WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS: major plot points and details that may ruin the story for you if you haven't seen the TV series or read the books for yourself! If you've never seen Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Event TV series, I advise you not read this article. This article does not address the 2004 film and barely addresses the book series.
A little over a year ago, Netflix introduced a new original series: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on Daniel Handler’s book series of the same name. Netflix recently released the title’s second season this year. The show has grown to be one of my favorites and is wildly popular among audiences of all ages, and many fans have found that the series is a splendid kind of Neo-Gothic. I’ve quickly caught on to the series’ gothic style, and I’ve been analyzing it since.
So what exactly makes a story gothic? More or less, the genre is purely elemental, meaning that it is defined solely by certain components within the story—usually nothing more. I was taught that there are twelve specific elements, and they are:
A Dark (Minor) Character
By the way, speaking of Snicket, if you’re confused about the authorship of the series (since it is Lemony Snicket’s A Series…), know that the series was actually written by author Daniel Handler, but since he told the story from the perspective of Lemony Snicket, a fictional character within the universe, his editor suggested that he use the name as a pseudonym in order to maintain the illusion. He agreed to the suggestion, and has since adapted the pseudonym as his pen name.
Another possible candidate for the story’s ghost is, once again, Snicket himself. It’s more common in season one, but characters frequently question the storyteller’s mortal status. Therefore, could the man telling us the story be…a ghost himself?
The gothic ghost is one of the trickier constituents of Events (among others, you’ll see), but it could be supplemented by one of the secondary elements, which I’ll discuss towards the end. I think the gothic ghost element works best in terms of ideas: the whole “gone but not forgotten” concept seems to be the most fitting. And speaking of death…
First of all, the series has an excellent vampire in Count Olaf. Now hold on—before you jump at me, let me explain what that means. A vampire doesn’t have to be a blood-sucking man-bat with garlic allergies. In a figurative sense, a vampire simply refers to an older, often reclusive, creepy man who preys on younger women (figurative examples being Svidrigaïlov in Dostoevski’s Crime & Punishment and Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter). With this sort of vampire in mind, Olaf fits the bill perfectly.
An ingénue is a young, virginal, innocent, naïve woman who is usually the prey to the vampire (textbook examples being Johanna in Christopher Bond’s Sweeney Todd and Mina Murray in Dracula). The ingénue in Events could arguably be Violet, but she is hardly naïve. More accurately, it is Olivia Caliban, the mousey librarian of Prufrock Prep. What’s interesting though, is that while Caliban begins as a rather common ingénue, she develops into a courageous and daring woman—a satisfying arc that’s makes her death all the more upsetting.
And finally, the last secondary element is a corrupt figure of authority: Frollo in Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter, and Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. (The corrupt figure of authority often doubles as the vampire.) In Events, almost every adult the children meet is vicious and untrustworthy, the trump card being Mr. Poe. This element is one of the series’ more meta components, as the dishonesty of adults in authority seems to be one of its major themes.