A Series of Unfortunate Events recap: 'The Reptile Room'
The Baudelaires seek to unmask Olaf's reptile disguise.
For Beatrice — My love for you shall live forever. You, however, did not.
The foreboding yet whimsical opening of each new installment of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events reveals its hand of genre-melded goodness, giving slight teases to a tale of hope coiled in the clutches of greed. Episodes 3 and 4, broken into two parts, cover the second entry in the highly successful Lemony Snicket series, The Reptile Room. With dark and twisted humor presented as the adaptation’s bread and butter, the following account of the orphans “possibility of a real home cut short” pulls more punches than The Bad Beginning, proudly announcing fun will be joined by shock in every dark corner, whether warranted or not.
Now that the Baudelaire’s have seemingly escaped the crooked hands of Count Olaf, they finally have a shot at a fortunate life with their parents’ intended guardian: Dr. Montgomery Montgomery. Enter in Mr. Poe, the ever-coughing legal counsel for the children who shuffles them from guardian to guardian. Despite his lack of common sense, Poe makes up for it with his timely nature; he assures the Baudelaires their new guardian will provide them a proper home post tragedy. Pulling up to an ornate mansion, fitted with Edward Scissorhands-inspired lawn sculptures, the doctor greets the orphans and Poe with fresh slices of coconut cream cake.
A repetitive name is just the surface of this doctor’s quirks, but despite Klaus’ skepticism, the man (who prefers to be called Monty) proves he is a bona fide gentleman. After shooing Poe off so proper introductions can be made, Monty shows the children his only real proof of knowing their parents intimately: a picture of a piano with no one in it. Monty explains he and the Baudelaire parents were simply hiding in the instrument, a piece of news the kids don’t seem to question as strongly as they should. Alas, in time it’s clear Monty truly cares for the children, and even allows them access to his coveted reptile room. An area protected by a door comically covered in locks and retinal scanners, which truthfully do nothing but throw off intruders from trying to enter. A simple twist of the door handle will open access to the room filled with exotic mysteries.
As in the previous chapter, Lemony Snicket pops in and out to break the fourth wall and interrupt before a moment of action or peril. Thankfully, these breaks don’t take away from the tension, but pleasantly add to the tone of dour joy, as Snicket confirms our worst fears: that the Baudelaires will not receive the loving guardian they deserve. In fact, he plainly spells out Monty will not survive the chapter, giving us a reason to mourn and worry, but also lean into the mystery of how and why it transpires. Most would believe a bite from his newly discovered Incredibly Deadly Viper would do the trick, but as we see the long snake coil itself around Sunny to give the baby a playful lick, its clear this creature is just like Monty – mysterious but marvelous. In fact, much like the kids loved Justice Strauss, they love Monty. He implores them to read the books available in the reptile room, stressing knowledge is the gateway to tackling life’s most intricate moments of macabre. Instantly, Monty becomes a force of wild passion, proving good and intelligent people will grace the Baudelaire’s unfortunate lives — if only for a spell.
Of course, the winds of change are ever bustling and blowing for the kids, as Olaf returns to gain control of the fortune he believes he deserves. While away for a time, Olaf arrives at the mansion in a disguise he calls Stephano: a hired assistant to Monty. Being of sound mind and apt intuition, the new alter ego does not fool the Baudelaires; which is basically a bald Olaf with a long beard, horn-rimmed coke bottle glasses, and a white lab coat. Chasing the Baudelaires up the stairs brandishing a hunting knife, Olaf immediately threatens to cut off Sunny’s toes. Resourceful and resilient, the children rush to the reptile room, lock themselves in, and keep their cool until Monty shows up to deal with the imposter. If Monty wasn’t likable enough, he makes it clear he knows this Stephano is not who he says he is, which is a nice change of pace from the countless adults who have trouble seeing what’s plainly in front of them.
Monty holds a secret meeting with the Baudelaires, telling them Stephano is to not be trusted and he has a plan to get rid of him without involving the police. Monty suggests they all attend the cinema. Zombies in the Snow might seem like another schlocky B-movie horror romp, but it actually contains a special message in the subtitles. Using a mysterious spyglass device, Monty reads out a specific message to take the Baudelaires to Peru on the SS Prospero. Sadly, Olaf is on to this subtle exchange of information. After a near kidnapping and killing, the doctor pulls through and takes the children back home to escape to Peru the next day.
This is an unfortunate tale though, and as Snicket already warned us, Monty does not have a happy ending. Tucking his new kids into bed, he heads down into his precious reptile room, which houses his greatest accomplishments and treasured scaly friends. Before he can make it to his normal study chair, a sudden movement startles him, and an unseen force takes him over.
NEXT: The unfortunate disposal of mighty Monty’s earthly vessel.
Heading into episode 4 and part two of The Reptile Room, the Baudelaires’ (and frankly our own) darkest fears hit home — Uncle Monty will no longer be able to provide care for the children. As morning breaks, a dark feeling overwhelms the children when they realize they weren’t woken by their new uncle to embark on a fantastical journey. Rushing to the reptile room, a cold and still Monty rests in the study chair. Clearly, Olaf has taken to the extreme measure of murder to keep the Baudelaires.
And we know this because Olaf appears to take credit for the dark deed before the children can even take a moment to mourn. An unfortunate event countered with even more unfortunate aftermath, Olaf sweetens the deal by forcing Sunny into a suitcase to blackmail Violet and Klaus into going with him to Peru. It’s in this moment the series truly defines its lines between humor and genuine darkness — Olaf’s nonchalant murder deeply impacts the viewer and Baudelaires, but the jokes keep rolling in. Thankfully the balance is handled tastefully, not swaying too much into either direction.
In a strange twist, Poe suddenly appears before Olaf can escape, which forces him to play up his Stephano role to the skeptical banker. Poe sees no similarity between Stephano and Olaf. Arguably the issue of most adults not seeing what’s plainly in front of them is one of the more difficult aspects to translate from page to screen, but the dark and quirky tone of this adaptation makes it easier to believe. The Baudelaires see more than what’s in front of them, which is a nice nod to their obvious intelligence for such youngsters while the adults seem to view life on one plane of existence, roaming from day-to-day activities to avoid having to see the dark moments life offers. It’s also a nice device to allow the audience to grow attached to certain guardians, such as Monty, as they stand out as wiser than their peers.
Heading back to the house, the children are forced to watch Olaf get away with his murderous scheme: He quickly explains away Monty’s death by blaming it on the Incredibly Deadly Viper. Even after Klaus attempts to defend the wrongly named snake, Poe leans on Stephano’s explanation and looks to him on how to proceed. The despicable man’s typical cohorts appear in their own disguises (including the hook-handed man as a detective with wooden hands with which he can open canned peaches!).
Determined to prove Olaf’s guilt, the Baudelaires get to work on revealing the truth. Klaus seeks notes on the viper from Monty’s journal, and Violet and Sunny break into Olaf’s suitcase for the murder weapon. Both scavenger hunts for evidence prove successful: Klaus learns the mysterious gold device he’s been holding is part of a spyglass. Sunny gets wrapped up in the Incredibly Deadly Viper’s grip, but this just further proves the reptile had nothing to do with Monty’s death.
Using their deductive skills, Sunny points out Olaf stated he knew nothing of snakes from the beginning and would have no opinion on the deadliness of the viper, Klaus reads off Monty’s notes on the vipers lack of aggression toward humans, and Violet pieces together the projectile venom weapon Olaf created to look like a snake bite on Monty’s face. Finally, Poe seems convinced Stephano is a fraud, and with a swipe of his germ-infested handkerchief on Olaf’s ankle, the familiar eye tattoo is revealed. The jig is up. Of course, this is not a fortunate story for the Baudelaires, and Poe proves his lack of intelligence by letting everyone get away. Chasing down Olaf in the garden maze, the Baudelaires run into Jacqueline, their parents partner. She promises to get Klaus’ spyglass piece back from the escaped Olaf and urges them to connect with Aunt Josephine to seek shelter.
Before we move on to The Wide Window, Jacqueline does catch up with the “master” of disguises aboard the SS Prospero. She almost pulls him into custody, but she ultimately loses him to the sea. She does manage to snag Klaus’ spyglass piece before we cut to another short tease of the Baudelaire parents trying to get back to their children. With an even angrier Olaf on the loose and the incompetence of the vast majority of adults on display, it seems the Baudelaires will have many more misfortunes to deal with before a possible reconciliation with their parents. Perhaps Aunt Josephine can bring them the solace they so richly deserve, but the main question on their mind has to be when Olaf will strike next … and what he’ll look like when he does.