Inside Lemony Snicket's Spy Network in ‘Unfortunate Events’
Why does Count Olaf have an eye tattoo?
MAJOR Spoilers for Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as all the books to follow.
In a significant change from the Lemony Snicket books, the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events establishes a secret society of pseudo-spies right at very beginning of the story. We find out in the later books in the series that this group is known by the initials “V.F.D.” The Netflix series, however, front-loads the series with knowledge of V.F.D. in the first episode. Lemony Snicket, himself, mentions that when suspicious fires occur, “all true and decent people know it’s time to volunteer. This is a direct reference to the secret group sometimes known as the “Volunteer Fire Department.” Here’s a brief guide to understanding what we already know about the V.F.D., their phrases and symbols, plus, how this iteration of the secret group in the Netflix series differs from the books.
All eight episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events contain copious references to secret organizations. Justice Strauss has a book about “The History of Secret Societies” in her law library, though there is probably only one organization we should be concerned with. Gustav, Uncle Monty, and the new character Jacquelyn all brandish nifty spyglasses, which are also shown to be portable code-breakers.
Like many items from the secret society, these are adorned with what appears to be a logo of a large eye, the same one tattooed on Count Olaf’s ankle. In the books, it is revealed the eye isn’t a symbol, but actually the initials “V.F.D.,” stylized to look like an eye. Over the course of the books, V.F.D. has primarily meant “Volunteer Fire Department,” but also “Veritable French Diner,” “Valley of Four Drafts,” “Very Fun Day,” and so on. Count Olaf’s tattoo might seem just part of a creepy aesthetic at first, but the real reason he has it is because he was once part of the same organization as Lemony Snicket and countless other agents.
The secret motto of the V.F.D. is “The World is Quiet Here,” a phrase which is uttered by Uncle Monty’s former assistant Gustav in the show, just before he dies. In the books, Gustav never appeared, and was only mentioned in The Reptile Room, but now his role has expanded considerably, to the point where it seems practically like a brand new character. But Jacquelyn — Mr. Poe’s secretary, who hangs out with Gustav briefly — is a brand new character.
While the code-breaking spyglasses are new to the Netflix version of Unfortunate Events, there was, bizarrely, a similarity to a telescope in the 2004 film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. In the new Netflix show, the spyglasses could be interpreted as a replacement for “commonplace books,” an item every member of the V.F.D. is required to have in the original text.
In the third episode, Klaus says, “I thought we knew our parents,” while in the same episode, it is established that the Baudelaires’ parents and Count Olaf knew each other prior to the events of the series. Throughout all 13 books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Beatrice Letters, Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, and all four books in All the Wrong Questions, various characters are participating in secret missions and assignments, all of which is eventually revealed to have started with one group: the V.F.D.
In the finale of the Netflix show, Lemony Snicket is glimpsed at in a picture with Count Olaf. Both are much younger men, and members of the drama club at Prufrock Preparatory School. After meeting in school, Lemony Snicket and Count Olaf went on to work together as agents of the V.F.D. before becoming enemies. As Kit Snicket told the Baudelaire orphans in the twelfth book, The Penultimate Peril, “V.F.D. was once a united group of volunteers, trying to extinguish fires — both literally and figuratively. But now there are two groups of bitter enemies.”
In the show, the characters of “Mother” and “Father” are teased to be V.F.D. agents — and the Baudelaires’ deceased parents. It’s later revealed that they aren’t V.F.D. agents, but are actually the Quagmire triplets’ parents.
The mythology of the books establishes that before this schism occurred — members were recruited into the organization very young, sometimes even by abduction in the middle of the night. The V.F.D. communicates through complicated codes and phrases, sometimes borrowing from passages from other literature. Sometimes they communicate through movies, like the film “Zombies in the Snow.”
After the schism, the V.F.D. has two sides: “Fire-Fighting side” and the “Fire-Starting side.” Nearly all the heroic guardians of the Baudelaires — from Uncle Monty, to Aunt Josephine, to Captain Widdershins — in all the books are eventually revealed to have been members of the good side of the V.F.D. While Count Olaf’s troupe and hench-persons, of course, all belong to the bad side of the schism. Mysteriously, the books eventually revealed Lemony Snicket had two siblings, also members of the V.F.D: Jacques and Kit Snicket.
At present, the operative Jacquelyn in the show doesn’t have a corresponding character in the books, but that doesn’t mean her identity as a V.F.D. member might not have deeper roots. The Lemony Snicket All the Wrong Questions books established Snicket’s network called “Association of Associates,” which was kind of a proto-version of the V.F.D. If “Jacquelyn” is not Jacquelyn’s real name, then it’s possible she could be one of Snicket’s old friends from those books, including Ellington Feint, Moxie Mallahan, or Cleo Knight. Though, at the moment, the idea of Jacquelyn having another identity is pure speculation.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is streaming on Netflix now.