I’ve been very impressed with the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events since it debuted two years ago, so I was looking forward to seeing the newest season, covering the last 4 books. Every time I re-read this series, I tend to find myself getting a little bored toward the end. I have the habit of trying to read all 13 books back-to-back, so it’s not surprising that I start to get a little worn out toward the end. I was a bit apprehensive going into this new season because most of my favourite books in the series had already been covered. The Slippery Slope and The Grim Grotto have never been my favourites, but I was really looking forward to The Penultimate Peril, which I’ve always found one of the best. I was so glad to see that this season kept up the quality of the previous two, and ended very strongly!
Toward the end of the book series, the Baudelaire orphans have become more self-sufficient, breaking away from the pattern of moving from guardian to guardian and instead needing to fend for themselves and take care of each other. It brings up so many interesting moral dilemmas for them, as they try to decide how to survive and escape, without compromising their ideals. Season 3 picks up right where the previous season leaves off, with Violet and Klaus plummeting down a mountain behind Olaf’s car and Sunny in the villain’s clutches. Although this season included two books that tend not to grip me very well, I found the episodes very compelling and I loved the way the stories translated to the screen.
Like the previous seasons, Season 3 generally stuck pretty closely to the original source material, but there were a few key changes. In The Grim Grotto, for instance, the Netflix series excludes the Captain Widdershins character entirely, and instead delegates most of his role to Fiona. I’m usually put off when adaptations make such major changes to a story, but in this case I think it actually worked quite well. I honestly didn’t remember too much about Captain Widdershins as a character, so his absence wasn’t too noticeable. I also loved how the episodes gave a bit more background to Count Olaf’s past, and what led him toward the life of villainy that he has chosen.
Not unexpectedly, my favourite episodes of the season were both parts of The Penultimate Peril, which is one of my favourite books in the series. I thought this pair of episodes did an amazing job of bringing to life the bizarre Hotel Denouement, and bringing in all the previous characters who the Baudelaires had encountered. I thought these episodes did a brilliant job of showing the moral complexities of the characters, raising the questions of whether noble people might sometimes act in ways that seem villainous. A recurring line that kept coming up seemed to be “But what choice do we have?” when the children were met with the difficult decision of whether to do something they felt was wrong. I was also especially impressed with The End, another book in the series that I’ve always felt a bit underwhelming. I thought the adaptation did a fantastic job of bringing that part of the story to life in a way that I never felt with the book, even if it was quite condensed into one episode instead of the usual two, with elements of The Beatrice Letters also mixed in.
Every season, one of the main highlights for me has been the brilliant casting decisions. This season was no exception, although there seemed to be fewer brand new characters overall. I was slightly disappointed not to recognize any familiar faces among the new characters. Of course it is not necessary to have actors who I was already familiar with in order to enjoy the show, but it was always a lot of fun to recognize someone (ie. Mindy Sterling from the Austin Powers movies as a Village Elder in The Vile Village). Of course, I realized afterwards that a few of the actors were actually very well-known from other TV series, so I think it just goes to show my own complete lack of awareness of current TV. The main addition as of this season was Allison Williams (best known for her role on Girls) as Kit Snicket, who made a brief appearance toward the end of Season 2 but became a much more prominent character this time. Kit Snicket was a very interesting characters, and I think my favourite part was seeing her attempts to interact with the infuriating Mr. Poe. I also especially loved Max Greenfield (from New Girl) as the Denouement brothers in The Penultimate Peril.
The series also introduces new villains, Richard E. Grant as the “Man with a beard but no hair” and Beth Grant as the “Woman with hair but no beard,” Count Olaf’s mentors who take a great liking to Esme instead. These two are characters that I had completely forgotten about from the books, but I thought these actors did a great job of bringing them to life. Kassius Nelson, as Fiona Widdershins, did a fine job with her role as well, although I wouldn’t call her the most memorable character. I’m not sure if that has to do with the actress herself, or with the relatively small role Fiona has in the overall series. Peter McNicol as Ishmael in the final episode also did a great job of balancing both sides of the enigmatic character. I also have to give a special mention to Dylan Kingwell, who plays both Quigley and Duncan Quagmire. After Season 2, I’d commented that I was a bit underwhelmed by the children playing the Quagmires. While I still think the characters could have had a bit stronger of a presence on-screen, I thought Dylan did a great job as Quigley.
Aside from the new faces, I thought the returning actors especially shined in this season. It was great to see Sunny Baudelaire, played by the adorable Presley Smith, have such an expanded role in these episodes, following the same pattern that happened in the books. It’s still very odd to see a child so young become such a talented chef, but somehow the show made it work. Malina Wiessman (Violet Baudelaire) and Louis Hynes (Klaus Baudelaire) have continued to grow with their roles, and I loved the way they portrayed the characters. In this season more than any other, Neil Patrick Harris truly embodied the role of Count Olaf, to the point where I completely forgot that he was an actor at all. I think nothing brought that home to me more than The Grim Grotto, where he and Esme started to use their ridiculous villainous laughs. Lucy Punch as Esme Squalor and Kitana Turnbull as the obnoxious Carmelita Spats were both still brilliant, and fit their roles perfectly. The casting alone was enough of a reason to watch the series.
As the series progressed, the settings and locations that the children end up in become more and more ambitious. This season alone, the children ventured to the top of a snowy mountain, underwater in a submarine, a gigantic hotel organized like a library, and a remote island. I thought the show did an amazing job of capturing all of these locations, and I was especially impressed by the hotel. One of things I especially loved about this series is how it has the perfect blend of humour and the macabre, which is no surprise given that it was produced by Barry Sonnenfeld, who is also responsible for the Addams Family movies in the 90s. I’ve always thought this series had a similar overall feel to these movies, and it is the perfect fit for story.
Once again, the show also really impressed with the costumes, which play such an essential role. A big part of this series hinges on the ability of the characters to disguise themselves and go undercover to find the information that they need, or to get away. This season was no exception, with all the costumes working well to bring the characters and their schemes to life. I also loved the visual gags of the show, especially the ridiculous “blind justice” of The Penultimate Peril. I thought the visuals did a great job of bringing the series to life and capturing the tone, and they were just as strong right up until the end.
Overall Impressions (10 point scale)
Plot – 9.5
Casting – 9
Setting/Visuals – 9.5
Overall – 9.5/10