A Series of Unfortunate Events might seem like a whimsical story, but in the penultimate episode of the Netflix series, the show presents the audience with a Westworld style mindfuck twist. Over the course of the previous six episodes, it seemed that the show changed the books’ take on the Baudelaire parents’ fate. The Netflix version teased the idea that unbeknownst to the Baudelaire orphans, their parents (played by Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders) were alive and well and in Peru.
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Indeed, in the credits, the actors are simply billed as “mother” and “father.” But “The Miserable Mill Part 1” reveals that the show was playing a clever sleight of hand. Arnett and Smulders are not the parents of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, but of the Quagmire triplets: Isadora, Duncan, and Quigley. Rather than changing the mythology of the story then, their presence fleshes it out in a fascinating way.
The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
In the books we never meet the Quagmire parents. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny meet two of the Quagmire children in the fifth book, The Austere Academy. Season 1 of the Netflix show has paved the way for this in its final shot, when we see Isadora and Duncan Quagmire sitting on a bench behind the Baudelaires, holding the same mysterious spyglass.
This means that within the first two episodes of Season 2, we can expect the Baudelaire orphans to befriend the Quagmires and bond over the fact that both sets of parents have died in a fire. As Isadora and Duncan explain, their brother Quigley also died with their parents. But long after Violet, Klaus, and Sunny lose track of Isadora and Duncan — as the two are kidnapped by Count Olaf — they meet Quigley, who is alive and well. He’s even something of a love interest to Violet.
Though separated, the Quagmires still manage to help the Baudelaires parse out mysteries like why the initials “VFD” and the eye symbol keep popping up everywhere and why both sets of parents really died in fires. The Quagmires are thus not only significant to the story because they want to help the Baudelaires, but also because they’re similarly linked to its central conspiracy. Their parents were involved in the same mysterious secret society that is linked to the Baudelaire parents, Lemony Snicket, the mysterious new character Jacquelyn, and even Count Olaf.
The books leave their fate open-ended, as the Baudelaires try and fail to reunite with their friends. In fact, in the later novels, near-misses with the Quagmires happen nearly as frequently as encounters with Count Olaf. Unfortunately, whenever the Quagmires are about to impart important information they’ve uncovered, they disappear again, captured by Count Olaf or his henchmen. “Offscreen” in the books, the Quagmires experience their own series of unfortunate events and misadventures.
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Their prominence on the show is an intriguing sign that these events might be pulled onscreen. Even if they aren’t, the exploration of their parents’ background gives the audience more context about the secret society and raises the stakes for the narrative. The most controversial thing about the book series is its open-ended and dissatisfying ending. While it’s too soon to tell if the Quagmire parents survived the fire along with Quigley, or if “The Miserable Mill” is their last appearance, their presence fills in some of the book’s plot holes and is a sign that the story will have a more satisfying ending onscreen.