, Poe is driving them to their next destination. He reveals he was promoted to Vice President of Orphan Affairs at the bank. He’ll be too busy to check in on them. “What’s our new guardian’s name?” Violet asks forlornly. Poe informs them he couldn’t find anyone to take them in. Instead, they are going to a boarding school. “It won’t be easy, but I promise you it will build character,” he vows. We see Prufrock Preparatory School loom before them, a vision of bleak grey structures. “The architect who built this school is severely depressed,” Poe informs them cheerfully. “I hope you find comfort here,” he tells the kids as he bids his farewells. Poe gives them a package they received from South America. The address belongs to Jacklyn, his former secretary.
After Poe leaves, the children immediately open the package. It contains the telescope Jacklyn promised to return to Klaus. He hopes Jacklyn might be able to help them. “Klaus, we’re on our own,” Violet says. The trio sits down on a bench. Little do they know, the children from the mansion are occupying the other side of said bench. They also have a piece of the same telescope with the strange eye symbol. The camera zooms in on a photo, which contains Lemony Snicket and Count Olaf. It appears they attended this school as well.
For a final button to the season, our melancholic characters sing a song of woe, about wishing for positive endings but reality gives us nothing but sadness. “This tale is all sorrows and woes,” they sing in unison. I can’t argue with that.
Overall, I enjoyed this show. I thought it had a solid first season, with plenty of quips and witty literary references to satiate my desire for said things. A Series of Unfortunate Events also boasted an impressive cast with talented supporting actors holding their own. Alfre Woodard! Catherine O’Hara! Rhys Darby! Not to mention, the children were exceptional for being relative newcomers. The rousing score and antiquated sets are reminiscent of Wes Anderson films, which is not a bad thing. Was I left with more questions than answers? Yes. Mainly, did the parents survive a second fire? Do I want another season? Also yes. Here’s hoping the Netflix gods grant our renewing wishes!
Thanks for reading!
A Series of Unfortunate Events is streaming on Netflix.