The third book in the series, The Wide Window makes up episodes 5 and 6 of the Series of Unfortunate Events in the Baudelaire orphans’ lives. Fortunately, I don’t need to pull a Lemony Snicket and spend years documenting the kids’ lives and attempting to figure out what went wrong. Sadly, that’s the only bit of good news you’ll be getting as we delve into their struggles with what will now be their third guardian
of the season.
Mr. Poe — who at this point is seriously making me doubt his reliability as a banker — deposits the kids on Damocles Dock (after a ride on the Fickle Ferry), leaving them to make their way to their “fierce and formidable” Aunt Josephine on their own via a conveniently arriving and reasonably priced taxi. On the way, he warns them about the fast approaching Hurricane Herman, while also giving them a book report on Melville’s literary devices.
As it turns out, Aunt Josephine’s house hangs half off a cliff, and doesn’t have a functioning doorbell. As Violet, Klaus, and Sunny soon learn, their aunt is not as much “fierce” as fearful. Honestly, it would be easier to list the things she’s not afraid of — not including telephones, the stove, central heating, and of course real estate agents. (Despite what Snicket says, I maintain that it’s completely healthy and logical to have some modicum of fear of real estate agents.)
However, what Aunt Josephine lacks in courage, she more than makes up for in terms of grammar lessons and the promise of answers about the section of spyglass Klaus found. Especially after she reveals that she and her husband Ike — who was eaten by Lachrymose leeches — knew the Baudelaire parents and would picnic with them. She also mentions that they used to develop secret codes. (Side note, but “Wesleyan Semicolon” could definitely be one of Vampire Weekend’s lesser-known songs, right?)
Meanwhile, back at the ranch it would seem that Count Olaf has made his way across Lake Lachrymose and onto Damocles Dock. There he goes up against Larry, a waiter at the Anxious Clown, who also happens to be a member of a secret organization. Here we learn two things: Lemony Snicket is the most fearsome member of said organization, and neither Larry nor Olaf is sure that he’s dead. In any case, Olaf bests Larry, and we continue to fear for the Baudelaires.
Back at Aunt Josephine’s house, Violet, Sunny, and Klaus, manage to convince their newest guardian to go get supplies to prepare for the incoming hurricane. Though if they knew what we know, I’m sure they’d have preferred to starve instead. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
With their aunt gone, the kids go in search of answers. After figuring out the combination to the safe, they find a series of photos showcasing her once daring side, as well as a book titled, “The Incomplete History of Secret Organizations.” But before they can actually read it, Josephine returns home with a very special surprise:
Count Olaf Captain Sham.
The kids try to warn her but of course she doesn’t believe them; she heads out on her date (“two adults sharing time quality time together”) instead. The Baudelaires try to follow after her, but are foiled when Olaf’s henchmen arrive in a car and spend all night waiting outside. Despondent, they try and come up with another plan.
We then visit Josephine and Olaf in the taxi, where he proceeds to sing some kind of made-up sea chantey to her. Neil Patrick Harris does a wonderful job with the ridiculousness of it all.
Back at the
ranch house, there’s the sound of a window shattering, with a vaguely, Aunt Josephine-shaped hole in the window. Klaus finds a note addressed to them from her and reads it aloud. Her note leaves them in the care of Captain Sham. Klaus says there’s something funny fishy about it, and it’s not just the fact that she left them in the care of Captain Sham. (Of course, thanks to Snicket we know that dear Aunt Josephine isn’t dead… at least for now.)
PARENT TRAP: Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire escape their scuffle in the bar — which reminded the kids’ mother of their honeymoon. However, she says they have three kids who need them. Her husband then decodes a message, which says: “You can’t lock up the barn after the horses are gone. They then find a plane and escape. Lemony explains that the phrase means that sometimes you realize something when it’s too late.
NEXT: The not-so-hasty getaway
The next morning — a phrase here that means, the morning after the night Aunt Josephine supposedly killed herself — the Baudelaires tell Mr. Poe their deductions: Count Olaf killed Aunt Josephine and forged the note. And because Mr. Poe is capable of having a good idea, they compare her note to her shopping list and discover that despite the grammatical errors, the handwriting is identical.
So the frustrating banker dismisses their claims, bringing up how they’d thought the same of Stephano — even though, as Violet points out exasperatedly, they were right. But, being Mr. Poe, he simply refuses to believe this is possible. Klaus tries to give him proof. But it’s not there. He accuses the orphans of letting their imaginations run away with them.
In any case they’re going to brunch with Captain Sham because he “accidentally” called Mr. Poe and set it up. Also, the banker is pretty eager to deposit the orphans in the care of a man he’s just met on the phone and return to the city before the oncoming hurricane hits. He promises that nothing will escape the “eyes of Poe.” But six episodes in, it’s extremely hard to believe that.
At the Anxious Clown, Larry is the waiter serving them. After freaking out that Josephine might be dead, he hints that they should get the “Cheer-Up Cheeseburgers,” and to open up the burger and check out what’s inside. Confused, the kids go along with it. Unfortunately, Olaf’s henchmen — who are hiding in the kitchen — foil that plan.
Following that, he goes to plan B: When the kids tell him they’re allergic to peppermints, he brings a tray of tiny peppermint candies and the bill. This is an interesting diversion from the books (where they actually keep the candies Mr. Poe gives them) but it allows the secret organization to get more involved.
The kids eat the peppermints, which triggers their fast-acting allergies. Poe freaks out. Captain Sham insists that they will be fine if they just breathe. Luckily Poe agrees to the kids’ idea that they return home and “rest.” The kids quickly leave and hurry back so they can investigate the note. Once home, Klaus quickly solves the code hidden in their aunt’s note. She’s still alive and hiding in the Curdled Cave.
Sadly — because this tale just keeps getting darker — the kids don’t get a chance to pack any of their stuff before the storm causes half the house (the one leaning over the cliff) to break off and lurch into the lake. The kids nearly plummet to their deaths, but are able to escape — though not without seeing the book they need fly past them (while revealing an image of the mysterious spyglass Klaus has a piece of) and procuring a picture of their parents with Josephine, Uncle Monty, and Lemony Snicket.
Unfortunately the rest of the house doesn’t survive for long either. It quickly falls into the lake as the kids get out just in the nick of time, a phrase here that means at the very last second.
Armed with this new knowledge, the kids steal a sailboat and sail to the Lavender Lighthouse in the midst of the Hurricane — something Lemony Snicket explicitly warns us not to do. All this while Olaf is stuck dealing with Mr. Poe and his piles of paperwork.
When they finally find their aunt in the cave, she explains that as soon as she found out who Olaf was she immediately agreed to his plan out of fear. Then at the first opportunity, she left them a note and made her escape. Thankfully, Count Olaf is TERRIBLE at checking out of windows, allowing Aunt Josephine to beat a hasty getaway on her recreational watercraft.
The kids question why she didn’t take them with her or protect them. It’s because she’s scared of Olaf. Even though Violet and Klaus point out that she can just come with them and tell Mr. Poe the truth, therefore getting Olaf arrested and put behind bars. Violet then argues that they’ve been afraid this entire time. But they still managed to get over it, including giving themselves allergic reactions, stealing a sailboat, and sailing in the midst of a hurricane to escape. This is where Klaus points out that the cave is for sale, which means that REAL ESTATE AGENTS will be coming to the cave. Josephine agrees to leave instantly.
In the boat, Klaus shows Josephine the photograph and tries to get answers. But before she can tell them anything substantial, Josephine realizes they’re in the territory of the Lachrymose leeches. And as it turns out, she’d recently eaten a banana just before leaving. (You’d think this is something a woman plagued by her husband’s death in this exact matter would remember. But I guess real estate agents are just too scary for her.) In any case, the leeches start attacking the boat, smelling the food.
After some concentration — and absolutely no help from Aunt Josephine — Violet comes up with the idea to sound a fire alarm of sorts. For that they’d need something to burn while they bang on a bucket. She asks for Josephine’s scarf. But they just need something to light it. Klaus comes up with the idea to use his binoculars to catch the light from the lighthouse. But it doesn’t work. They need something else.
In a case of incredible dramatic irony, his own father comes through, his binoculars reflecting the light straight into Klaus’ pair, allowing them to set the scarf afire. Violet tries to use it to signal the very plane carrying their parents just as the older Baudelaires agree to lend a hand. Unfortunately they spot a ferry sailing toward the boat… and their plane’s engine sputters out, causing them to brace for a rough landing.
As the younger Baudelaires board the ferry, they learn that its captain is a Sham, a.k.a. Count Olaf. Violet reveals their plan to have Aunt Josephine tell the truth. Olaf gets mad, bringing up all the stuff he’s done for her — including serving her beloved husband Ike, shredded beef tamales — the very thing that killed him. GASP!
Josephine gets a new surge of courage. She confronts Olaf and calls him a “vastly untalented actor.” She then proceeds to correct his grammar (Classic Aunt Jo!). Sadly, it’s too little too late. Olaf pushes her overboard.
The ferry finally sails into the dock, allowing Klaus to spot “Lucky Smells Lumber Mill” in the distance. Mr. Poe is annoyed that the kids ran away. They insist that Captain Sham is actually Count Olaf, but Poe doesn’t take them at their word. So Sunny chews through the peg leg, revealing that it’s false and that Sham is Olaf. Finally.
As Mr. Poe is busy arguing with Count Olaf about adopting the kids (“Sham” was left the kids, not Olaf) the Baudelaires spot a pickup truck heading to Lucky Smells, so they quickly sneak on it. When Mr. Poe realizes they’ve escaped, Olaf and his henchmen seize the moment to make their own hasty getaway.
PARENT TRAP: Larry gets a call from the Baudelaire’s parents. He discovers that they’re still alive. He can’t tell them much because the hook handed henchman gets in the way. But Bertrand quickly surmises — a word that means guesses — that the restaurant has been compromised.
EYE SPY: The telescope in the book! And Count Olaf’s tattoo.
ODDS AND ENDS:
- As Aunt Josephine recounts meeting Captain Sham, we see a particularly familiar looking fish vendor, who is none other than
Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler himself!
- “Nothing sinister has ever come from the real estate market.” —Lemony Snicket (Patrick Wharburton) comments on Aunt Josephine’s fear of real estate agents
- “Plenty of boys enjoy playing with dolls.” —Klaus
- Aunt Josephine also quotes, this powerful moment from the books, completely nailing how the kids feel: “It’s like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise.”
- “Life is a conundrum of esoterica.” We’ll miss you, Uncle Monty.
- Klaus: “Aunt Josephine fell for it hook, line, and sinker.”
Mr. Poe: “Please Klaus this is no time for fishing jokes.”
- “Imagination’s all well and good for children’s books and digital entertainment, but this is real life.” —Mr. Poe
- “How in the world did you expect to live with me in this cave without food?” Oh, Aunt Josephine.