David Alan Grier
Photo: Eike Schroter (Netflix)

Here’s a welcome change of pace: the first half of a two part episode that’s actually quite good. “The Horrible Hospital, Part One” is funny, creepy, and at several points legitimately suspenseful. It strays even further from formula than the previous two episodes, picking up with the Baudelaires still on the run from the law (and Count Olaf) and still framed for a crime they didn’t commit. The lack of adult supervision feels a bit like when the Harry Potter books finally said goodbye to the Dursleys—a relief that a seemingly unbreakable status quo has yielded to actual story needs.

There is a new unpleasant location to explore (this time it’s the unfinished Heimlich Hospital), and there are some friendly-but-incompetent adults, including the quickly sidelined Babs (Kerri Kenney) and Hal (David Alan Grier), a very nice man who supervises the sorting of information, but has harsh words for anyone interested in reading any of it. And of course Olaf, Esme, and the others show up soon in their latest terrible disguises. But for once, the Baudelaires aren’t immediately enmeshed in some new Kafkaesque hellscape of ego and bureaucratic nonsense. Yes, Babs is insistent on the paperwork and Hal won’t let them search the hall of records for the information they need, but those two seem like lone sentinels in an otherwise empty universe.

Normally that would be a sign of bad worldbuilding or a low budget, and that may become the case in the story’s second half; for right now, however, there’s something tremendously freeing about just getting to the damn point. Which isn’t to say that the Baudelaires aren’t faced with multiple obstacles, treachery, and ill-dressed villains. It’s more that for once, a “Part One” doesn’t spend nearly all of its running time on world-building. The Baudelaires have goals throughout, and those goals drive them, and the episode, forward.

It doesn’t hurt that the death of Jacques (however clumsily handled) has introduced a real sense of danger back into the series. Olaf is a buffoon, but he’s a murderous one, and having Esme on his team gives him just enough of an edge of competence that he once again feels like a real threat. The group quickly commandeers the hospital and starts a systematic (ish) hunt for the Baudelaires. Meanwhile, Violet and Klaus debate the morality of stealing Hal’s keys. They need access to the records, but don’t have the paperwork.

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It could (and does, to an extent) seem absurd to have our heroes arguing about whether or not they should betray their newfound friend, considering what’s at stake. And yet there’s something refreshing about how much weight the discussion has, and how seriously the show takes their concerns. It’s not particularly funny, but it speaks to one of the show’s core ideas—that being good is exponentially more difficult than being evil. (To quote an earlier line: “In a world too often governed by corruption and arrogance, it can be difficult to stay true to one’s philosophical and literary principles.”) Of course they steal the keys, but the fact that they aren’t too proud of themselves about it adds a new, interesting angle to their plight, one that threatens not their lives, but their fundamental decency.

“Part One” ends with two bombshells. After stealing Hal’s keys (he brings them dinner, just so they feel extra terrible about betraying him), the Baudelaires track down the Jacques Snicket film strip. They only manage to watch a few minutes before Esme finds them, but in those few minutes, they hear the name Lemony (Jacques doesn’t know where his brother is), and find out that “there may have been a survivor of the fire.” Jacques doesn’t specify which fire (and there have been a lot of them), but the Baudelaires immediately assume this has something to do with them. We’ll have to wait to find out if they assumed correctly, as Esme interrupts the viewing party, chasing them around the hall in her impractical (and literal) stiletto heels. Klaus and Sunny escape, but Olaf arrives in time to grab Violet. For the first time in what seems like ages, the orphans have been separated. Worse things are sure to follow.

Stray observations

  • I haven’t talked much about the Lemony Snicket interludes this season. They’re still enjoyable, albeit a little familiar. It works best the more Lemony has a direct connection to the story.
  • I was a little surprised at how quickly the “Volunteers Fighting Disease” seemed to disappear. The joke isn’t a complicated one, but hopefully they’ll get a little more mileage out of it in the second half.
  • “I’m Dr. Thing That I Said Before.” -Count “Quick On His Feet” Olaf
  • The “Let’s scare Babs to death” sequence? Surprisingly scary, with bonus Shining (and IT? The twins are holding red balloons) nods.
  • Olaf and Esme take Violet away through a door labeled “No Exit.” Indeed.

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