The Umbrella Academy
Few TV shows have cleared the deck as thoroughly as Umbrella Academy did at the end of its first season. With the arrival of the apocalypse sparked by Vanya’s transition to a supervillain, Five managed to use his time-travel powers to send his siblings to … well, to somewhere, because that’s how cliff-hangers work. The rest of the world, and all of the 7 billion-plus people in it, went down in flames.
In theory, that mystery time jump was also a unique opportunity. Umbrella Academy could have started season two pretty much anywhere, and done pretty much anything with its few surviving characters. Which is why I’m a little disappointed that — after beginning with the very promising setting of Dallas in the early 1960s — the rest of the premiere busies itself with establishing a setup that’s basically just a carbon copy of season one.
In rapid succession, each member of the Umbrella Academy is dumped into an alleyway in Dallas. Time travel is inconsistent, so no one arrives at the exact same time; the dates range from February 1960 to November 1963. The last to arrive is Five, who is instantly greeted by planes dropping bombs and tanks rolling through the streets. In this time line, the Soviet Union has apparently attacked Dallas. As Five watches his superpowered siblings fight back, fellow time-traveler Hazel — now sporting a trim suit and a bushy white Santa Claus beard — pops in and pulls Five to the (relative) safety of ten days earlier.
So yes, here we are, at the precipice of the apocalypse once again, with Five attempting to team up with his siblings and stop it. At least Umbrella Academy seems to have a sense of ironic self-awareness that it’s repeating itself. You don’t set a montage to Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From” — and name the episode after it! — if you’re not aware, on some level, that you’re self-cannibalizing.
With the stakes established, Umbrella Academy spends the rest of the episode catching us up on where the Hargreeves children have landed since arriving in Dallas. Klaus, with ghostly brother Ben in tow, is strutting around making enemies at dive bars. Diego has been committed to an asylum and befriended a fellow patient named Lila (Ritu Arya). Luther is working as a barroom brawler and all-around enforcer for a local nightclub owner named, uh, Jack Ruby.
On the outskirts of town — and fresh off the brief heel turn that resulted in the end of the world — Vanya has amnesia, from either the stress of her superpowers or the car that hits her when she lands in Dallas. How convenient! With her identity and superpowers gone (at least for now), Vanya has taken a gig as nanny to a young boy named Harlan and befriended his mother Sissy (Marin Ireland). Meanwhile, Allison has somehow recovered her voice. How convenient! After stumbling into a whites-only diner shortly after her arrival in Dallas, she has embraced a new life of political activism and married another activist named Ray (Yusuf Gatewood).
But while the Hargreeves siblings have been scattered to the winds, fate (and Five) are already conspiring to bring them all back together again, and soon. A trio of mysterious Swedish assassins pop in and kill Hazel — and while they subsequently fail to kill Diego as he escapes the asylum, they’re clearly not planning to give up anytime soon. Meanwhile, Five tracks down Luther; given his particular set of skills, the rest of the family can’t be far behind.
In short: It’s a lot of setup without much forward momentum — but you can see the trouble on the horizon for everybody. With yet another obstacle to their (gross sibling) love story, there’s surely an awkward conversation to come for Luther and Allison. Everyone will need to make peace with Vanya for killing Pogo and then, less directly, everyone else in the world. And Klaus will surely do something to alienate and annoy the whole family again.
But for all the stylish wackiness this premiere episode promises, I have to admit, I’m a little worried about where this series might be going. What’s missing here is growth. Apart from Allison, there’s no real sense that any of these characters grew or changed from the events of season one. You can only threaten the fate of the world so many times before the fate of the world starts to feel trivial. And then there’s the danger of any time-travel story: When everything can at least theoretically be undone, how do you know what matters? I suppose Umbrella Academy will have the rest of season two to tell us.
• Umbrella Academy has already deviated pretty far from its comic-book origins — but if you’re looking for hints on where this season might be going, you can grab a trade paperback of the second major arc, Dallas.
• The season one finale showed Hazel and Agnes escaping the apocalypse at the last second, which seemed like it might be setting them up for a sizable role in season two. Instead, we just get the brief little cameo from Hazel, who saves Five (and reveals Agnes has died of cancer) before he also dies in a hail of bullets. Then again, time travel, so who knows?
• Just before he died, Hazel slipped something into Five’s coat pocket. It’s not like Five to miss a step, so I assume he’ll find it before long.
• Allison can speak normally again, so apparently the damage to her vocal cords was reversed by … going backward in time? Umbrella Academy will probably cover this in more detail later, but it’s weird that such a major character beat being reversed goes totally unremarked upon.
• Also abandoned, apparently, is the implication from the season one finale that time travel might revert the rest of the Hargreeves children into their child bodies (à la Five).
• Umbrella Academy hasn’t lost its taste for brutally overplayed needle drops. In addition to “Right Back Where We Started From,” the episode squeezes in Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and a minor-key cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” which plays — where else? — in the asylum.
• The movie theater marquee is a B-horror junkie’s dream, with Curse of the Undead, Curse of the Werewolf, and Kiss of the Vampire playing in successive years.
• Hazel’s “If you want to live, come with me” is a minor inversion of a line from the Terminator franchise.
• Diego’s plan to go back and kill Hitler after saving JFK. sure sounds like a pitch for Umbrella Academy season three.
• “There once was a young buck from Dallas, who sported a miniature phallus.” Now accepting any and all submissions for an ending to Klaus’s limerick.