A Series of Unfortunate Events enters its third and final season with the Baudelaire children split up: its youngest member being brought by the evil Count Olaf to the peak of a mountain (or a “plateau”, as one henchman comments) while the eldest siblings tumble to their certain doom in the most literal cliffhanger in a while. But as the show goes, there are sudden shifts of luck and opportunity, and the events heading for the finale unfold to tell an at times frustrating and disappointing tale, but one with a strong closing.
The Netflix series straddles the line of menacing and cruelty for its younger audience with care. This season continues the trend of not wearing kids’ gloves on as it realizes Neil Patrick Harris’ Olaf is someone who never shares a kind word or action unless it’s to his benefit; there is, however, reason to his madness. Harris is at his height this season, continuing the performance with bravado and conviction as the pieces of his past sprinkle in with the taste of being at the precipice of getting what he always wanted. Harris plays it with such fun, knowing winks, and manages to make it easier to accept the loop issue of the series.
The Baudelaire children, Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith) have a more weathered and pessimistic portrayal this season, as their plights become grimmer. But it’s in the sixth episode especially where Weissman and Hynes are given a prominent extended scene to give Violet and Klaus to pour out the pain of their characters, and do so excellently. Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket is given more to do this season beyond narration and helps add to his already welcome performance. Allison Williams as Kit Snicket is an energizing spirit to the show, even if Kit pushes plot for a lot of her screentime. Richard E. Grant and Beth Grant as The Man With a Beard But No Hair and The Woman With Hair But No Beard are inspired choices, just the right level of villainous and imposing in their humorous ways. A special mention to Usman Ally as the Hook-Handed Man, as well, who was always a joy to watch in the series.
The main issue comes in its frustrating wheel spinning. It’s to be expected as a faithful adaptation of the books, and almost impossible to avoid because of it. But the early goings of the season, where it feels more an extension of the second season than a push toward the end, it does come off as a little disappointing despite all the great work being done around the story. The show can at times come across too interested in its own mysteries when the actual interesting bits are the people at its fingertips. But once it reaches its fifth episode, it’s a solid stretch to the finish line. The entirety of the series is given an almost cynical glaze as the unfortunate events of the Baudelaire children come back around, cyclical in their nature and giving them a worldview rather adult for their young age. This cynicism, in other shows, would have ground things to a halt; here, it’s used to accentuate the horrible things inflicted on them over the course of the series, and makes the push to the end satisfying and poignant.
To the winding confusion of Olaf’s octopus submarine, to the comical mountain peak with frozen waterfall, to a confusingly organized hotel, the show has a continuous style of production design and iconography which is always a treat. The look of the show through its direction and design is top notch, taking both simple and elaborate sets and giving them charm and character.
For all its good during them, the front two-thirds did not work for me as well as I’d hoped. But the final three episodes are exactly what was missing, and left an impression. A Series of Unfortunate Events fans will greatly enjoy the closing hours of the series, as everything culminates and breathes life into all of those unfortunate events which came before. It’s been a fun show, and Netflix, along with Mark Hudis, Barry Sonnenfeld and crew, have delivered a fitting, if flawed, end.
A Series of Unfortunate Events closes out its third season with seven episodes, all available on Netflix on January 1st. All seven episodes were provided for review.