Michael Simon ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for Episode 3 “The Reptile Room: Part 1” and Episode 4 “The Reptile Room: Part 2” of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’
Wow. Well, let’s just say that any minor reservations that one may have been having about this series should completely vanish after the third and fourth episodes. Showcasing more of what worked exceptionally well, in addition to greater character development paired with more complexity and heightened stakes, “The Reptile Room” set a high bar for the remainder of this series.
Now, without a doubt, the two people who make this pair of episodes so memorable are Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf/Stephano and Aasif Mandvi as Uncle Monty. Harris’ Olaf finally comes across here as a genuine villain, rather than just the overbearing and cruel guardian. Now that he has lost control of the situation, Olaf exhibits true menace through his violent threats as he desperately tries to get it back. Of course, this is still paired with some excellent comedic acting as Olaf’s various disguises are enough to fool the simpletons in the Baudelaire’s life, leaving them to fend for themselves. The kids continue to grow into their characters here, as each use their special set of skills to help them out of a complicated situation. It all feels entirely genuine – and entirely faithful to the books.
Usually, the only way a villain like Olaf can come across so effectively is if there is an equally effective good guy to serve as a foil, and, in this case, that good guy was Dr. Montgomery Montgomery. Though short-lived, the importance of the time that Klaus, Violet, and Sunny spend under his care must not be undervalued. For the first – and quite possibly only – time in the series, the children seem genuinely happy with a guardian who understands their talents and allows them to excel. Even once Olaf shows up in a zany disguise, Uncle Monty seems totally in control of the situation. As the viewers ought to know, any happiness in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans is bound to be over quickly, which is why it is so crucial to enjoy it when it comes along.
These episodes are also chock full of that excellent set design, as the story takes these characters to new locations that bring with them an amazing amount of detail. Monty’s incredible reptile room is overflowing with fantastic creatures and amazing details, as is the old-fashioned movie theater where the family enjoys a tense excursion thanks to some unwanted company.
Speaking of that movie theater sequence, that may very well be some of the best work the show has done so far, with so many characters converging on one location as more of the mysterious aspects of the show take center stage. The mysteries behind this secret society and the hidden codes, as well as the constant recurrence of the letters VFD, are bound to raise some questions with the viewers. These questions may not have answers for quite some time but, when viewers combine this with the other secret aspects shown in Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders’ characters, they get a greater sense of the mystery that surrounds the Baudelaire children. This mystery was such a crucial element of the book series, so seeing it transfer so flawlessly into the show is truly remarkable.
These episodes also give the viewers a prime example of how well this system is going to work moving forward. If “A Bad Beginning” showcased that this show can handle the basics, “The Reptile Room” let the show take on the chaos, and it succeeded in spades. It proved that they would pull no punches when it comes to showing the tragedy that will strike the Baudelaire orphans and their guardians and it also showed the genuine evil of Count Olaf and his dastardly troupe. Not only that, but they have also kept the humor of the franchise alive and well, with characters like Stephano and Mr. Poe delivering some of the biggest laughs of the season. The balance struck between these alternating moods helps to let each of the different characters shine in their own ways.
Additionally, these two episodes were able to simultaneously stand on their own as two complete stories, yet also flow together seamlessly to create one overarching adventure, not unlike a short film. With the use of some amazing set pieces, fantastic mood balancing, excellent character development, and a slew of fantastic actors who have all come into their roles beautifully, this series is on solid ground as it reaches the halfway point. A Series of Unfortunate Events has found an excellent home on Netflix, easily proving that this system allows them to tackle the source material in the best possible ways.
Overall Grade: A+