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.