Finally, something new!
After moving through adaptations of the first three books — which were already adapted in the actually unfortunate 2004 movie starring Jim Carrey – the Netflix series finally enters uncharted territory in the first season finale, which takes on “The Miserable Mill.” And, does a good job at it, too. The titular mill, with its pale and depressing colors, is appropriately dreary and the script makes some thoughtful changes to the source material that elevates the story.
“The Miserable Mill” opens with the Baudelaires arriving at the front gate of Lucky Smells Lumbermill, located in the burnt-to-the-ground town of Paltryville, where they meet the well-meaning Charles and his
boss business partner Sir, who hires the orphans right on the spot because he sees them as free labor. As presented in the episode, Sir isn’t any better than Count Olaf. Sure, he isn’t trying to steal their fortune, but when he looks at them he only sees dollar signs as opposed to helpless children. It’s another time in which the orphans fall victim to the greediness of the world. That’s what makes the fact that they’re still compassionate children (which we’ll see later on in the episode) even more surprising and inspiring.
In their first meeting with Sir, the Baudelaires also learn some unfortunate news: everyone in the town knows and hates the name Baudelaire because it is widely believed that their parents were the ones responsible for the fire that destroyed the town. Violet wants to stay to find out more about the story, but Klaus is eager to leave. And, this disagreement brings some welcomed, but not gratuitous conflict, to the siblings’ relationship.
The mill is a very depressing place to work: The dorms are claustrophobic, the workers are only allowed to eat gum for lunch, and coupons are the only form of compensation. However, despite these poor conditions, the workers are disturbingly complacent, especially the annoyingly optimistic Phil. Despite Violet’s attempts to heed her father’s advice to never trust an optimist or optometrist (more on that later), it seems as though some of that optimism starts rubbing off on her. She thinks they’ve finally found a home where Count Olaf won’t be able to find them. (I’m sorry to say she’s very wrong.)
The orphans’ first day as workers at the mill gets off to a dreadful start because the new foreman shoves Klaus and steps on his glasses. (Un)luckily, there’s an optometrist — Dr. Georgina Orwell — in town who works in the menacing eye-shaped building that resembles Olaf’s haunting ankle tattoo. Oh, and here’s a very un-fun fact: Dr. Orwell is Count Olaf’s ex-girlfriend, and when Olaf arrives in town, she jumps at the opportunity to team up with him and destroy the orphan’s lives. Orwell and Olaf have a weird, twisted, and somewhat antagonist relationship that’s pretty amusing. Under the pretense of taking care of Klaus, Orwell straps him to a chair and hypnotizes him.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Violet and Sunny visit the mill’s library, which only contains copies of a history of the mill, to find information about the fire. Unfortunately, the chapter is redacted in every book except for one, but Sir rips the page out of the book before Violet has a chance to read it. Sir plans on burning it because he made deals that require him to lie about the fire to keep the mill open — a lie agreed upon, to borrow from Deadwood. “The mill is all I have, Charles,” says Sir in a rare moment where he drops his “I’m in the boss” bravado.
When Klaus returns to the mill later that night, he’s clearly not himself. He’s unresponsive and in some kind of a daze, which worries Violet because she feels as though she broke the promise she made to their parents. And, it’s clearly not something Klaus needed to sleep off because the next day, he’s in the same state and doesn’t object when the foreman (clearly, one of Olaf’s henchmen in disguise) orders him to use to the wood chipper while holding Sunny. Luckily, something Violet says wakes him up before any harm comes to Sunny.
The workday is interrupted when the Baudelaires receive a visitor at the gates. The show fools you into thinking Mother and Father are waiting on the other side of the gates as it jumps in between both parties approaching a yellow door. Sadly, that is not the case, because Dr. Orwell and Olaf in disguise as her receptionist Shirley show up to see the Baudelaires at the mill, and Mother and Father enter a home and greet their triplets, Duncan, Quigley and Isadora Quagmire. No, Cobie Smulders and Will Arnett are not the Baudelaire parents. They are the Quagmires, which is an interesting twist.
NEXT: There are no happy endings