The Umbrella Academy
Remember my last recap, when I argued that there could still a purpose to an episode that doubled back on itself by the time the credits rolled?
Yeah. I’m not so sure anymore. Because “The Day That Was” has all the hallmarks of a wheel-spinner, laboriously retreading a bunch of stories we’ve already seen and a bunch of character beats we already know about.
The most interesting stuff in “The Day That Was” all happens before the show’s logo even appears. In a quick, punchy flashback montage — the kind of sequence Umbrella Academy excels at — we get the backstory of our villain-in-waiting, whom we’ve known so far as Leonard Peabody.
As it turns out, Leonard’s real name is Harold Jenkins — the same man Five is currently hunting so aggressively, per the note he stole from the Commission. Leonard (which I’ll keep calling him for consistency’s sake) is a kid who was born on the same day, at the same time, as all the Umbrella Academy children. But unlike our superheroic protagonists, Leonard was born normally, to a normal set of parents, with no latent superpowers. The most significant thing about his birthday is that it was also the day of his mother’s death.
Leonard grew up under the thumb of his alcoholic and physically abusive single father, and he came to rely on the story of the Umbrella Academy as a fantastical escape from the horrors of his day-to-day life. But when the young Leonard chased down Dr. Hargreeves and asked to join the Umbrella Academy, he got a brutally disappointing dressing-down: “You have no power. You never will have power. Now go home.” Never meet your heroes, kids.
After much, much too long spent enduring a miserable and abusive childhood, the adolescent Leonard finally snaps and murders his father. After spending 12 years in prison, he gets out, and recovers Hargreeves’s secret diary after Klaus throws it away. You know the rest of the story from there.
So yes, Leonard is basically just Syndrome from The Incredibles. But it’s fascinating to see how a character with such a personal motivation for immersing himself in the Umbrella Academy could end up causing the end of the world. When he stole the Hargreeves action figure in episode six, I assumed it had some secret power that could be unlocked. The real story is simpler and sadder: He stole the Hargreeves figure to complete a set of toys he treasured in his childhood.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is essentially a retread of what we saw in “The Day That Wasn’t,” with a few, mostly minor deviations. Five’s presence, which is supposed to change everything, is largely negated when he collapses from a shrapnel wound, and he spends the rest of the episode in recovery. Diego is still shocked to see Grace walking around again, because apparently he doesn’t understand how robots work. Allison is still fretting about whether she should head to Los Angeles to be with Claire — a decision she should probably make pretty soon, since the world is going to end in three days.
Luther still discovers Hargreeves never read any of his reports from the moon, and he still has a minor breakdown about it. But this time, Allison isn’t there to comfort him, so he goes to a rave, takes some ecstasy, and shows off his hairy monkey body in public for the first time. I think we’re supposed to be disappointed and concerned about this — and yes, Luther should probably be working on canceling the apocalypse instead of partying — but it’s also basically the happiest we’ve ever seen this guy, so it’s hard to get too worked up about it.
Klaus follows Luther, attacks a jealous boyfriend who approaches Luther with a baseball bat, and — in fuzzy circumstances — briefly winds up dead. This is one of those cockeyed, self-indulgent afterlife sequences you end up seeing on TV sometimes. In black-and-white, Klaus has a cutesy little conversation with God — depicted here as a little girl on a bike — before heading into a barbershop to meet with his father (who, despite the theory I’ve been kicking around all season, is dead after all).
This should, in theory, be one of the emotional high points of the season: After so much posthumous discussion about Hargreeves being an awful father, one of his children finally gets to come face-to-face with him. But in practice, it’s just a variation on the same stuff we know about the Hargreeves already: He pushed them to realize their potential as world-saving superheroes, and they resent him for robbing them of their childhoods. The biggest reveal is that Hargreeves killed himself, knowing his death was the only way all his children would end up in the same room again. He starts to say something else, but Klaus gets pulled back to life, so I guess we’ll save that reveal for closer to the finale.
And then there’s Cha-Cha and Hazel, whose largely passive-aggressive conflict finally comes into the open. In “The Day That Wasn’t,” we saw this story from Cha-Cha’s perspective; in Episode Seven, we see how Hazel experienced it. In the woods, he was ready to pull a gun and kill Cha-Cha if she decided to kill him. When they get back, he goes to the diner and convinces Agnes to run away with him. I suspect, at this point, that we’re supposed to be on Hazel’s side — but the “vaguely remorseful hitman” thing doesn’t exactly balance out all the awful stuff we saw Hazel do before he reached this point.
In any case, he manages to get the drop on Cha-Cha before she can kill him. A company woman to the end, Cha-Cha vows to murder him and Agnes if he leaves her alive. Nevertheless, he leaves her chained to the radiator, in a decision he will almost definitely come to regret by the end of the season.
Plot-wise, the biggest moment in the episode comes when Vanya finally realizes her Dark Phoenix–like powers. Leonard whisks her away to his grandmother’s old cabin, where he tries to get her to telekinetically move a boat. He’s so pushy about it that even Vanya gets a little annoyed, so he apologizes by taking her to a backwoods diner for dinner. (I swear, 90 percent of Vanya and Leonard’s relationship is going to eat or making plans to go eat.)
When Vanya and Leonard come back to their car, they’re confronted by a trio of drunk rednecks who assault Vanya and attack Leonard. As the men knock Leonard to the ground and kick him into a bloody pulp, Vanya snaps; her powers kick in, and all three men are sent flying in a burst of psychic energy.
This sequence is so contrived that I have to wonder: Did Leonard pay these guys to attack him and Vanya in a last-ditch effort to juice his powers? Because if it’s a coincidence, it’s certainly a convenient one. Leonard ends up in the hospital, and Vanya is left both stronger and angrier than we’ve ever seen her. Vanya’s superpower is growing — and so is her reason to use it.
• In the aftermath of the attack, Leonard loses an eye, which explains the mechanical eye Five found in Luther’s hand in the postapocalyptic future.
• By the end of the episode, Diego has been arrested on suspicion of murdering Patch and tossed into jail, negating his ability to do much at this particularly critical moment.
• The Harold/Leonard origin story at the start of the episode made me wonder again: What happened to the other 36 immaculately conceived children Hargreeves didn’t adopt? Are there a bunch of superpowered people we don’t know yet just running around somewhere out there?
• As a child, Leonard pitted his Umbrella Academy action figures against Dr. Terminal — a major villain in the comics who hasn’t turned up at all in the show. You can read about him here if you don’t mind possible spoilers for future episodes.
• In the comic, Klaus’s vision of God was with a John Wayne-esque cowboy, not a little girl.
• In the afterlife, Klaus meets Hargreeves in the Nite Owl barbershop — which could be a reference to Watchmen, another subversive (and highly acclaimed) superhero story, which is set for a new adaptation on HBO this year.
• Five, showing a secret sentimental side, reveals he knows the name of Allison’s daughter, Claire. “I’d like to live long enough to meet her.”
• Vanya plays in the St. Pluvius Chamber Orchestra — a word that means, appropriately enough, “of or relating to rain.”
• Songs this episode include Three Dog Night’s “One” and Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film).”
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