I feel bad for Violet and Klaus. Oh, not because their parents died in a fire, leaving them orphans; and not because they’ve been shuttled through a series of increasingly unlucky caretakers; and not because they’re pursued by the villainous Count Olaf, who wants to steal their fortune. It’s because they have the misfortune of having to take all of this awfulness seriously. While Olaf can bounce around throwing off quippy one-liners and bad puns, and Lemony Snicket can comment mordantly from the sidelines, Violet and Klaus are stuck trying to find the emotional realism in a narrative that threatens to have less meaningful depth than an Edward Gorey poem.
It’s a thankless job, but a necessary one. A Series Of Unfortunate Events isn’t a great show; I think it’s safe enough to make that call three seasons in. It’s generally a pretty good one, though, and one of the things that keeps it from flying off the rails is how Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes keep trying to make all of this real. The show is mostly a cartoon, but if it becomes completely silly, it loses the sting of the pessimism that makes it distinct. Olaf is funny partly because Neil Patrick Harris is good at this sort of shtick, but also because his self-regard and buffoonery have actual consequences. If we don’t believe the kids are actually suffering because of Olaf’s villainy, the tension is gone, and once the tension is gone, the humor is mostly gone as well.
“The Slippery Slope: Part Two” shows there’s still juice left in the show’s narrative… uh… orange? But it also features the haphazard plotting that’s come to define so much of the series. It has a moment of two of unexpected poignance, some scary villains, and a genuinely upsetting climax. But it’s also hard to feel much momentum going forward, not even when our heroes are racing down an icy mountain in a sleigh.
So: Quigley is alive. The person who survived the fire wasn’t a Baudelaire at all, but a Quagmire, and Klaus and Violet quickly put their grief aside to work with him in order to rescue Sunny. (Actually, I could be jumping to conclusions here. Maybe the kids still think one of their parents is alive, but since it doesn’t get mentioned after Quigley reveals himself, I’m assuming the questions is closed?) Realizing that any secret organization worth its salt would have figured out a way to leave a message even in a burned building, Klaus uses a code book to decipher the way forward—somewhere called “the Last Safe Place.” Violet uses her inventing skills to build a device that lets her and Quigley climb Mount Fraught, where she finds Sunny and—but more on that in a moment.
Meanwhile, Olaf is trying to impress his former mentors, without much success. Given how rarely anyone with any power has bothered to call the Count on his bullshit, this new dynamic is fun. The show has given us non-Olaf villains before, but MWBNH and WWHNB are scary in a new way, and the fact that they pull off at least part of their scheme without any serious trouble upends the usual balance that has the Baudelaires and Olaf ultimately failing.
Indeed, you could see this a yet another sign of the show entering its endgame (trademark Avengers 2019). We have a new, especially dangerous threat that isn’t immediately resolved, and we also have, for the first time in what feels like ages, a destination for the Baudelaires that isn’t obviously a wild-goose chase: the Last Safe Place. One of the difficulties in maintaining drama through the series is the fact that once it becomes obvious that each new home they’re sent to will be a.) horrible and b.) temporary, it’s hard to know what exactly we should be rooting for here. Obviously we want the Baudelaires to escape, but we know from previous experience that they will escape. And then everything will get worse. It’s like trying to get worked up about a Road Runner cartoon. But now there’s something that feels a little more meaningful than the usual routine, and given that we know the show is ending for good in five more episodes one way or the other, this might not turn out to be complete bullshit.
I mean, yes, of course it will disappoint on some level, but at least we know the disappointment has a shelf life, right?
“Part Two” also has one of the more unexpectedly moving moments of the series so far, albeit one that’s almost immediately undercut by the loopy plotting. After Violet and Quigley reach the top of Mount Fraught, Violet finds Sunny and tries to free her. But Sunny doesn’t want to go; given the arrival of the MWBNH and the WWHNB, she thinks she could be more useful as a spy. When Violet protests and asks how Sunny how she’ll escape. Sunny ties her hair up in a ribbon and says, in her usual way, “I’ll invent something.”
It’s lovely and sweet, and a nice reminder of the bond the children share, and how that bond is one of the few things the show has never mocked or belittled. Which is why it’s strange later on that when Klaus, Violet, and Quigley get ahold of Esme later in the episode, they argue over using her a hostage to exchange for Sunny—despite Sunny not having gotten them any actual information or achieved anything as a spy. We’re supposed to be worried about the moral quandary the children are in, and instead, I was just trying to figure out if Violet had forgotten the spying plot, or if Klaus just didn’t care.
There are ways to justify this; Sunny is very young, after all, and maybe her brother and sister had second thoughts about leaving her in the clutches of the villains for intel purposes. But combined with the way the episode resolves, it just makes the Baudelaires look kind of foolish. They bring Esme up to the top of Mount Fraughter; they try and negotiate Sunny’s release, and Esme immediately frees herself. The Baudelaires do manage to escape, of course, but if it wasn’t for Sunny winning over the Hook-Handed Man, they would’ve done so without their baby sister.
It feels sloppy. The kids have shown their ability to stand up to Olaf before, but here they put themselves in harm’s way and fail in the most obvious way imaginable. And maybe that’s another reason I feel bad for Violet and Klaus. While other characters are growing and changing—even Olaf’s henchmen finally leave him, apart from the Hook-Handed Man—they seem to be falling back into despair. That’s understandable, given the circumstances, but it makes for uneven television.
- Kit Snicket and Mr. Poe pop up a few times in this episode, and by the end, they’re headed back to town with Kit driving Jacques’ taxi. We still don’t know what the sugar bowl is or why Kit is important apart from her last name, but she definitely exists.
- Quigley and Violet share a brief romantic moment on their climb up Mount Fraught, much like Isadora and Klaus in an earlier episode. It adds to the poignancy when Quigley is separated from the group.
- The Snow Gnats, while freaky, don’t really add up to much.
- “Fire can solve any problem in the world.” -MWBNH
- Carmelita Spats has officially joined Team Olaf, which I’m sure will work out well for her.
- “Oh Olaf, we’re not emotionally distant. You just don’t deserve praise.” -WWHNB (Ouch. I mean, she’s right, but still.)
- We get a flashback to the mentors recruiting Olaf, and a reference to an awful night at the opera.
- The episode ends with the Baudelaires finding a submarine with the VFD symbol on its periscope; and with the city on fire and the mentors triumphant, having kidnapped the Snow Scouts and burned a lot of mansions to get a lot of fortunes.