WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events, streaming now on Netflix.
A secret society that somehow connects the Baudelaires to the Quagmires, the Snickets, Count Olaf (shudder) and numerous others, the V.F.D. has been an enigma throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events, a series filled to overflowing with mysteries. But each time the Baudelaire orphans seemingly move closer to the answer in the second season of the Netflix comedy-drama, it slips through their hands. So, what is the V.F.D.?
Well, that depends on which V.F.D. you mean. Those letters recurred throughout the first season, but in the second they become a red herring -- not to be confused with the red herring sculpture that also plays a role in events -- that sends Violet, Klaus and Sunny to an auction, where they uncover a large box of Very Fine Doilies, and then to the crow- and rule-loving Village of Fowl Devotees. Oh, and then there are the unbearably chipper, singing Volunteers Fighting Diseases.
But you're likely referring to that other V.F.D., less commonly known by its full name, Volunteer Fire Department, whose members -- or Volunteers -- are identified by a tattoo on their left ankle. (It looks like an eye, but upon closer inspection it's the stylized letters V.F.D.) We know from Season 1 that the Baudelaires, Montgomery Montgomery, Josephine Anwhistle, Lemony Snicket, Larry the Waiter, Jacquelyn and, yes, Count Olaf were members. In Season 2, Jacques Snicket (Nathan Fillion) recruits librarian Olivia Caliban (Sara Rue) into the ranks, although we still don't get much of a sense of what the V.F.D. does, other than don disguises, drive around in taxis, communicate in code and, well, put out fires (although, frankly, they're falling behind on the latter).
However, in the Season 2 finale, the Baudelaire children, and viewers, learn a little more about the secret society in their perilous visit to the Caligari Carnival. There, while attempting to avoid Count Olaf and his troupe of actors, they're introduced -- or, rather, reintroduced -- to the fortunate teller Madame Lulu, who's actually Olivia Caliban, the former librarian of Prufrock Preparatory School turned Volunteer.
You see, the carnival is merely a front used by the V.F.D. to gather information. "There is no real Madame Lulu," she explains to the Baudelaires. "It’s just an alias for whichever Volunteer is stationed here. It’s a rotating position."
Asked by Klaus about the nature of the V.F.D., seeing as how his parents and Count Olaf were members, Olivia replies, "There was a time when the V.F.D. was noble, dedicated to putting out fires, literal and figurative, but then there was a schism. … One side decided it was better to start fires."
That side, which relishes arson, murder and robbery, includes Count Olaf, most notably, but also the optometrist/hypnotist Georgina Orwell (Catherine O'Hara) from Season 1, and financial adviser/socialite Esme Squalor (Lucy Punch), introduced in Season 2 as the children's guardian and Olaf's ally and love interest. (During their brief but treacherous stay with Esme and her kind husband, the Baudelaires discover a network of tunnels stretching from Esme's fashionable high-rise to their own home, raising suspicions that she may have been responsible for the deadly fire.)
The nature of the schism that ripped apart the V.F.D. isn't clear, although Olivia drops tantalizing references to a night at the opera and "a certain sugar bowl" -- the same one sought by Esme in the latter half of Season 2 -- before she's interrupted. The original books don't shed much light on the cause of the schism, why one side chose to set fires, or what the "noble" pursuits of the united organization were before the split. And it's doubtful the upcoming third season of A Series of Unfortunate Events will provide us with additional clues. But we can hope.
Available now on Netflix, the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events stars Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, Patrick Warburton and K. Todd Freeman, with Lucy Punch, Nathan Fillion, Tony Hale, Sara Rue and Roger Bart, among others.