Previously on ASOUE: The Hostile Hospital
For Beatrice –
Our love broke my heart,
and stopped yours.
Welcome, welcome, welcome to the House of Freaks. You got your hunchbacks, your contortionists, your amazing ambidextrous man, and you have Madame Lulu with her all-seeing crystal ball, grating foreign accent, pierced jewellery, and hypnotic contact lenses. Throw in three kids on the run from the authorities, a unibrowed villain with his own carnival of freaks in tow, and you pretty much have the bones of the second season finale of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Cowering in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car, the Baudelaire Orphans land at Madame Lulu’s Caligari Carnival in the Hinterlands. The dilapidated ruins of a once flourishing show, Caligari Carnival’s setting reminds the viewer of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In fact, if it wasn’t for the ongoing storyline of this show, you would think you were watching an Into The Badlands parody.
The Carnivorous Carnival is a satisfying, if a little uneven, finale to the second season. It has the usual thrills and spills you would expect from a show of this calibre. But what Carnival brings to the table is answers – of a sort. We begin at the beginning, before the Baudelaires were even born, at a masquerade ball. We’re treated to cameos of all previous Baudelaire guardians: Uncle Monty, Aunt Josephine, and Doctor Orwell (Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, and Catherine O’Hara returning). We’re also offered the tiniest of glimpses into the intricacies of the organisation known as VFD. We see Lemony’s lost love, Beatrice (but only from the back), resplendent with dragonfly wings. We see a message being passed around the room, eventually reaching the hands of Lemony himself. Olaf Knows, it says. He’s helpless to stop the nefarious count from killing Beatrice. (Aside: Larry-Your-Waiter is indeed a waiter.) Carnival provides the children with the slightest hope that one of their parents is alive, having survived the fire that destroyed their home, and could very well be hiding out at the secret society’s headquarters at the nearby Mortmain Mountains.
Throughout the course of this instalment, the Baudelaires disguise themselves as conjoined twins Beverly and Eliot, with Sunny taking the mantle of Chabo the Wolf Baby. They blend in with the other “freaks” and become part of Madame Lulu and Count Olaf’s new show, albeit playing to very few people. There is the obligatory musical number but it’s not as annoying as the one from The Ersatz Elevator. Neil Patrick Harris continues to have a ball as Olaf, but what this season has shown is how much Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes have grown into their roles as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire. They have equal amounts of superb comic timing and pathos. Patrick Warburton enjoys hovering behind the scenes, always ready to dispel any hopes we may have the children will win out. He grieves for his brother Jacques and his love Beatrice.
The children find out that Madame Lulu is Olivia Caliban, the librarian from The Austere Academy, who is also mourning Jacques’ death. She is but one of a line of Madame Lulus, the last one being sent to retrieve Esme Squalor’s sugar bowl from Heimlich Hospital before it burnt to the ground. Basically she’s winging it. She stalls as much as she can, but Olaf and Esme eventually win the day. No surprises there. However, Olivia is able to pass on what information she has to the children, namely that VFD stands for Volunteer Fire Department, an organisation that put out literal and metaphorical fires. Due to a schism in VFD, Count Olaf turned the tables and now literally and metaphorically sets things on fire. He forces the children to burn the carnival to the ground before escaping with Sunny, leaving Violet and Klaus in a caravan attached to his car. Olivia sacrifices herself to starving lions so the children could be spared, but this isn’t enough to save them. In a literal and metaphorical cliffhanger, Olaf’s new recruits, led by Kevin the Ambidextrous Man (Robbie Amell – The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), cut the rope that links the Baudelaires to the caravan, leaving them in mortal danger once more. We’ll have to wait until next year and The Slippery Slope to see if they can save their own lives.