overnights

The Umbrella Academy Recap: Last Night on Earth

The Umbrella Academy

Changes
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****

The Umbrella Academy

Changes
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix/Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

When a show has a title as metaphor-laden as The Umbrella Academy, it seems appropriate to look for a silver lining. So here’s the good news: Allison isn’t dead after all. Yay!

Here’s the bad news: Vanya’s attack severed Allison’s vocal chords, so it seems unlikely that Allison will ever be able to speak again. Since her superpower relies entirely on being able to speak, her superheroic abilities have been utterly neutralized. For all intents and purposes, she’s what Vanya always seemed to be: ordinary.

And maybe The Umbrella Academy is gearing up to make the case that that’s not such a bad thing. Long before her horrific injury, Allison had decided not to use her superpower anymore. And it’s not like being superheroes has brought anything but conflict and misery to her siblings.

That category now includes Vanya, who is rapidly confronting the dark side of the superpowers she thought she always wanted. In flashback, we see the circumstances that led Hargreeves to suppress her powers in the first place. And while the cold, distant, abusive Hargreeves will never be in line for a Father of the Year trophy, you can see the desperation that led him to make such a dramatic choice. The young Vanya is prone to dangerous fits of rage, casually using her superpowers to attack every nanny Hargreeves brings to the Umbrella Academy. (One of them is shown being flung out of a window, so I think it’s safe to assume at least some of these nannies ended up dead.)

In the end, the solution to the nanny problem is Grace — a robot who can endure Vanya’s abuse, twist her head back around, and serve a big bowl of oatmeal with a smile still plastered on her face. But it’s not like Vanya can spend her entire life around automatons that she can toss around like rag dolls. At some point, Hargreeves concluded, Vanya was too impulsive and dangerous to go unchecked; after a brief “quarantine” in the sound chamber, he opted to strip her powers away entirely, via a cocktail of drugs and a key phrase from Allison.

Now Vanya’s powers are back, and Hargreeves isn’t around to unring that bell. Her new mentor, Leonard, gets her to flee back to his place. But shortly after they arrive, Vanya discovers Hargreeves’s diary and figures out that Leonard has been manipulating her all along. (For the record, this makes two timelines when Vanya discovered Hargreeves’s diary because Leonard just carelessly left it lying around. Come on, dude.)

Once Vanya knows the truth, Leonard quickly unravels, confessing that he killed the first chair in the orchestra so Vanya could take her spot. And when Vanya balks, Leonard shifts into a more sinister vein, telling her that her dad was right to conclude she wasn’t strong enough.

He delivers this speech while pounding on Hargreeves’s book for emphasis, so it’s not exactly a surprise when Vanya’s sound-based powers kick in and Leonard gets stabbed to death by an entire kitchen’s worth of flying knives. And while Leonard himself seems shocked by his own demise, I can’t help but wish Umbrella Academy had played it a little differently. All season long, Leonard has been the only living person who understood Vanya’s powers, and he used that knowledge to exploit her. Given his obsession with the Umbrella Academy — and how little he has to live for once Vanya learns the truth and turns on him — it makes much more sense to me that Leonard would deliberately trigger Vanya’s powers, happily sacrificing himself to force Vanya into unwilling supervillainy.

Whatever. He’s dead now. And Vanya, attacking someone for the second time in about 24 hours, is ready to retreat to the safe harbor of the Umbrella Academy. She walks in and is greeted by the wary but comforting Luther, who assures Vanya that Allison is okay and wraps her up in a tight, comforting hug.

And then he keeps hugging her. And won’t let go until she finally passes out. When Vanya wakes up, she’s back in the chamber of her childhood, with her siblings staring at her on the other side of the soundproof glass.

What I like about this scenario is that there are no easy answers. It is undeniably inhumane — as Klaus, Diego, and even Allison argue — to lock up Vanya alone, in a chamber, with no indication about how, when, or even if she’ll be let out again. It is also undeniable that Vanya represents a massive threat to the people around her. Vanya herself has admitted that she can’t control her powers — and even if her superpowers never came into play again, she’s on the hook for one murder she definitely committed. There’s only so much her family can do for her now.

Maybe this could have been different. Maybe things would have leveled out if Hargreeves had trusted Vanya enough to continue her childhood training. Maybe Vanya would eventually have discovered her powers as an adult, and learned to harness them in a more manageable way, if Leonard hadn’t been such a destabilizing influence.

But this situation has spiraled out of control. There are no good answers to this problem.

And it’s about to get a lot worse, because Vanya has also grown more powerful than anyone understands. Harnessing all of her powers, Vanya blasts the door off the soundproof chamber, and emerges looking every bit like a terrifying supervillain who could bring about the end of the world.

Raindrops:

• Meanwhile: Hazel returns to his hotel room and discovers that Cha-Cha, true to her word, has strung up Agnes over a heart-shaped jacuzzi tub. I guess she plans to drown Agnes while forcing Hazel to watch? After a brief scuffle — set to (ugh) Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” — Cha-Cha is this close to dropping Agnes into the water. But for the second time in this series, time freezes at a pivotal moment and the Handler arrives, newly scarred from her encounter with Five. She wants … well, she wants something from them. I guess we’ll find out in the finale.

• One laudable trend in The Umbrella Academy: Where most TV shows end up with extra-long episodes at the end of the season, Umbrella Academy’s have actually gotten shorter. Episode eight came in at around 50 minutes; this episode clocks in at an extra-punchy 44 minutes.

• Like Vanya, Klaus seems to be discovering superpowers he didn’t even know he had. Now sober, he discovers he can have brief physical contact with the dead. He also quizzes Five about time travel — presumably to see if he can do it too.

• Leonard has already been found dead, but Five can’t resist plugging the mechanical eye into his socket to see if it fits. Truly a Cinderella story for our time.

• Five returns Dolores to the department store and says good-bye. He mentions that they spent “23-and-a-half million minutes together,” which works out to almost 45 years.

• The scene where all the brothers argue about who gets to donate blood to Allison recalls a similar scene in Dracula, when Lucy Westenra’s various male suitors do the same thing. (Luther’s blood is too simian and Klaus’s blood is too polluted with drugs, so Diego ultimately ends up doing it.)

• I wonder if Mrs. Kowalski ever found Mr. Puddles.

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The Umbrella Academy Recap: Last Night on Earth