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A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS Recap: “Mill” Power

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS Recap: “Mill” Power

It gives me no pleasure to tell you, sir or madam or the honorific of your choice, that this recap of the A Series of Unfortunate Events episode “The Miserable Mill: Part One,” has spoilers in the beginning, spoilers at the end, and very few moments of non-spoilage in between. Should you prefer to be surprised, it is suggested that you depart–which in this case means “go to a different web page”–and look at something happier and less-spoiling, like this bunny playing Jenga.

“The Miserable Mill” enters new territory for the Baudelaire orphans and Count Olaf. It’s not just that this is the first story to never have been adapted before; it’s also the first arc in which the children have taken agency and determined their next destination, rather than simply being placed with yet another guardian for Count Olaf to fool in a bad disguise and then murder. And it has one hell of a plot twist. Not to mention it gives us Neil Patrick Harris in drag…and Don Johnson!

Once more, the theme song spoils aspects of the plot in advance, including a hypnotism reveal that would otherwise actually be quite a surprise. Oh well. Fait accompli is kind of a theme of these books and their adaptation, assuming we can trust Lemony Snicket (which is not a good assumption, but whatever).

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

One of the primary conceits of the show that becomes apparent over time is that children act like mature adults, and adults act like children–an astute observation about society in general these days. It was driven home by the opening, with Poe easily distracted by free chowder.

I always thought “out of the woods” was a golf-related phrase, but Lemony equates it to deadly fairy tales, while the show’s actual story made it quite literal. All works, I suppose. “A wolf enters the woods and is menaced by a rude little girl” is a unique take on Red Riding Hood, but the author beats it by summing up Thoreau’s Walden as, “A poet enters the woods and is menaced by revelations that we should abandon civilization and live by a pond.”

The Lucky Smells mill is back in a totally bombed-out, scorched earth environment, which is par for the course, and kinda gothy, so yay. And they’re distracting enough to keep Violet and Klaus from actually trying the front door, but at least Sunny figured it out. Inside is the tower with the eye logo, and no, Violet, nobody buys your comment that it could just be coincidence.

Enter: Don Johnson! Call him Sir. And he’s gonna give Poe a run for his money as the most coughing character in the show, because he smokes cigars badly, for effect. He’s Charles’ partner, but we don’t know exactly what that means, except that it’s not an equal deal, and Lemony alluded to it possibly being a same-sex relationship, somewhat stereotypically, as Charles apparently does the cooking and cleaning. Sir claimed that the Baudelaire parents started the fire that burned down the town, but was nonetheless not going to turn down the orphans’ free labor.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Loyal but bitter factory workers are pointedly named Norma Rae, Cesar (as in Chavez), and Jimmy (as in Hoffa, maybe?). Nice reference. But the kids relate better to the enthusiastic Phil (Chris Gauthier, Smee from Once Upon a Time), an eternal optimist in the face of utter hopelessness. Needless to say, Lemony’s description of an optimist–someone who rejoices in half-price manicures after losing an arm–is going to be relevant later.

For the first time, we got to see Count Olaf as an underdog, desperately trying to get the cooperation of his ex, Dr. Georgina Orwell (Catherine O’Hara, who is not only director Bo Welch’s wife, but also the only returning cast member from the movie, in which she played Justice Strauss). And it just so happened she was the mandatory optometrist for everyone at the mill. Fortunately for Olaf, the fortune and the Baudelaire grudge was enough to let bygones of attempted drowning be bygones.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

The parents are back, having crashed in the woods, and they say they’ll tell the children everything once they reunite. But who are these rich kids waking up in a mansion, being served blueberry pancakes? Stay tuned…there are very few genuine throwaways on this show. Like all those chewed gum wads around the doorway of the workers’ sleeping quarters.

For the first time, real conflict was suggested between brother and sister, as Klaus wanted to leave but Violet wanted to clear their parents’ names first. At this point in the narrative I’m inclined to believe that even ironclad video evidence wouldn’t persuade the denser society at large of anything. Apply this metaphor to politics as you wish.

Ooh, the foreman broke Klaus’ glasses. He’s going to have to go to the evil optometrist, who works in the eye insignia building, of course. And then a Great Gatsby reference was followed by a Lemony aside about fighting a refrigerator repair man. Okay then.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

And just like that, the parents, still in the woods, flagged down a refrigerator repair man and beat him up to take his ride. See? Very few throwaways. Agent Maria Hill for the win!

Entering the mill’s library, Violet found it stocked almost entirely with the history of the lumber mill, written by Sir himself…with the chapter on the Baudelaires and the town fire blacked out by hand in almost every copy…save one that she couldn’t read in time because Sir came back and tore it out; a subsequent conversation with Charles implied that Sir made a deal with Dr. Orwell to cover up the truth and keep the mill running.

Klaus went to Dr. Orwell, who revealed way too much about herself and her dubious professional qualifications, and we saw that she hypnotizes all her clients, as semi-spoiled by the theme song. Even worse: they have to wake up to an out-of-focus Count Olaf as a woman! Klaus began the next day as a good little obedient worker, manning the wood-chipper, but snapped out of it when Violet uttered the unlikely keyword “inordinate” (way to teach kids big words, yo).

The parents drove towards the mill, as the big twist was coming. I predicted half of it–one does not watch all the Saw movies without knowing that two doors which look exactly the same might be in completely different places and/or times, but I did not anticipate the massive screw-over, which was…

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

…that these are not the Baudelaire parents after all. Their kids are the rich ones we saw waking up to pancakes earlier. Isn’t it just like Lemony Snicket to get our hopes up and dash them? I mean, they must be associated somehow; they’re in the same photo as the Baudelaires, and clearly have many of the same colleagues, but it looks like our protagonists are indeed orphans, as they have been all along. Adding insult to injury, the guests to see the Baudelaires were Dr. Orwell and Count Olaf as a woman, in a hairdo with a “wings” look that I suspect is a tribute to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a play Harris has done.

Aaaand it wouldn’t be an episode without Poe being oblivious one last time. Good man. And his scene specifically demonstrated that we see more than Lemony Snicket knows, which might be important in later seasons, if any.

Were you prepared for the big reveal? Surprise us with your comments below!

Images: Netflix

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