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Recap / A Series of Unfortunate Events S01E01 "The Bad Beginning, Part 1"

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"I'm sorry to inform that this is not the kind of show you want to be watching. The episode you are about to see is extremely unpleasant. If you wish to see a show about a politician one-uping Washington D.C., then I'm sure House of Cards is on Netflix. However, if you like stories about clever and reasonably attractive orphans, suspicious fires, abusive theater troupes, Italian food and secret organizations, then stay, as I retrace each and every one of the Baudelaire children's woeful steps. My name is Lemony Snicket, and it is my sad duty to document this tale."
Lemony Snicket
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The Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith) are sent out for the day by their parents. They take a rickety trolley to Briny Beach, which is cloudy and dreary, but the children make the most of their time: Klaus calculates how to skip a stone farther, Sunny bites a stone into optimal rock-skipping shape, and Violet’s invention retrieves the skipped stone. Everything changes when Mr. Poe (K. Todd Freeman) appears to inform them that their home has burned down, and that in the fire both of their parents have perished, a word which here means they died. note 

Since he is the banker in charge of their parents' will, the children are taken to Mr. Poe’s house while he searches for their closest living relative. While at Mr. Poe’s house, the children are unfortunately harassed by Mrs. Poe (Cleo King), who works for The Daily Punctilio. She ignores any pain and suffering the children are experiencing, instead showing off how they made the paper's headline. Eventually, Mr. Poe does find Baudelaires' closest living relative and brings them to their new guardian's house.

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The children meet Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack), a single woman who needs an inventor, someone who loves books, and someone to help slice bread. She is not the children's guardian. Their actual guardian, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), lives in a dark and dreary house across the street. Count Olaf is a greedy man, a terrible actor, nowhere near as nice as Justice Strauss, and only adopted the Baudelaires for one reason: the enormous for-tune left behind by their parents that they will inherit once Violet, the eldest, comes of age. Noted now, but not important until later, Count Olaf has a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, which also appears as a motif throughout his house.

After the children are immediately put to work cleaning the house, Justice Strauss stops by to offer them some good food. Count Olaf eats it instead, then tells the Justice that the kids don’t want to see her. Justice Strauss leaves, quite disappointed.

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After finishing all the chores, the children are assigned one last job: make dinner. They go to Justice Strauss private library for help. She lends them some cookbooks, and after seeing Klaus’s spyglass she goes to retrieve a book that is titled The Incomplete History of Secret- (the rest of the title is cut off). After consulting the cookbooks, the children decide to make Pasta Puttanesca.

They go out shopping, and upon returning home are treated to a musical number - “It’s the Count”, performed by Count Olaf and his Theatre Troupe: The Hook-Handed Man (Usman Ally), The Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender (Matty Cardarople), The White-Faced Women (Jacqueline and Joyce Robbins), and The Bald Man (John De Santis). The kids put a lot of effort into making dinner (even making chocolate pudding for desert), but after presenting it to Count Olaf, are promptly informed that they were supposed to make Roast Beef. Count Olaf retaliates by holding Sunny up high and threatening to drop her and slapping Klaus.

The episode closes with Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) walking through a tunnel filled with Foreshadowing signs, Justice Strauss is shown with a book titled Adoption Law & You, and finally two characters credited as “Mother” (Cobie Smulders) and “Father” (Will Arnett) are shown being carted off in a jail car to a location unknown.

Tropes:

  • Adapted Out: The book specifies that the Count's troupe has ten people (counting the Count himself). The show narrows it down to merely the two White-Faced Women, the Hook Handed Man, the Giant Man, and the Person of Indeterminate Gender.
  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • In the books, the Baudelaires wind up with Count Olaf essentially because Mr. Poe was lazy. Their parent's will stated they had to live conveniently, and Mr. Poe makes them live with Olaf because he's geographically closest. Here, the will apparently does specify closest, and he's just stupid enough to not understand the nuance of the term.
    • Justice Strauss is introduced returning from shopping, specifically for items that allow her to establish a rapport with the kids, whereas in the book she's gardening.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Of the Baudelaires' time with the Poes, and Olaf's general cruelty.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Mrs. Poe. In the book, she tries to do something nice for the Baudelaires, albeit in the form of buying them uncomfortable clothing. Here, she doesn't even do that, supporting one of her sons when he sneers at Klaus just for talking, and shows absolutely no sympathy or kindness toward them at all.
    • Mr. Poe's wife Mrs. Poe has little to no character in the original book. Here, she acts Innocently Insensitive to the orphans by constantly rubbing it in their faces their horrible predicament under the assumption that they would be honored that they made the front page, and even siding with their sons that it was none of Clause's business when he tells them the definition of "blanched" when they asked.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: The Troupe are kinder here than in the original book: they enjoy the pasta the children made, they are concerned when Count Olaf holds Sunny up very high, and they are shocked when Olaf slaps Klaus.
  • Blatant Lies: Olaf insists his troupe can't stand their pasta putenesca. They obligingly fake being unable to eat the pasta they were enjoying just moments before.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the siblings' introduction scene at Briny Beach, Klaus asks Violet why she was about to cast the stone with her left hand when she is right-handed. Her hand-dominance becomes a plot point late into the next episode.
    • In his introduction, Olaf mentions off-handedly he does consultant work. The next episode expands on this detail.
  • "I Am" Song: "It's the Count", sung by Count Olaf.
  • Kick the Dog: Mr. Poe's two sons seem to think that the orphans were the ones who staged the fire and killed their parents, asking how they did it when they are in bed.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Count Olaf likes doing this a lot.
  • Mythology Gag: If the sequence near the start of the episode is of any indication, the method that is used to start the fire in the Baudelaire mansion is a large magnifying lens, similar to how it was done in the film.
  • Race Lift: Mr. Poe is black in this adaptation, in contrast to the 2004 film.
  • Sigil Spam: Eyes are everywhere in Count Olaf's house.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Not that he was exactly a "clown" (maybe it had to do with that one-piece swimsuit), but Snicket distinctly heaves a sigh and leaves the shot, leaving off his trademark narration and onscreen presence for a minute, when the news arrives.
  • Wham Shot: The ending where a man and a woman are taken away to a unknown prison, worrying about their children.
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