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The Umbrella Academy Recap: A Little Less Conversation

The Umbrella Academy

I Heard a Rumor
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****

The Umbrella Academy

I Heard a Rumor
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix/Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

Having tracked down the remote cabin where Vanya and Leonard are holed up — and armed with the knowledge that Leonard is a liar and a murderer — Allison made the headstrong decision to go off on her own and confront her sister before things got any worse. Vanya and Leonard have left little breadcrumbs, and Allison does her best to follow them. At one point, when a friendly cop calls her out for lying about what she’s actually doing in town, Allison confesses, “I didn’t know how else to get answers.”

The interesting thing about this episode is that we know that’s bullshit. Allison, unlike literally anybody else in the world, has a way to get answers. She can get anything she wants. All she needs to do is speak it, and it’s true. That’s her superpower.

So why not use it? Over the course of the season, we’ve seen how this incredible superpower has dictated Allison’s entire life. She’s a famous actress, but she forced directors into casting her in key roles. She’s married, but (it’s heavily implied) she forced her husband to fall in love with her. She loves her daughter — but rather than developing the parenting skills to properly deal with her daughter’s tantrums, she forced her to behave.

Is it possible that Allison could have been a famous actress, or a beloved wife, or a brilliant mother, without ever using her superpowers? Of course. The problem, as she eventually discovered, was that once she used her superpower, she would never actually know.

Of all the Umbrella Academy characters, I like Allison best, because she’s the only one who has honestly, painfully grappled with how relying on her superpower has led to a miserable life as an adult. Klaus dulls his pain with every drug he can find; Allison just chooses not to use her powers, because getting anything she wants isn’t worth living an inauthentic, artificial life.

What’s striking about “I Heard a Rumor” is how far Allison will go not to use her superpower — even as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I’m fascinated by the concept of a superhero who refuses, on ethical grounds, to use her superpower. Instead, she spends this episode falling back on amateur gumshoeing and good old-fashioned human deception. In the hunt for Vanya and Leonard, Allison buddies up with a starstruck small-town cop, pretending she’s researching a role in an effort to track her sister down.

It starts at the diner where the fight broke out, and then at the hospital — where we learn, to my relief, that the super-contrived fight at the end of “The Day That Was” had secretly been engineered by Leonard in an effort to trigger Vanya’s superpowers. (This turned out to be a pretty raw deal for the attackers; two of them are dead, and Leonard murders the third to keep him from spilling any further.)

Back at the cabin, Leonard is pushing Vanya to practice her superpowers — even as she makes it clear she’d rather be practicing violin for her impending debut as first chair. Like with Allison, there’s something very interesting going on here: a superhero who resented her ordinariness all her life, but — when faced with the realization that she actually possesses some terrifying superpowers — would rather focus on the human skills that have defined her life up to this point.

And who can blame her? Her music is an act of creation, and as far as we can tell, Vanya’s powers are built solely for destruction — particularly because they fluctuate with her emotion, which makes them extremely difficult to control. You can see how quickly this could get out of hand. Throughout the episode, we get flashbacks to Vanya’s childhood, as Hargreeves leads her through a series of experiments designed to test her powers, breaking wine glasses on command. At one point, he pushes her too far: Vanya snaps, or loses control, and shatters all the glasses at once — along with Hargreeves’s monocle, slicing his face open.

This is the point at which Hargreeves decided Vanya’s superpowers were too powerful for Vanya to be trusted with them. So he ceased her training at age 4 and gaslighted her into believing that she lacked the special skills that characterized each of her siblings.

But again: Vanya was 4 when this happened. So how did she just … forget? As it turns out, there’s another good reason for Allison to regret using her superpower. When Allison confronts Vanya at the end of the episode, a strange moment from their past clicks into place. When the children were 4 years old, Hargreeves locked Vanya in a small room in the Umbrella Academy basement — calling it a quarantine — and fed Allison a phrase to use on her sister: “I heard a rumor you think you’re just ordinary.”

Allison, albeit unknowingly, was the mind-clouding source of all the loneliness and doubt and trauma that has defined Vanya’s life. And now, with Vanya’s powers spiraling out of control, Allison has to decide whether or not to talk her sister down once again.

She tries — and Vanya lashes right back, using her superpowers to slit Allison’s throat. She’s immediately horrified, but unlike her other siblings, she lacks the power to turn the clock back, or to apologize to her sister after she’s dead. Leonard arrives, and they run away together, leaving her sister to bleed out on the floor of the cabin. These are the moments when a supervillain is made.

Raindrops:

• But is Allison really dead? As the episode ends, Luther, Diego, Five, and Klaus arrive and discover Allison’s body on the floor. She’s still blinking a little, so there’s a chance she can be rushed to a hospital (and failing that, all kinds of superheroic trickiness that might be able to undo her seemingly fatal wound).

• Meanwhile: Hazel seems determined to do what he can to stop the apocalypse, and Cha-Cha seems determined to find him and Agnes and kill them both.

• One big mystery left at the end of the episode: How did Hargrevees know the exact date of the apocalypse?

• How did Diego get out of jail, anyway? Diego’s cop buddy just comes in and slips him a key. Which feels like a bit of a narrative cheat. Did Diego just … walk out of jail after that? Is there not some kind of massive manhunt for him right now? Because nobody seems very worried about it.

• Vanya’s powers are basically telekinetic blasts — but the technical explanation seems to be that she can convert sounds into raw energy, which is then released based on her emotions.

• In flashback, Claire asks Allison to tell her the story of the Eiffel Tower. That’s a reference to the very first Umbrella Academy comic, when the Hargreeves kids squared off against the Eiffel Tower — in this universe, an anthropomorphized building/spaceship controlled by the zombie corpse of Gustave Eiffel, which had started killing people. The Umbrella Academy comics are wild, y’all.

• A comprehensive list of the rumors Allison recalls as she drives to Leonard’s cabin: making the soccer team, making someone be her friend, making someone leave her alone, making someone stop crying, getting a scene right in one take, making someone believe she was perfect for a role, making someone believe they loved her.

• On her drive, Allison passes a billboard for the Wolpert and Nedivi law office — a reference to Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, who co-wrote episode three, “Extra Ordinary.”

• In addition to her much buzzed-about Love on Loan trilogy, Allison apparently starred opposite Sandra Bullock in a movie about underpaid teachers who rob a bank.

• The cover of Faces’ “Stay With Me,” heard in this episode, was performed by none other than Mary J. Blige.

• Now that Vanya and Leonard are on the run, it seems unlikely that Leonard will have time to go to the hospital and get a new prosthetic eye — thereby eliminating the mechanism by which Five was able to track him down in the first place. Who doesn’t love a good time paradox?

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The Umbrella Academy Recap: A Little Less Conversation