Season three of A Series of Unfortunate Events is latest and final season of the TV series adapting the book series of the same name by Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler). Once again, we follow the orphans Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny Baudelaire (Presley Smith) as they try to evade villains after their inheritance and uncover the secrets of their late parents, who were part of a secret society known as V.F.D., or Volunteer Fire Department. Following the nearly literal cliff-hanger ending to season two, this season changes things up a little by focusing much more on the trio’s pursuit of the truth of who their parents were, V.F.D., and foiling Count Olaf’s (Neil Patrick Harris) schemes, rather than adjusting to a new guardian and home life that will inevitably fall apart. This season adapts books 10-13, for a total of seven episodes.
Though I do look back on season two fondly, in my review of it I criticized it for how formulaic episodes started to become toward the end. As I still stand by this, I was pleasantly surprised by the greater shift in focus from the outset of this season. Couplets of episodes continue to adapt the remaining books with their own conspicuous settings, but the narrative felt like it had stronger connective threads between each of them this time around. It may be the wildest of happenstance that sledding down a mountain leads them to join the crew of a submarine, but they’re making their own way into these uncanny situations rather than being shuttled around by adults, which started to feel a little to rinse-and-repeat for me.
The Baudelaires continued to be as endearing as ever this season, especially Sunny now that Smith is old enough to lend her voice to the role. This time around I’ve come to find them very enduring as characters with a flat arc, steadfast in the beliefs and morals instilled in them by their parents while constantly being challenged by a world of adults that is increasingly complicated, compromising, and cruel. This season especially pushes them to extremes as they are presented with opportunities to be more self-serving, which I could hardly blame them for capitalizing on, yet they continue to try and always do the right thing and/or own up to their own misdoings, even if their actions were justified despite their dubiousness or when a person may deserve their ill-treatment. I just want these kids to be happy and they’re constantly let down, yet never in a way that exhausts me to the point of not enjoying their misadventures.
While Count Olaf remains a menacing figure in their lives, there was a notable paradigm shift in his role as more light is uncovered about V.F.D. and those involved in the organization. There was a schism in the organization long ago, once committed to fighting fires both literal and figurative, that has some parties more interested in starting fires than putting them out. Olaf is a part of the bad side of that schism and, perhaps unsurprisingly, not one of the bigger fishes of that side.
His former mentors come into play – A Man with a Beard but No Hair and A Woman with Hair but No Beard (Richard E. Grant and Beth Grant) – and we get a glimpse of the truly menacing forces working behind the scenes, though they remain largely enigmatic themselves. The importance of their inclusion is how Olaf begins to unravel as the season progresses. He remains the primary antagonist to the Baudelaires, still fixated on his own selfish desires and continually persistent in pursuing them, but his various marks of status begin to fall apart. There are various fractures amongst his henchmen, his relationship with the equally deplorable Esmé Squalor (Lucy Punch) becomes strained, and he is shown more for what he really is: one part in a convoluted machine full of secretive people.
The way this final season handled the series’ secrets is something I have the most mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I really like how nebulous V.F.D. is as an organization and that the nature of the fire that took the lives of the Baudelaire parents and Olaf’s assumed responsibility for it are brought into question. We have a general idea of why the latter happened, but no specifics to understand exactly what went on or who is completely to blame. With how grim and obscure so many things about the series are I was happy these things didn’t feel wrapped up neatly with a bow. The Sugar Bowl continues to be a McGuffin motivating many of the characters as well, but unlike the books it is ultimately revealed what it contained, which I think was a mistake. The reveal of the contents in question were too specifically coincidental to what was going on in the moment and I would much rather have had it kept ambiguous. Knowing exactly what it contained raises too many questions that the show cannot satisfy.
If you’ve stuck with the series until now, I definitely recommend continuing with this final season. Not without its faults, it escalates everything the series has been building up to nicely with a satisfying conclusion. One thing I like about this series most of all is that each season never felt like a self-contained thing. All 25 episodes across three seasons feel like one continuous saga with few, if any, departures in themes or tone along the way. I’m sad to see it end, but I’m happy it exists as a complete adaptation.