Previously on ASOUE: The Ersatz Elevator
For Beatrice –
When we were together
I felt breathless.
Now, you are.
The Vile Village, a place of murder. In this instance, murder refers to the collective noun for crows. Therefore, the village is…full of crows. The Village of Fowl Devotees – or VFD, if you so please. It’s also the place where the Baudelaires end up after the chaos that was The Ersatz Elevator. Mr Poe, the banker with a persistent and annoying cough (he should really get this checked out), takes a long drive with the orphans and, running out of guardians, leaves them in the hands of the village people. (No, not them!) A brochure promoting VFD says “It takes a village to raise a child.” Mr Poe then puts the Baudelaires under the guardianship of the entire village, meaning the children get to do all the chores.
This vile village is the creepiest one of its kind since Tom Tryon wrote Harvest Home back in the ‘70s. Led by a council of Elders, under a flag that is not in any way fascistic (meaning: it’s totally fascist), the children have about as much voice as any normal citizen living in a fascist state (meaning: none). Quoting Terry Pratchett’s Jingo, “the intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.” The villagers don’t think for themselves and are governed by an extraordinary amount of arbitrary rules. There are no books, and mechanical devices of any kind are forbidden. VFD is exactly the kind of place the Baudelaires shouldn’t be. And it’s exactly the kind of place where Count Olaf, Esme, and their band of merry people would have a field day. Olaf’s mission of securing both fortunes from both sets of orphans is getting ever desperate, but in The Vile Village he has the upper hand and while the orphans do get to escape at the end, he can rightfully claim a sort of victory at the end.
This is a fun instalment of the series. Like The Ersatz Elevator, the production values and set-pieces are of the highest quality, with special mention to a surprisingly tension-filled finale. Yes, the show’s basic beats are still beating. We have Olaf’s madcap plan to kidnap the Baudelaires, his annoying disguises remain obviously see-through to anyone with a brain, Lemony’s droll commentary continues to ground us with misery and reality, and yet the orphans get by on their ingenuity and with a little help from their friends.
However, The Vile Village ups the stakes considerable for all concerned. Olaf has an accomplice who at least matches him in intellect and sinister charm. Lucy Hale returns as Esme and she is a delight. Taking on the role as the village’s chief of police, Hale looks like a female member of The Village People (yes, them), owning her costume and thigh-high red leather boots like a boss. Her faux Russian accent is a hoot. Olaf’s disguise as Detective Dupin is less successful, in my opinion, coming as it seems from old cop shows from the ‘70s. Starsky and Hutch springs to mind. Dupin is too much “bebop” for my liking. However, this is a small price to pay for an episode that has much to offer.
The plot takes a number of twists. The Quagmire Triplets (or what’s left of them) are still held hostage by Olaf and his gang. The Baudelaires know they’re being held somewhere in the village and it’s up to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny to get to them before they too end up at the same fate. Their mission is aided by the very welcome return of Jacques Snicket and librarian Olivia Caliban. Jacquelyn and Larry-Your-Waiter aren’t too far behind either. Mr Poe also plays a larger role here than he has in previous episodes, though he’s as useless as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking competition. Their only ally in the village is Hector (Ithamar Enriquez), a timid man who faints at the mere mention of the Council of Elders but holds the means of escape in his barn, a self-sustained hot-air mobile home. He finds the courage to help both sets of orphans at the end. But only the Quagmires get away, unfortunately. Thanks to Esme and her hand-held harpoon gun, the Baudelaires don’t make it onto the balloon, sacrificing their escape so their friends can make it to safety. But now the orphans are wanted criminals, framed for Jacques Snicket’s murder, and can now no longer rely on the questionable assistance of Mr Poe. Olaf may not have gotten his hands on sapphires and fortunes, but he now has a clear road ahead of him. Jacques is dead, the agents of VFD (not the village, I hasten to add) are floundering, and the Baudelaires guardianless. Only their considerable smarts can save them now. Poor Klaus – he’s had the worst birthday ever!
Oh, and Esme desperately wants to get her hands on that sugar bowl. What’s the story there? And when will we find out more about Olaf’s back-story? He has links with VFD and was apparently one of the good guys until something happened at an opera somewhere. Maybe we’ll find out more when we arrive at The Hostile Hospital.