The Futility of “Being the Adult” (Thoughts on A Series of Unfortunate Events)

I recently had a self-imposed four-day weekend, due to having unused vacation days at work that would disappear if I didn’t use them. I was supposed to use that weekend to get caught up on projects I wanted to work on, and while I did do that, I also…participated in less productive activities. Hey, if I’m going to take two whole days off of work, there better be at least some relaxation, right? 

That bit of relaxation manifested in the form of me binging the first season of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix

I didn’t read the books when I was younger (except for the eighth one, not realizing it was part of a series), but I regret it now, because the jargon in the show is dripping in Lemony Snicket’s captivating writing style. Overall, I thought the tone of the show had such an impressive level of wit, beautiful storytelling, and really managed to bring you along for the, well, unfortunate ride of the Baudelaire orphans. Everything hit the mark for me so far, and I’m so hopeful for the rest of the show (except for that final musical number. I’m still a little salty about that.)

For those who haven’t watched it, here’s a quick, mostly spoiler-free summary: the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, were told by their parents to go out for a leisurely day by the beach, which struck as a little bit odd to the children. During this leisurely outing, they are approached by Mr. Poe, who informs them that their parents died in a fire that set their home ablaze. The death of their parents forces them to live with their closest living relative, Count Olaf. Olaf is downright cruel to them, and is constantly scheming to find a way to get the Baudelaire fortune, which was entrusted to Violet when she turns eighteen (she is fourteen when the story starts. Klaus is twelve, and Sunny is an infant.) The story details the several unfortunate events that spiral out of control after they move in with him, as they try to avoid him using them for their inheritance, however he may try to get it. However, the Baudelaire children aren’t your ordinary group of kids: they’re much smarter. Violet is a master inventor, Klaus is essentially a human encyclopedia, and Sunny’s few teeth are sharper than your best kitchen knife, and these skills help them keep their head afloat in a time where they’re almost drowning in misfortune.

As I was watching this show, I couldn’t help but think of the subtle points made through painfully obvious situations about the capability and self-awareness of children, and the futility of “being the adult.” 

Despite Violet and Klaus being mentally capable of handling the adult world without their parents, shown through how they were able to prepare a meal for Count Olaf’s theater troupe on their own (with minor help from Judge Strauss, who helped them find a recipe), the adults in their lives seem to constantly undermine their intelligence. Not only that, but I noticed many instances where the adults were blatantly shown to make incredibly terrible decisions, showing their incapability to “be the adult” in situations. These are the instances where I seemed to notice it the most. (hint: there will be spoilers):

  • Mr. Poe constantly defining longer/complicated words for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, despite them already knowing/not asking for clarification.
  • Mr. Poe for some reason, passing the kids along to a strange man who only claims to have relation to the kids, but never shows any actual proof. Seriously?! 
  • Mr. Poe never ever believing that Count Olaf is trying to ruin everything through disguising himself to dole out some more dastardly plans (I have a LOT of problems with Mr. Poe, clearly.)
  • Mr. Poe somehow LOSING the kids before they run off to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, which leads to the owner (who’s a real dick) putting them to work, despite them being incredibly underage (okay I’m done complaining about Mr. Poe, now.)
  • Judge Strauss believing Count Olaf’s bogus claim that the kids are spoiled and always complain, despite the fact that she had talked to them the day before, and they were nothing but polite and gracious to her.
  • Judge Strauss CONTINUING to disregard what they have to say when Count Olaf offers her a chance to fulfill her lifelong dream of being an actress (but at this point, I figured she was just beyond gullible. Which lead to her dismay, anyway!)
  • Their Aunt Josephine being so self-involved in her own fear, that she almost disregards the kids entirely (because her fear and problems were always more important than the fact these kids have just lost their parents, endured the “care” of an evil man who just wants their money, and had an uncle killed by the same man who wants their fortune. Yes, Josephine, please focus more on how scared you are of everything.)
  • Aunt Josephine (condescendingly) correcting their grammar in situations where the situation was more dangerous than their improper grammar.

Their Uncle Monty, who was the second guardian they were passed along to, Jacquelyn (Mr. Poe’s secretary, who is a part of the secret society that the Baudelaire kids’ parents belong to) and even Count Olaf, are probably the only adults who don’t treat the kids like they’re incapable of handling themselves. Sure, Justice Strauss eventually feels bad for not believing in them, and their Aunt Josephine has faith that they’d figure out how to find her when she fakes her death, but several times in between those moments, they undermine them as if they were just ordinary kids. However, they show countless times to the adults in their lives that they are anything but ordinary.

As you watch this show, it’s so tempting to sit there and think “there’s no way an adult would make that decision,” and I thought that on several occasions. However, the way those choices were so blatantly put in there, and with how often it happened, it felt like an artistic choice. It’s like the show runners purposely exaggerated the flaws in the adults, and emphasizing the strengths in the kids, to make a point about what it really means to “be an adult.” Sure, there’s a time when you finally become a legal adult, but legal adults still often act like children (I’m sure we all know a few, like that.) We’re all taught that getting to a certain age means that you have the knowledge equipped to handle any situation, and that children often “don’t know what they want” or “don’t have enough life experience” to know how to handle things themselves. While both of these statements can be true, I think A Series of Unfortunate Events does a fantastic job at blurring those lines, showing that the capability of children is really much more complex than we make it out to be.

I think this show is brilliant for all that it accomplished in just the first season. It’s such a brilliant subject matter for current and upcoming generations, showing that young people really are smarter, more capable, and more self-aware than we give them credit for. Too often in society, I see people who are older discredit someone just because they’re not closer in age to them, and while age does have a lot to do with becoming more mature, it’s not an end-all for making that kind of judgement on someone. Maturity is something we have to actively work on; that’s not something we gain simply by letting the biological clock tick. The Baudelaire orphans show how possible it is for young people to adapt to their surroundings, be resourceful in times of need, and be self-aware enough to know what they need to survive, and I think the media rarely gives that kind of credit to an age group that could be easily underestimated. 

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