Previously on ASOUE: The Reptile Room
“For Beatrice—I would much prefer it if you were alive and well.”
These cold openings, these little morsels of text, which appear at the beginning of each book in the series, offer an insight into the mind of Lemony Snicket. Deeply morose at the loss of his beloved Beatrice – whoever she may be – Snicket can’t help but continue in this vein when relaying the bleak and tragic story of the Baudelaire Orphans. It’s as if he wants us to feel bad for him as well as the children. Despite his many protestations and warnings, Snicket needs us to see the story right through to the end. Something tells us he knows we will.
Having survived The Reptile Room, the Baudelaires are whisked away to yet another guardian. Aunt Josephine is the latest in a long line of inappropriate and ineffectual relatives entrusted with the livelihood of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, they would perhaps be better off looking after their own interests. They’re certainly resourceful enough.
Aunt Josephine (Alfre Woodard) dwells at the very of sanity. Her terror keeps her alive. Indeed, her very philosophy is simple: Be afraid of everything, including doorbells, telephones, rugs, hot food, and sentences that don’t make grammatical sense. From having a life filled with adventure and derring-do, thanks to the secret society and her relationship with the Baudelaires’ parents, Josephine is now a quivering wreck since the death of her husband Ike, lost to the Lachrymose Leeches. Unlike the late lamented Uncle Monty, Josephine doesn’t seem capable of taking care of herself, let alone three children. It doesn’t take long before Count Olaf reappears and immediately begin superseding her apparent guardianship. Mr Poe, as usual, is completely useless in spotting that Captain Sham is indeed the villainous count, albeit with an eyepatch, a fake peg leg, and an accent Sean Connery would be proud of. Taking Larry, the waiter at the Anxious Clown Café at Lake Lachrymose, hostage, and inventing a fake identity and backstory, Olaf once again befuddles the adults. Forcing Aunt Josephine into writing a fake suicide note, and presuming her dead anyway, Olaf as Captain Sham convinces Mr Poe to draw up legal papers making him guardian once more.
Hurricane Herman arrives at Lake Lachrymose, destroying Aunt Josephine’s clifftop house, and almost takes the children with it. But thanks to some quick thinking, as well as a lot of luck, the Baudelaires escape with their lives and some clues as to what really happened to their aunt. The suicide note contains a number of grammatical errors, which put together leads them to Aunt Josephine’s hideout at the Curdled Cave But to get there, they have to steal a rowing boat and sail across Lake Lachrymose in the middle of a hurricane. Finding their aunt is one thing; returning back to mainland is another. Their fragile rowing boat is attacked by Lachrymose Leeches, creatures that will only attack if their prey has recently eaten. Thanks to a banana that Josephine ate before being rescued, the children and their guardian are fair game. Once more Violet ties her hair back and comes up with a plan to set fire to Aunt Josephine’s scarf so they can attract attention. Little do they know their parents are flying over-head. Their timely, but completely accidental, intervention helps save all on board the mini Titanic. Mother and Father are unaware that their children are below them in the lake, however, and their own transport is suddenly fresh out of fuel. They’re about to crash land, but where, we don’t yet know.
Count Olaf and his motley crew are nearby, however, and for the umpteenth time, the children are held prisoner. Despite Aunt Josephine showing some backbone at the end, she is pushed overboard and becomes leech food. Ugh. Sunny gnaws at Olaf’s peg leg, revealing the captain for the sham he really is. Poe is incensed, but while he tries to redeem himself to the Baudelaires, they spot a van that’s heading for Lucky Smells Lumber Mill, a building Klaus knows from a photograph he grabbed while escaping Aunt Josephine’s collapsing house. They stow themselves in the back of the van and escape not only Count Olaf and his henchmen, but Mr Poe as well. They’re just about done with these adults.
The Wide Window goes down as the installment in which I prefer Patrick Warburton to Neil Patrick Harris. It’s a matter of taste. I look forward each time to when Lemony Snicket comes to the screen, and his opening sequence, masquerading as a weatherman for Lake Lachrymose’s television network is an absolute scream. Throwing widgets across the map, detailing all the horrors facing the Baudelaire Orphans, is a scene of unfettered genius. He turns up everywhere, and Warburton’s laconic narration is a breath of fresh air to the pomp and circumstance that surrounds Harris’ Count Olaf. Don’t get me wrong – Harris is a joy to watch, but for me Warburton saves The Wide Room from being more of the same. Alfre Woodard gives a layered performance as Aunt Josephine, but the character herself is more neurotic-by-numbers than say bumbling-but-well-meaning Uncle Monty. When he died, it was an affecting moment for the children. When Aunt Josephine is cast to the leeches, you get the sense that the children couldn’t wait to get away from her. Her death was little loss.
Still, though, the production is very handsome. Barry Sonnenfeld knows and loves the material, and his direction here is captivating, despite some dodgy CGI (although this could be deliberate).
Next up is the season finale, The Miserable Mill. What danger awaits the children there? Follow on, if you dare.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
"The Wide Window"
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Joan Cusack, Cobie Smulders, Will Arnett, Usman Ally, and Aasif Mandvi.
Available through Netflix, streaming now.