Photo: Eike Schroter (Netflix)

So things are a little different now. Not a lot different—in many ways, “The Vile Village: Part One” follows the same meet-and-groan structure as previous part ones—but there’s some variance, and at this point, any variance is worth mentioning. As mentioned, the end of the previous episode had the Baudelaires deciding to strike out on their own to save the Quagmires, and this episode picks up at a point that should be familiar: riding in Mr. Poe’s car and listening to his unhelpful commentary on the situation.

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V.F.D.—which stands for “Village of Fowl Devotees,” and has nothing really to do with the V.F.D. the children are searching for, apart from some shared history—is, if anything, even gloomier than Prufrock Prep. The school might have had tombstone-shaped buildings and an absurdly grim motto, but the village is ghost town that somehow still has people in it. And, as with just about everywhere else the Baudelaires go, those people are almost universally awful; here, instead of being fixated on fashion or tedious classwork, they structure their lives on rules that are designed to protect them from ever having to do or think about things that make them uncomfortable.

It’s funny to watch the town council shout down Violet and Klaus’s efforts to speak, but it’s frustrating, in the same way so much of the show is frustrating. Misery is the comedy hook, but it turns out that watching several hours of the same basic sort of misery (it’s really just endless variations on “adults not listening to the children who are right”) turns out to be a bit of a drag. While the orphans are supposedly in the care of the entire village—and yes, there are several “It takes a village” jokes—they’re left in the custody of Hector (Ithamar Enriquez), a good-natured handyman who faints at the first sign of conflict.

Okay, but I mentioned things were a little different, surely I must’ve been referring to something. It’s not like putting the Baudelaires in a new fairy tale dystopia and saddling them with yet another well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual guardian is breaking new ground. But we do get some scenes between Olaf and Jacques, with the two facing off for the first time that we’ve seen, although not the first time for them—and, even more important, the revelation that Olaf, awful as he is, wasn’t always a villain. Once upon a time, he worked alongside Jacques in the V.F.D., and did a lot of good for the world. But then something happened at the opera, and everything changed.

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I remember similar revelations hitting at roughly this point in the book series, but they play differently here. Given how much screentime the Count has had, and given how much of his screentime has been played from his perspective (to the point where even his initial encounter with Jacques and Olivia is framed a bit like we’re rooting for him), the discovery that he might be a little more complicated feels more like a necessity than a surprise twist, but it’s a relief to have something new to wonder about.

This new discovery explains the eye tattoo on Jacques’ ankle, a tattoo which has unpleasant consequences when Olaf and Esme (in the guise of the new town sheriff; Olaf is pretending to be the extremely annoying Detective Dupin) get the drop on the good guys. They frame Jacques as the Count, using the tattoo as evidence, and the children have their first (and possibly last) encounter with Lemony Snicket’s brother while the town is trying to decide his fate. He explains that the “eye” tattoo isn’t an eye at all, but the letters V.F.D., and tells them that the Snicket and Baudelaire families have always been close, before getting dragging back to jail.

While the Baudelaires struggle to interpret clues left in poetry (they find the red herring statue but it’s empty) and determine to mount a jailbreak, Jacques squares off against Olaf—and loses. It’s a dark turn even for this dark show, especially when you take in the implication that Jacques’ encounter with a crowbar might be more than a temporary setback. The end of the episode has our heroes interrupted mid-jailbreak by the shocking news that “Count Olaf is dead,” news that Olaf himself (in disguise as Dupin) confirms. A certain awful possibility suggests itself… but we’ll have to wait till “Part Two” to find out what happens next.

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Stray observations

  • “For Beatrice— When we were together I felt breathless. Now you are.”
  • Hector has a wonderful “self-sustaining hot-air mobile home,” full of all the amenities including a library and munchable turnips. It also gives Violet a chance to get some engineering work in.
  • “We should all start running in a random direction and not stop until we’re miles and miles away.”

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