The Umbrella Academy
After two very, very plot-heavy introductory episodes, The Umbrella Academy leans on the brakes a little for “Extra Ordinary.” That’s not a bad thing. This show is richest when it explores how having enviable superpowers as children has turned the Hargreeves children into fundamentally damaged adults, and episode three is packed with explorations of those consequences.
The episode starts with the sole nonsuperpowered kid: Vanya, who distinguished herself by writing a tell-all memoir about growing up in the Hargreeves family. It’s not totally clear why she did it; the best explanation is the dedication she wrote in her father’s copy, which simply reads, “ ‘I figured, why not?’ ”
But whatever Vanya’s goals for the book, she can’t have been delighted by the reality of publishing it. In a montage, we see the price of the book dropping, and the increasingly empty speaking events at which she tries to promote it. This all happened five years before the series began, so we already know how this story ends: with Vanya living in a crappy apartment, forgotten, ignored, and overlooked in the public image of the Hargreeves family. Justifiably or not, Vanya betrayed the trust of her family — and she didn’t even get rewarded for it. Maybe her superpower is invisibility.
The consequences of Vanya’s decision are threaded through the main narrative of the Umbrella Academy. Diego still despises her, and even kindhearted Allison snaps at her in a moment of weakness. But Allison is dealing with her own baggage. Her superpower — which is, essentially, the ability to change reality into whatever she wants just by speaking — is an enormous boon. It is, we can presume, what turned her into an international superstar; if you want to get cast in a movie, why not just tell the director you’re his new leading lady?
But it’s also an enormous burden. As an adult, Allison is just starting to accept that she’s built her entire life through manipulation, which means she has no idea who she actually is or what she has to offer. And there have been darker, more tangible consequences. As Allison confides in Luther, her daughter was taken away when the courts discovered she was using her superpower to shut down one of the messiest parts of raising a child: the fits and tantrums. But if you skim over all the bad parts of life, how much of life do you end up missing?
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Klaus, who literally can’t escape the darkest side of life. Even for regular people, it’s not uncommon to be haunted by the memories of those you’ve lost. Klaus’s powers just literalize what it means to grieve. He sees his dead brother everywhere he goes, which is a constant reminder of an irreversible loss. He can’t even take a relaxing bath without the ghosts of the dead screaming at him. And so, like so many people immersed in grief, Klaus turns to booze and drugs to dull the pain of it.
But when it comes to childhood baggage, the episode’s most human reveal might also be its most affecting. In a flashback, we see that Diego suffered from a stutter, which his “mom,” Grace — who is a robot — gently helped him correct.
There are interesting questions left to be answered about Grace. Since she was programmed by Dr. Hargreeves, was all the kindness and affection she expressed coming from Hargreeves himself? Was his coldness and gruffness just a way of counterbalancing the warmth he programmed the robot to have?
But whatever the truth about her nature, it’s just as clear that Grace is starting to slip in the present day. Allison discovers a video that makes it look like Grace may have murdered Dr. Hargreeves. In the end, the truth seems to be something less sinister, though just as troubling: When Dr. Hargreeves had his heart attack, Grace just stood and watched, either uncaring or uncomprehending about what was actually happening. It’s the rough equivalent of watching an aging parent cope with dementia, and none of the children are quite sure what to do about it.
So, armed with this new information, the siblings get together and debate what to do about their “mom:” keep her going, or shut her down? But the family meeting is interrupted by Cha-Cha and Hazel, who infiltrate the house looking for Five. At the end of yet another (pretty impressive) fight sequence — damn, Umbrella Academy loves its bloody action set to peppy pop songs — Cha-Cha and Hazel flee the house with Klaus in the trunk of their car.
The fight leads to one last big reveal. Luther’s sweater is ripped open by a falling chandelier, revealing that his muscular physique is actually some kind of overgrown ape body. (More on that to come, I guess?)
Luther’s simian body is certainly unexpected. It also makes both Luther and his siblings revert back into awkward teenagers. Just moments after surviving an attack from ruthless assassins, Luther is so embarrassed to have his body revealed that he responds in the method time-tested by untold teenagers: running away and locking himself in his room.
And that leaves the episode with one last question to answer: what to do about Grace. When Diego goes upstairs, he discovers that she didn’t even realize a massive fight had taken place just a floor below her. Instead, she’s absently cross-stitching a needle into her own synthetic skin. Diego — who had previously been the biggest advocate for keeping Mom running — reads the writing on the wall and tearfully shuts her down, even as she gently tries to help him with his stuttering one last time.
It’s a painful decision — and for Diego, an unexpectedly mature one. Maybe the Hargreeves kids are growing up after all.
• Five spends basically the whole episode in a parked car, staking out the manufacturer of the mechanical eyeball from the future. No real payoff on that yet.
• I found Grace’s “death” genuinely moving — but isn’t she, uh, a robot? Can’t they just reprogram her and boot her back up again?
• Thematically, The Umbrella Academy has so much in common with The Haunting of Hill House that I can’t help but imagine a different version of this show, borrowing Hill House’s structure. It might be even easier to understand and care about these characters if Umbrella Academy had devoted an entire episode to each of the individual Hargreeves kids up front.
• After fleeing the Umbrella Academy mansion, Vanya ends up on the doorstep of Leonard, her consistently kind-hearted, understanding student who wants nothing for himself and is definitely not a villain with his own nefarious motives.
• Mysteries still left to be answered at the end of the episode: What’s the deal with the pills Vanya keeps taking? How much does Pogo know about Hargreeves’s death, and did he deliberately lead Allison to the video of it?
• As an actress, Allison’s roles apparently included “a tough lawyer in a wheelchair.” Eat your heart out, Grisham.
• Eudora Patch says the bullets from both the diner and the department store haven’t been manufactured since 1963 — raising the intriguing possibility that Five’s would-be assassins hail from the past, not the future.
• Songs in this episode: the Hollies’ “We’re Through” and Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” — both heard through Klaus’s headphones, then used to score an action sequence. (Like “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Episode Two, I wish Umbrella Academy would stop falling back on songs that have already been used so memorably elsewhere.)
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