“The End” is good. I’d go so far as to say that it’s very good. So good, in fact, that it makes me that much more annoyed at the failings of the episodes that preceded it. Unlike previous entries, this isn’t a two-parter, and it’s also not especially long—at just under an hour, it’s roughly average for the series as a whole. Yet it never feels rushed or poorly paced, and we get just enough information for everything to hold together without ever getting bogged down. We do finally find out what was in the sugar bowl, and it’s a bit of a disappointment, but after all this time, it probably couldn’t be anything else. Otherwise, this is a sad, sweet, and entirely satisfying farewell to a decent but uneven show.
So: the Baudelaires and Olaf, alone at last. Thankfully things go wrong almost immediately, when a storm casts their ship onto the coastal shelf of a mysterious island. The Baudelaires are discovered by a girl named Friday (you could do a drinking game for the show’s literary references, if you wanted to die) and brought to a seemingly friendly group of castaways led by a white-bearded man named Ishmael. (Drink!) Olaf tries to strong-arm his way into taking over the island, but Ishmael and the others are having none of it, quickly subduing the villain and locking him in a bird cage.
Which is all well and good, but something isn’t right here, just as something seems to always be not right wherever the Baudelaires go. “The End” finds the children with an even more existential dilemma than usual: they’ve exhausted their appeals to the authorities, they’re outcasts from society, and V.F.D. has failed them completely. Staying on the island doesn’t seem like much of a choice, especially considering how fuzzy the memories of the locals are (Ishmael keep them forgetting by making them drink coconut cordial), but where else could they possibly go? What sort of future do they have left at this point?
The episode doesn’t spend a lot of time on this discussion, which could be seen as a detriment; mostly it’s just one thing after another until the ending. But after the loose plotting of so much of the series, this feels like a revelation. For once, we’re heading towards an actual conclusion, and the streamlined push to that ending comes when it’s an absolute necessity. Splitting this story into two parts would’ve ensured that viewers went away remembering all of the show’s worst indulgences. Doing it this way maybe leaves you with a better impression than the series deserves, but I’ll take it.
It turns out the sugar bowl has sugar in it—specially modified sugar that can immunize a person against the threat of the Medusoid Mycelium. As reveals go, that’s fine; like I said in the opening paragraph, it’s doubtful that any explanation at this point would live up to how long we’ve been waiting for answers, and this does at least make sense in context of the rest of the mythology. The big failure here is that the horrible fungus wasn’t introduced earlier in the show. In general, the series managed to integrate the V.F.D. elements in better than the book series—or if not better, at least more coherently. In the books, it felt like an author who was getting bored with his work deciding to throw in a conspiracy to spice things up.
On the show, the secret organizations felt more integral from the start. That meant sacrificing some of the surprise of the books for potential narrative coherence. But that coherence is tossed out the window when the linchpin of the entire backstory is held out of sight until almost the end. It’s not a disaster or anything, but it does mean that the finale has to rest more on emotion and character than it can on reversals or plot. It feels random that so much hinges on this fungus that we had no idea existed until the final season.
Thankfully the emotion and character work really well in “The End,” from the children learning that their parents once lived on the island, to Olaf’s one final act of moderate decency. The show doesn’t make the mistake of pretending to redeem him, but it has given us enough information about his past that his decision to save Kit Snicket works. The fact that he dies immediately after is a big help in this regard. Kit dies too, but at this point, the surprisingly high body count of the show seems honestly fitting. The Baudelaires make it out okay, and they raise Kit’s baby girl, and Lemony survives as well. But most everyone else from V.F.D. is gone, and that’s probably as it should be.
It’s a strange thing, really; this was supposed to be the story of the Baudelaire orphans, but it ultimately ends like the story about everything that happened before they arrived on the scene, as though all their misery and suffering was just the aftershocks of the truly cataclysmic event. The real Baudelaire adventures, the ones where the kids embrace who they are and head out into the world determined the make the best of things, while still understanding that the worst will inevitably happen at some point—that all happens after the last time we see them. I’m not sure that really works as a statement for an entire series run, but for a finale, it’s not bad. For all its gloominess, the final scene, of Lemony sitting down with his niece to learn all the things he missed, is sweet and kind and hopeful. It’s a nice note to end on.
- “For Beatrice- I cherished, you perished, the world’s been nightmarish.”
- Before Kit dies (she gets sick but can’t eat the cure because it would hurt the baby), she names her daughter Beatrice.
- “Note to self: why won’t anyone call me Ish?”
- “Every parent figure I’ve ever had has either let me down or died.” -Olaf
- The Incredibly Dangerous Viper makes a brief return here, offering Sunny a life-saving apple. Very Biblical.
- Did we ever find out who actually burned down the Baudelaire mansion? The kids blame Olaf, but he seems surprised that they haven’t figured it out yet.
- Thanks for reading! Enjoy the rest of your turbulent, unsettled, and likely brief lives! (Sorry, still in the moment.)