The Umbrella Academy
There’s a lot of weirdness baked into The Umbrella Academy. (This is, after all, a series that includes a chimpanzee butler.) The premise is wild and elastic enough that you could introduce pretty much anything without stretching plausibility too far.
So why is the show spending so much time on the hoariest of ’90s action tropes: a pair of quippy, quirky, sadistic assassins in matching black suits? I like both Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton, who are doing their best with this material — but in 2019, I’m not sure there’s a fresh way to do Tarantino–lite. And if there is a fresh way, The Umbrella Academy certainly hasn’t found it yet.
So it’s not exactly a good thing that “Man on the Moon” spends so much time with Hazel and Cha-Cha as they try to get Klaus to crack. There’s some decent dark humor to be mined from the situation, as Hazel and Cha-Cha torture, strangle, and waterboard Klaus to his evident kinky delight. But it eventually turns out the real torture is the baggage from Klaus’s various addictions as he sobers up. Withdrawal would be bad enough — but for Klaus, being sober also means all the ghosts come out.
So the episode is a race against time: Can Klaus escape before his sobriety swallows him up? In the end, the solution comes from his superpowers: By interrogating the ghosts that appear — who turn out to be the victims from Hazel and Cha-Cha’s previous missions — Klaus is able to pass along accurate details about past murders to his torturers, freaking them out and sowing discord about old conflicts.
But unbeknownst to everyone in the motel room, there’s another ticking clock at play: Detective Patch, who follows a string of clues to Hazel and Cha-Cha’s room. It’s painfully obvious that this will end in Patch’s death — and sure enough, it does — but the interruption gives Klaus enough time to sneak away, grabbing the secret briefcase Hazel stashed in the vents on his way out the door.
So Klaus the cockroach lives another day — but at what cost? Patch’s death will be felt most deeply by Diego; between Patch and his mother, Diego has endured a lot of loss lately. But Patch’s death, and Diego’s subsequent discovery of her body, feels like it should land with more impact than it does. The Diego-Patch relationship was never The Umbrella Academy’s strongest. Basically everything we knew about Patch was tied to her relationship with Diego — and for all the superhero cliches this show has sidestepped, I’m not thrilled to see yet another story about a vigilante motivated by the murder of a woman he loved.
But there’s also a second wrinkle to this twist that could, at least theoretically, lead to some interesting new complications. When he found Patch’s body, Diego wasn’t particularly careful about whether he was leaving fingerprints behind. Patch’s fellow officers know that Diego is a violent vigilante, and that he and Patch dated until she dumped him. Until now, Diego has been able to do all his crime-fighting with the tacit approval (or at least the blind eye) of the police force. But there’s a very real chance they’re about to hunt him down.
And Diego isn’t the only Hargreeves kid facing an unexpected threat. While Klaus is getting tortured, Vanya is embarking on her sweetly awkward romance with Leonard. It’s been obvious from the moment Leonard was introduced that he had some kind of ulterior motive, so I’m relieved that, by the end of episode four, The Umbrella Academy has finally dropped the pretense and revealed him to be a bad guy. The warning signs start with Leonard going into Vanya’s apartment — ostensibly to leave her a bouquet — and acting kind of sketchy and aggro when Allison catches him and asks what he’s doing. If that didn’t make things clear enough, the episode ends with Leonard doing something unequivocally bad: dumping Vanya’s pills down the drain.
So what’s Leonard’s deal, anyway? Is he just using Vanya to get to her superpowered siblings, or does he actually want something from her specifically? How much does he know about Vanya’s past? (After all, she wrote a whole book about it.) Is Leonard working for himself, or is he operating at the behest of a different villain? And either way, what’s his endgame here?
The superhero genre has long been propped up on a rich bed of crazy fan theories, so it’s probably past time for me to toss one out. After four episodes, here’s where I suspect The Umbrella Academy is going: Vanya has been on drugs since childhood because her superpowers are out of control, and the drugs can suppress them. Hargreeves only told her she didn’t have powers because he was afraid of what she could do if she discovered them. And once the pills wear off and the superpowers return — in, I don’t know, about six days — Vanya will have exactly the kind of raw strength that could destroy the whole world.
• On a break from all the torturing, Cha-Cha and Hazel take some of Klaus’s drugs and burn down the Meritech building. Unfortunately, this also derails Five’s most promising lead about what causes the apocalypse; in despair, Five storms off and gets rip-roaring drunk.
• In a pair of flashbacks, we get more evidence about how Dr. Hargreeves treated his children. Luther ended up with the gorilla body after his father sent him on a dangerous mission alone; he came back so badly wounded that an experimental serum was the only thing that saved his life (causing his physical transformation as a side effect). The other flashback shows Dr. Hargreeves locking the adolescent Klaus in a crypt, refusing to let him out until he stops being afraid of the ghosts that appear to him.
• Five alludes to killing untold numbers of people, even referring to himself as “the Four Horsemen” — but as far as we’ve seen, he ran straight from the Umbrella Academy dinner table into a future where every other person on Earth was dead. What part of his story are we missing here?
• The Umbrella Academy soundtrack has largely stuck to older songs, but episode four opens with Morcheeba’s “Blood Like Lemonade,” from the 2010 album of the same name.
• Diego discovers Patch’s body to the tune of David Gray’s “This Year’s Love.” Kind of a weird choice — but it does have a lyric about cutting like a knife, so hey, maybe it’s perfect for Diego.
• A celebrity tabloid that reveals Allison’s estranged family is doing “just fine” also teases an article titled “How I Became a Star: Ahn Mur Tells All.” That’s a direct reference to assistant art director Ahn Mur (and a perk of working in the art department)!
• Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it magazine on the rack: Whippet Snippets, which seems to be devoted solely to the dogs of the same name.
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