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The Umbrella Academy Season-Finale Recap: Apocalypse Now

The Umbrella Academy

The White Violin
Season 1 Episode 10
Editor’s Rating *****

The Umbrella Academy

The White Violin
Season 1 Episode 10
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix/Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

At long last, The Umbrella Academy has unveiled its first supervillain — and it’s a member of the Umbrella Academy. Meet Vanya, the White Violin, who has channeled decades of pain and resentment into a single, horrifying plan: Play a concert that will culminate in the end of the world.

Five was right. Stopping Leonard Peabody could have prevented the apocalypse. They just didn’t do it early enough. By the time the Umbrella Academy figured it out, Vanya was already too far gone. The biggest tragedy — and something Luther will someday have to reckon with — is that it might still have been prevented if he hadn’t locked Vanya in the soundproof chamber, which was likely the tipping point for her shift into full-on supervillainy.

So after an entire season of buildup, this is how the apocalypse happens. It starts with Vanya, almost in a trance as she stalks through the Umbrella Academy building. Every room conjures up another painful memory from her childhood, which she pushes away by pulling the ceiling down. Each of her siblings manages to flee, but Pogo confronts her, saying that Hargreeves was only trying to protect her from herself.

This attempt to rationalize Hargreeves’s decision is doomed to failure, which Pogo probably knows; you get the sense that he’s mostly just buying time for the rest of the kids to get away. But the conversation ends when Vanya — enraged at the role Pogo played in enabling her tragic childhood — lifts him up and impales him on a pair of mounted antlers, killing him. It’s a tragic moment for viewers, and a huge relief to the Netflix accountants in charge of Umbrella Academy’s effects budget. Grace also “dies” when the building collapses. (But again: robot! And a robot specifically designed to be repairable after Vanya’s attacks!)

Still, if you want to establish how high the stakes are, Umbrella Academy can’t do much better than killing off two major characters and destroying the Umbrella Academy building. This, the show implicitly assures us, is a sign that — after using time travel to reset some big consequences in a previous episode — they’re actually playing for keeps this time.

So the Umbrella Academy heads off to the Super Star Lanes bowling alley, where they form a strategy for finding and stopping Vanya before she ends the world. Finding her turns out to be easy: A particularly convenient newspaper ad reminds them that Vanya is making her debut as the first chair violinist at the Icarus Theater. Using her superpowers, she plans to harness the sound of the violin to launch a series of devastating energy blasts.

But how to stop her? That’s a subject of debate. Luther raises the possibility that they’ll need to kill her; Allison firmly refuses that she’ll ever do it. But before the problem can be resolved, the gang is interrupted by timecops from the Commission, doing their best to ensure that the apocalypse still happens. Everybody manages to escape, and the Umbrella Academy arrives at the Icarus Theater in time to catch the beginning of Vanya’s plan.

And so the last big fight scene begins (set, mercifully, to Vanya’s violin-playing, and not some over-the-top classic rock cut). Every Umbrella Academy alumnus plays some role in taking Vanya down — even Ben, who uses his tentacle powers to subdue gun-toting adversaries after Klaus manages to summon him from the afterlife. After Vanya manages to stop everybody else, the final blow comes down to Allison, who gets the chance to shoot her sister in the head but decides to spare her. Instead, she fires a bullet next to Vanya’s ear, disrupting her flow and knocking her into unconsciousness.

For a brief moment, everybody celebrates saving the world. But there’s one last nasty surprise in store. The accumulated energy from Vanya’s concert launches a beam into space that crashes directly into the moon. (Hey, maybe Luther’s moon base wasn’t so useless after all!) The splintered moon rocks start falling to Earth, causing a horrifying chain reaction of craters and explosions.

It’s the end of the world after all. And none of the Umbrella Academy’s superpowers can do anything to stop it. As the moon rocks come crashing down to the Earth, Five comes up with one last Hail Mary. Using a power he didn’t know he had, Five manages to draw all six of his siblings into one of his time-jumps. All seven of them vanish — to what time period, we don’t know — just as the fire engulfs the Icarus Theater.

And, uh, the rest of the world.

In case that wasn’t clear enough: To the best of our knowledge, literally every other character in Umbrella Academy is dead now. Hazel — who betrays Cha-Cha, kills the Handler, and rescues Agnes — gets the briefest of happy endings before the world goes up in flames. [Note: After this article was published, several eagle-eyed viewers noted that Hazel and Agnes managed to teleport away just as the apocalypse hit. A happy ending after all!]

Cha-Cha, stumbling around with a drawn pistol, never gets her revenge on Hazel. Allison’s estranged husband and daughter. Diego’s friends on the police force. That poor kid having his birthday party at the bowling alley when the Commission attacks. They’re all gone.

I’m a little split on this ending. On one level, you have to admire the gall of a show that repeatedly threatened the end of the world and then, despite our heroes’ best efforts, actually delivered the end of the world.

But given that every single member of the Umbrella Academy got away in time, it’s hard to look at the apocalypse and see anything permanent about it. Where the comic came right up to the brink of the apocalypse — and, after the climax of that story arc, forced all the characters to live in the shadow of it — the TV show seems poised to spend another season on preventing the apocalypse. That’s the thing about time travel; no matter how badly you screw things up, you always get another shot.

Raindrops:

• So, assuming The Umbrella Academy gets a second season, where do you want this story to go from here. Fans of the comic know there’s a second major Umbrella Academy arc, “Dallas,” which was partially adapted in season one, but has a main narrative that was basically left untouched. Of course, the time-travel thing means Umbrella Academy can go pretty much anywhere in season two. Are there other eras you’d like to see? Characters you want to see more of? Less? Any of the now-dead, non–Umbrella Academy characters you’d like to see again somehow? Let me know in the comments below.

• By the end of the series, Vanya looks reasonably close to the original design of her “White Violin” persona in the comics. You can take a look for comparison’s sake here.

• The episode opens with a flashback to a younger Reginald Hargreeves — acting sweeter and kinder than we’ve ever seen him — saying good-bye to a dying woman, who gifts him a violin. When he opens the window, there are a bunch of rockets launching from a field outside; after a cut, we’re in the early 1900s, where Hargreeves buys the old umbrella shop that will eventually become the Umbrella Academy building. So … what’s going on here? How old was Hargreeves when he died? Where did he come from? Who was that woman?

• I have never been a fan of the Allison-Luther relationship, but I did find the scene where Luther delivers a good-bye speech to Allison’s daughter — and, in doing so, reveals his feelings for Allison — unexpectedly moving. This show nails irreverence, but I think it could stand to play it earnest a little more often.

• The machine-gun-wielding timecops from the Commission managed to hit zero of the Umbrella Academy members as they ran, in straight lines, down the bowling lanes. That’s stormtrooper levels of comical inaccuracy.

• I also loved the whirling shot of the Umbrella Academy members at the end of the episode, which poignantly shifted from the adult versions to the more innocent, hopeful kids they used to be.

• Umbrella Academy never met an on-the-nose music cue it didn’t love, but I feel like Vanya’s trek to the Icarus Theater would have been exponentially more chilling if it had been set to a violin song instead of Heart’s “Barracuda.”

• The cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” that plays over the end credits is performed by Umbrella Academy creator Gerard Way, in collaboration with his My Chemical Romance bandmate Ray Toro.

• Intentionally or not, Agnes and Hazel’s final kiss before they’re enveloped by the blast recalls a famous image from Watchmen.

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The Umbrella Academy Season-Finale Recap: Apocalypse Now