A Series Of Unfortunate Events concluded its run as a book series in 2006, but one object has been lingering in the minds of fans ever since the story's conclusion. The sugar bowl in A Series Of Unfortunate Events is central to the story, and proves to be extremely important to the survival of the Baudelaire orphans. But what's so important about a sugar bowl, and why is an item found in a tea set at the center of a vast conspiracy? Mild spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2 ahead.
The mystery around the sugar bowl is introduced in The Hostile Hospital in the books, but is referenced at the very beginning of the television series. In the TV version of The Bad Beginning, it is revealed that Count Olaf is missing a sugar bowl. While this may not seem like a major clue, it's the first hint that Count Olaf's obsession with the Baudelaires goes much deeper than mere inheritance. The piece of china soon goes from being a minor detail to a key factor in the conspiracy plot that runs through all of the books. Its importance isn't made clear until Season 2 and the quest to find it will likely become one of the central plot points of Season 3.
The bowl itself is related to the project that the Baudelaire's parents were involved in, alongside Count Olaf, Esmé Squalor, and Lemony Snicket. Snicket asks himself in The Hostile Hospital whether or not it was necessary for him to steal the bowl in question from Esmé, but this simple act of theft may have set the entire plot of the series into motion.
SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS BOOKS While the search for the sugar bowl ends up defining the final act of the book series, it's never revealed to the reader exactly what is in the mysterious item. The author never outright states what the sugar bowl contains, but there are various clues hidden throughout the books that have allowed fans to put together theories regarding its contents. Whatever was contained in the sugar bowl was a lot more important than mere sugar.
One theory, formulated by a Tumblr blogger known as the "Snicket Sleuth," suggests that the sugar bowl holds an invaluable recorded conversation. The Sleuth points out that members of the mysterious V.F.D. often take their coffee and tea without sugar, and Count Olaf in particular is extremely adverse to using it. The Sleuth suggests that this is because V.F.D. members are spying on others using microphones in sugar bowls, and therefore avoid being around sugar bowls whenever possible to avoid being spied on. Whatever conversation is on the device inside the sugar bowl is likely to be of the utmost importance to members of the secret society.
Another theory, put forth by Reddit user UltimateFadKidDancer, suggests that the sugar bowl contains absolutely nothing. More specifically, it used to contain something important, but no longer does, and no one looking for the bowl is aware that it is empty. This theory suspects that the bowl once contained the cure to a poisonous mushroom known as Medusoid Mycelium, which Count Olaf attempts to weaponize in the final three books of the ASOUE series.
Per this guess, the Baudelaires' parents created a hybrid fruit by breeding apples with horseradish — the latter being a cure for Medusoid Mycelium — and hid the core of one of the hybrid apples in the sugar bowl. Through miscommunication amongst the V.F.D., it was believed that that cure was still in that bowl, when in reality the Baudelaires had planted the seeds from that core and grown trees with hybrid fruits, thus leaving the bowl empty. In a tragic twist worthy of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, the members of the V.F.D. have been fighting and killing others over an empty bowl the entire time.
END BOOK SPOILERS.
While the truth of what is inside the Sugar Bowl has never been publicly revealed, the author of A Series Of Unfortunate Events admits that there is a right answer to the question. In an interview with The Observer, Daniel Handler — who goes by the pen name Lemony Snicket — explains, "The mystery of the Sugar Bowl is clear enough," that every so often a reader will write to him about it and say they've figured it out. And they have. "That fills me with pleasure. That makes me think it’s not too obscure. If no one ever wrote me about it I would think, 'Oh I didn’t do it enough.' But because one person a year who will write me and say, 'I figured it out.' The whole answer of the Sugar Bowl is solvable," he added.
Though the books leave the matter open-ended, perhaps the show will finally deliver a clear-cut solution to this longstanding puzzle.