[Spoilers for The Umbrella Academy]
Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy has never been very concerned with the “how” of things. How do [any character]’s powers actually work? How does time travel work? How’d that character get there? Does this make the show less enjoyable? Not really, since it’s all very ridiculous, you just go with it. Season 2 picks up right where we left off, and ultimately gives us more of what we loved in season 1 with some big performances, shocking reveals, and an ending that perfectly sets up a potential season 3.
Recapping the season (here goes!):
After failing to prevent Vanya (Ellen Page) from blasting the moon and causing Earth’s destruction in 2019, Five (Aidan Gallagher) transports all the Hargreeves children back in time; however, they land in Dallas, Texas in different years: Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min) in 1960, Allison (Emily Raver-Lampman) in 1961, Luther (Tom Hopper) in 1962, and Diego (David Castañeda), Vanya and Five in 1963.
Unsure of what happened to their siblings, the Hargreeves assimilate into life in the past. Five learns that, once again, the world will be destroyed in several days, and sees how this happens – JFK is never assassinated, and because of Vanya, there is a huge nuclear war with the Soviets that wipes everything out.
Five starts looking for his brothers and sisters and figuring out how to avoid another doomsday scenario. So where are the Hargreeves?
- After dropping into 1963, Vanya is hit by a car and has amnesia; she only remembers her name. Sissy Cooper (Marin Ireland), the woman who hit her, takes her in on her farm, and Vanya lives there with Sissy and her family – husband Carl (Stephen Bogaert) and autistic son Harlan (Justin Paul Kelly). Vanya actually saves Harlan from drowning; she gives him mouth to mouth, and turns out, some of her powers…
- Diego is thrown into an asylum, where he meets Lila Pitts (Ritu Arya); the two decide to escape, and do – after a run in with Five and a trio of Swedish brothers who try to kill them… Diego and Lila hook up, until we learn what Lila is really up to.
- Klaus has, naturally, started a cult! He and Ben live in a mansion in which Klaus’ followers live hippie lifestyles and follow his teachings – which are mostly song lyrics; the cult is called ‘Destiny’s Children’, after all.
- Luther has started working for Jack Ruby, and MMA-style fighting in an underground ring. There he gets to show off his werewolf-y strength and make his boss lots of money.
- Allison, after being chased by racist jerks, finds her voice again in Dallas’ African-American community. She meets Ray Chestnut (Yusuf Gatewood); the two get married and become civil rights activists.
After some time, the siblings find each other and figure out how to stop the nuclear destruction. Once again it’s Vanya at the center: she goes all “White Violin” and the still-alive JFK thinks she’s a Russian spy – her name is ‘Vanya’ and she speaks Russian – so all hell breaks loose. (At this point, if I were in Allison’s place, I’d have heard a rumor Vanya could NEVER USE HER POWERS AGAIN. #justsaying)
While things are going down in Dallas, we learn The Handler (Kate Walsh), who was viciously offed last season by Hazel (Cameron Britton), is not dead! Turns out she had a metal plate in her head (convenient!) and she recovers. She returns to The Commission and learns she’s been demoted; apparently AJ Carmichael, a fish in a jar attached to a man’s body (?), is now running the place.
The Handler comes to take over The Commission by making a deal with Five: if he kills the super secret directors board and she can assume control, she’ll get him and his family home. Five agrees, takes out the board, and returns the fish in a jar as her pet. Unfortunately, Five can’t gather all his siblings together, and they miss their chance to go back to 2019.
It’s revealed that The Handler is Lila’s adoptive mother and Lila has been working for her all along. The Handler had Five kill Lila’s parents because Lila is one of the special children born on the same day as the Umbrella Academy kids (!) and she wanted Lila’s powers for her own use. She’s also manipulating the Swedes – three brothers who have been popping in and out and killing people throughout the season, who work for the The Commission. The Handler sends the brothers to kill the Umbrella Academy, but two are killed; one via landmine by The Handler/Lila to frame Diego, and the other by Allison, who in self defense, rumors one brother to kill the other.
Back to the Hargreeves: they come across their adoptive father, Reginald (Colm Feore), not-a-robot “mom” Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), and monkey-turned-butler Pogo. The kids don’t know it, but Reginald is a part of secret organization The Majestic 12… and also an alien. Yup, Papa Hargreeves isn’t human, people! We see him take off his human face, only from behind, but see that his head is definitely alien. He kills the members of the organization when they tell him he’ll be forever indebted to them or risk his secret being exposed. Reginald meets with his future kids briefly, but only seems to have use for Five; he gives Five the advice to start small with his powers, and instead of time traveling back decades, ‘try seconds.’
Vanya is arrested for assaulting police officers while trying to run away with Sissy and Harlan; the FBI tortures her with electric shock, but all this does is piss her off and make her remember everything. She seems comatose, but goes all “White Violin” and gives off waves of energy, killing the people interrogating her. Ultimately Ben reaches her and calms her down; Ben in turns finally ‘moves on’ and asks Vanya to tell Klaus it wasn’t Klaus keeping Ben around – Ben was scared to move onto the spirit world.
Vanya is contained, and The Handler is alerted that there is a huge anomaly in the timeline; she looks at what it is, then calls in all the field agents to go to war. The anomaly, turns out, is Harlan! He’s now going all “White Violin” in the barn, and everyone goes to stop him.
The Handler shows up with Lila and hundreds of time agents; the agents are all taken out by Vanya, who now has much better control of her powers. Lila protects herself and her mother with her powers; Lila fights the Hargreeves, and The Handler goes to find Harlan. They realize Lila is one of the special children, and are all in barn telling her that mother has lied to and manipulated her all her life; as she’s realizing the truth, all the members of the Umbrella Academy are shot dead by The Handler with an automatic rifle. Lila asks her mother if it’s true and if she really loves her; The Handler shoots her dead too. She sees Five, alive and struggling, and goes to shoot him, but the last remaining Swede shows up and shoots The Handler dead.
Five takes the opportunity to ‘try seconds’ and uses his powers to go back in time just before The Handler started shooting. He stops her from killing everyone, but the Swede still shows up and shoots The Handler dead. Five and the Swede call a truce, and they race to Harlan. Vanya takes back the part of her powers she inadvertently transferred to him, and his powers subside.
The Hargreeves kids say goodbye to their lives in 1963; Sissy drives to New Mexico to start a new life with Harlan (who is levitating a toy in his hand in the back seat), and Ray reads a goodbye note Allison left for him. They use a briefcase from one of the dead time agents to finally get back home.
They teleport to the Umbrella Academy, and see the date is the day after the doomsday from the first season; they’ve won! Or have they? They walk into the parlor and notice Ben’s picture is hanging above the fireplace. An alive Reginald greets them, tells them he’s been expecting them, and that they’re at the Sparrow Academy. While children gather on the upper level looking down at them, a very much alive Ben comes in and asks who they are.
And that’s (most of) The Umbrella Academy season 2! For me it started a little slow but then picked up steam once the siblings found each other. The last scene was great, and I really hope they get to do a third season just for that cliffhanger.
Thoughts on the season:
- Overall Grade: I liked it! B+ to A-
- I really liked the approach of the siblings having to reconnect; it mirrored the first season, in which they hadn’t seen each other in years, but there was a sense that these characters integrated into this community and all chose such different paths. Of the storylines, I think Allison’s was the strongest, and Vanya’s the weakest.
- Allison recuperating and regaining her physical voice, then becoming a voice for her community was just great. As a white dude, I can only imagine how black people must have felt when they saw signs in stores that said “Whites Only”; it was sad to watch how they were treated, and made me wonder why all the white people sitting around in a diner would tolerate that behavior? Also helping the story was the chemistry between Allison and Ray; they played perfectly off each other and were fun to watch, through it all.
- Vanya’s story felt drawn out and contrived; the romance between Sissy and Vanya was so predictable you could guess every story beat: harried housewife meets stranger, wife hooks up with stranger, husband gets jealous, husband gets killed, wife gets to live her best life, blah, blah. It’s been done… a lot. When it first seemed like Sissy and Vanya would get together, I thought “Oh, Carl’s so dead” (though I’ll admit I thought Sissy would just shoot him!). I’d also ask when exactly Vanya became attracted to women, but it doesn’t matter. They could have cut the relationship stuff right out, and just had Harlan get Vanya’s powers and the story wouldn’t have changed at all.
- On that note, I did think there was a bunch of stuff they could have cut out: the nerdy guy who got killed by the Swedes (Elliot?), Diego’s recruitment to The Commission, the 2 Fives bit. I think Luther and Klaus got sidelined a bit for Diego and Vanya, but it was great to see more Ben and The Handler, and I liked Lila and thought she fit in really well with the series.
- Ben played a much bigger role this season, and it was nice to have him around more; whether inhabiting Klaus’ body, reconnecting with Diego, or talking Vanya off the ledge, he brought a different (more mellow) energy to the show.
- I loved Kate Walsh as The Handler in season 1 and loved her even more in season 2. Not only does she look like she’s having the time of her life, but she manages to bring some nuance to this utterly crazy character who looks like she just stepped out of Wonderland. You really wonder just how nuts she is, and what she’s actually feeling, if anything. She ate a fish and spoke Swedish, for Pete’s sake! Cast this woman in everything – she can do it all! M