Ahhhh, the Sugar Bowl. One of the signature overarching mysteries that ties the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans together in A Series of Unfortunate Events. While the original movie scarcely referenced this crucial symbol, the Netflix show Series of Unfortunate Events has touched on this suspicious piece of porcelain several times, even going so far as to show it on screen at the end of "The Hostile Hospital." But what does the source material have to say about this vessel for disaccharides? What is inside the Sugar Bowl in the books and why does Esme want it back so badly?
If you're wondering, you're already on the right track. In the books, one of the most important lines regarding the Sugar Bowl comes from Captain Widdershins, the captain of the Queequeg, in The Grim Grotto.(Captain Widdershins doesn't appear in the Netflix version of that story, as his character is merged with his stepdaughter, Fiona.) "It's not the Sugar Bowl," Widdershins clarifies to the curious and confused Baudelaires, "it's what's inside it. Aye!" Unfortunately, that's where the captain's explanation stops.
The Sugar Bowl is first mentioned by name in Book 8, The Hostile Hospital, when Lemony Snicket asks in the narration, "Was it really necessary? Was it absolutely necessary to steal that Sugar Bowl from Esme Squalor?" He brings it up as the Baudelaire kids are making the morally questionable decision to steal Hal's keys and break into the library of records, to emphasize how decisions like these can haunt people for years and years after they are made.
Although that's the first time Snicket speaks of the sugar bowl specifically, it's also referenced two books earlier in The Ersatz Elevator, when Esme shouts at the children after she pushes them down the elevator shaft. "But I want to steal from you!" she cries. "I want to steal from you the way Beatrice stole from me!" Presumably, she's referring to the theft of the Sugar Bowl.
In Book 10, The Slippery Slope, Olaf and his troupe head up the Mortmain Mountains to the ruined V.F.D. headquarters in search of the Sugar Bowl, only to have Snicket reveal to the reader in the end that it had been thrown into the Stricken Stream in the blaze, and floated out to sea.
In Book 11, The Grim Grotto, the children wind up going into the Gorgonian Grotto to see if they can uncover the Sugar Bowl for Captain Widdershins, but it's already been removed and flown to the Hotel Denouement, courtesy of the V.F.D. crows. Book 12, The Penultimate Peril, suggests that Lemony Snicket himself retrieves the Sugar Bowl out of the pond in front of the hotel and ferries it away in a taxi.
Although the Sugar Bowl is mentioned often in the book version The End, neither its final location nor its contents are ever explicitly revealed to the three Baudelaire orphans or the reader. Keeping the secret concealed reinforces one of Snicket's main ideas throughout the book series: not every mystery in life will be able to be solved.
However, in the Netflix show, the contents are revealed by Allison Williams' character, Kit Snicket, who tells the Baudelaire kids that the Sugar Bowl contained the the vaccine for the Medusoid Mycelium — while horseradish might be the antidote to the deadly mushroom, the contents of the Sugar Bowl prevent it altogether. But that's an invention of the Netflix series altogether.
That being said, however, Daniel Handler (that's the author behind the pen name, Lemony Snicket) did confirm in an interview with The Observer that although the answer to what is inside isn't clearly stated in the books, he, at least, knows the truth. Periodically, fans solve the Sugar Bowl mystery for themselves by scouring the 13 novels of the series and companion books like The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters. Handler revealed that every so often, a reader will write to him, having figured out what's in the Sugar Bowl. "That fills me with pleasure. That makes me think it’s not too obscure," Handler said in The Observer interview.
From The Bad Beginning, the Netflix show has been more obvious when it comes to dropping hints than the book series ever was. For this reason, it seems likely that if you've always wanted to get to the bottom of the Sugar Bowl mystery, then A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 3 might just be your chance.