The Umbrella Academy
There are plenty of fascinating characters in Umbrella Academy, but there’s a part of me that wishes this show would just spend a whole episode on Five. His ability to time-travel opens up virtually unlimited storytelling possibilities, and his quest to prevent the looming apocalypse, which only he knows about, is easily the strongest of Umbrella Academy’s many storylines.
So I was delighted to see “Number Five” begin, appropriately enough, with a lengthy montage featuring Five. The scene digs into the several decades Five spent alone, exploring the post-apocalypse, after fleeing to the future as a boy. We watch as he wanders the wasteland for years, dragging Dolores in a wagon behind him, as the seasons change and his beard gets longer. By the end of it, he’s a half-crazed old man, secure in the belief — presumably correct — that he’s the only living person in the world.
Five eventually makes his home in the bombed-out husk of the Argyle Library (which explains his affinity for the building in Umbrella Academy’s main timeline). There, Five works on complicated calculations in an effort to get back to the past, rambles to his mannequin lover, and chugs bottle after bottle from a massive wine cellar he discovers under a destroyed mansion.
And maybe that’s where Five would die, if not for a mysterious woman — known only as the Handler — who appears with an intriguing job offer. All this time, Five has been watched by the Commission, an agency that has appointed itself the guardian of the time continuum via “manipulations and removals.” Or, to put it more bluntly: They travel through time killing people. The Handler wants Five to become one of their killers. After a five-year service, they’ll give him a pile of money and a ticket to settle anywhere in time he chooses.
Five accepts, rising through the Commission’s ranks by hopping through time, murdering people, and vanishing again before anyone can catch him. But he balks when the Commission assigns him to assassinate JFK. Instead, he uses his own superpowers to leap through time, arriving at Hargreeves’s funeral (as seen in the premiere), and discovering — to his surprise and horror — that the leap has reverted his 58-year-old body into the body of an adolescent boy.
As it turns out, Hazel and Cha-Cha also work for the Commission, and they’ve been tasked with tracking down the rogue Five. But the intervention of Five’s siblings has made the mission exponentially more complicated. The biggest fly in the ointment is Klaus, who stole Hazel’s time-travel briefcase as he escaped from the motel.
But while Klaus isn’t above stealing anything and everything, this one came with a particularly harrowing consequence. When Klaus opened the briefcase, he was sent to Vietnam in 1968. After joining a regiment and spending ten months as a soldier, he reappeared back in the present.
We only get hints about what Klaus experienced, but it’s obvious that he was deeply and singularly affected by it. Klaus has always been pretty messed up, but we’ve never seen him quite like this: shaking, screaming, and dissolving into sobs. He seems to have fallen in love with a fellow soldier, who died in some unspeakably horrible way. And back in the present, he’s rejected by his fellow Vietnam veterans at the VFW, who (understandably) refuse to believe someone as young as Klaus could have been in the war.
Halfway through the season, it’s clear that one of Umbrella Academy’s key fascinations is the tragedy of time travel. From the world’s perspective, Klaus was barely even gone, but he had nearly a year of life-changing experiences that no one else will ever be able to understand. His brother Five is so damaged from all his time-hopping that his closest relationship, by far, is with a mannequin, with whom he hallucinates lengthy conversations. Even Hazel is going through a major funk, taking an extended break from the mission to have a soul-searching conversation with Agnes, the sweet, bird-watching waitress who has no idea the world is about to end.
All of these time travelers finally come face-to-face on a remote stretch of road far outside of the city. Five brokers a parlay with Hazel and Cha-Cha, promising the briefcase Klaus stole in exchange for a reintroduction to the Commission. Meanwhile, Klaus and Diego arrive, seeking revenge on the assassins who tortured Klaus and murdered Patch.
But for all the superpowers we’ve seen the members of the Umbrella Academy demonstrate, we’ve never seen anyone quite like the Handler, who freezes time just as the meeting seems doomed to dissolve into chaos and bloodshed. Once again, she approaches Five at a crisis point with a life-changing offer. The Commission wants the apocalypse to happen because it’s “supposed” to happen; even if the world will end, there’s no deviating from the timeline. And if Five will come back into the fold, he’ll get a hefty promotion, and he’ll be returned to his adult body. She also promises to do what she can to ensure that his siblings survive.
After making some adjustments — moving bullets, unloading a gun — so his siblings won’t be killed by Hazel and Cha-Cha, Five disappears with the Handler. Of course, this is one of those handshake deals where you can’t really trust anybody involved. I find it hard to believe that the Commission would forgive Five for betraying them in the middle of a mission as high-stakes as a presidential assassination; I find it just as hard to believe that Five, after all this effort, would shrug and let the world end.
But whatever the truth about Five’s plan, time has been unfrozen again. The apocalypse is creeping closer. And it’s looking more and more like we know the vessel for it. Since she stopped taking her pills, Vanya is feeling better and stronger than ever. She earns a spot as the first chair in her orchestra, and finally consummates her relationship with Leonard.
And as they hook up for the first time, we get a glimpse of the superpowers her pills have been suppressing all along. A beam of translucent energy creeps up to the attic, where Leonard has stashed a corpse and the Reginald Hargreeves book that Klaus tossed away all the way back in the premiere. It’s probably safe to assume that the book revealed something about Vanya’s superpowers, which led Leonard to manipulate her into this vulnerable position. And if this is where it starts, how much more powerful is Vanya going to get?
• The episode ends with a brief scene in which Pogo reboots Grace, the robot “mother” of the Hargreeves kids, and makes an ominous reference to something she remembers that the children can never know about. I’ll leave this one to you, comments section: What is Pogo talking about?
• So is Leonard yet another agent for the Commission, trying to make sure the apocalypse happens? Or does he have some other motive that hasn’t been revealed yet?
• Five tells Luther that he saw the corpses of “all of you” in the future — but the actual scene reveals that Vanya’s corpse was not found alongside her siblings, which certainly means something.
• The flashback to Five’s tenure as a time-traveling super-assassin implies that he was personally responsible for the Hindenburg disaster, as well as the deaths of Franz Ferdinand and Joseph Stalin.
• Five’s list of the four people whose deaths could save the world includes Aleks Cameron — an assistant art director on the series.
• Songs in Episode Five include “In the Heat of the Moment” by Noel Gallagher’s High-Flying Birds, “Mary” by Big Thief, and a cover of “Happy Together” by the Turtles.
• The ice-cream truck Klaus steals also plays a twinkly version of “Ride of the Valkyries,” because why not?
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