For decades, real-world conspiracy theorists have sought a film that might clarify exactly what happened on the grassy knoll at the moment JFK was assassinated. Thanks to Umbrella Academy, we finally know where this fabled film has been hiding: In Five’s blazer pocket.
As Umbrella Academy marches toward yet another apocalypse, it’s the JFK stuff — and the way it blends into the characters’ personal lives — that will most distinguish season two from the events of season one. There’s a rich history of speculative fiction involving time travel and the JFK assassination, and it’s interesting to see Umbrella Academy’s characters crashing into, and possibly changing, a historical tragedy that actually occurred (even if Hulu’s 11/22/63 got there first).
When Five actually sits down and watches the “Frankel Footage” on the tape in his pocket, he discovers the identity of that long-fabled second shooter on the grassy knoll: Reginald Hargreeves, the mysterious, monocled figure who originally adopted the children and formed the Umbrella Academy. It’s a clever idea to knit Umbrella Academy’s interest in the burdens of familial legacy to a real-life historical tragedy carried by all Americans, and it’ll be interesting to see how each of Reginald’s children decides to deal with it.
Whatever the answer, it’s bound to spark some kind of existential crisis. After Five and Diego track the younger Reginald Hargreeves to his office, they discover the younger version of another dead family member: Pogo, the talking chimpanzee (and surrogate father figure) Vanya killed at the end of season one. Five isn’t exactly the most sentimental guy, so his delight at bumping into Pogo is an unusually sweet moment. At least until Pogo — who doesn’t seem to have all the advanced genetic conditioning that made him a key member of the family yet — bites Five and hops away.
Meanwhile, Diego confronts Reginald himself, and the two of them brawl until Diego finally emerges victorious. But when Diego briefly hesitates to deliver a fatal blow to his own father, Reignald seizes the moment. He stabs Diego, sneeringly calls him an amateur, and leaves Diego bleeding out on the pavement while he walks off into the mist with Pogo.
It doesn’t look great, but I suspect it’s a little too early in the season for Umbrella Academy to kill off a major character, so I’m sure Diego will survive (with a whole new daddy issue he’ll need to sort out). But this disastrous run-in is yet another danger of time travel. Five and Diego are bringing all kinds of baggage that Reginald and Pogo — in their younger forms — literally can’t comprehend, because none of the events that created that baggage have happened yet.
Which raises the question: Will all that foreknowledge make the Hargreeves children weaker, or stronger? Umbrella Academy has always been interested in interrogating the ways the complicated relationships can shape people, and we get an interesting test case when Luther goes to confront Vanya at Sissy and Carl’s homestead. Luther comes armed with a revolver, and at first he can’t decide if Vanya is actually amnesiac, or just pretending so she can dodge the consequences for her supervillainy.
But instead of killing Vanya, Luther takes the opportunity to apologize for his role in spinning her toward the dark side — for locking her up instead of actively engaging her in the process of figuring out what to do about her terrifying powers.
Vanya may not literally remember what Luther is talking about, but the sentiment still lands. And as all the show’s characters confront the demons in their past — many of which started with their adoptive father — it might well turn out that the best way to move forward is to embrace the unique possibilities of time travel and literally confront him. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even save the president and the world in the bargain.
• Meanwhile — in what certainly feels like yet another retcon that wasn’t actually planned back in season one — we learn that The Handler (Kate Walsh) survived being shot in the head by Hazel because of a previously unmentioned metal plate in her forehead. She returns to work but discovers she’s been demoted by her boss (and my instant favorite new character on the show): A talking, smoking goldfish named A.J. Carmichael who lives in a fishbowl atop a robot body.
• Klaus, who has apparently used his knowledge of the future to become the head of a cult, runs into Allison’s husband Ray in a prison cell. Ray is being held on trumped-up charges by the racist police force, but Klaus manages to pull some strings and get him released, so there’s probably another family reunion on the horizon.
• There’s definitely a flirtatious edge to Sissy’s interactions with Vanya. Sissy seems sincere, but for Vanya’s sake, I really hope this isn’t another “Leonard Peabody” situation where she ends up getting close to someone who has an ulterior motive for screwing with her.
• Five stumbles onto a file listing someone named Hillenkoetter as the Consulate General of Mexico in Dallas. For what it’s worth, he shares a name with the first director of the CIA, so adjust your own conspiracy theories accordingly.
• The trio of Swedish assassins keep doing sub-Tarantino weird assassin stuff: being mute, drinking milk, chopping off their landlady’s head and putting it in the freezer. Quirky!
• We almost got through a whole episode without a fight scene set to a popular song! But right at the end of the episode, Diego and Hargreeves square off to The Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man.”
• Five, offering a helpful summary of Diego: “Imagine Batman, then aim lower.”