In lieu of a full-blown Hargreeves family reunion, Umbrella Academy’s second season has juggled each of the characters’ stories individually, showing how each of the siblings is struggling alone — before, I assume, the inevitable moment when they’ll be pushed back together again. But while I still think this show is at its strongest when it throws all of the Hargreeves kids together and lets their lifelong tensions drive the story forward, “The Majestic 12” does the next best thing: cleverly pairing each of our heroes with other, non-superpowered characters, and finding some surprising and rewarding new connections along the way.
Some of these scenes are painful. It’s not exactly surprising when David ends up decking Klaus at the behest of his homophobic uncle, but Klaus rarely expresses any kind of genuine emotion, so the loss of the love of his life — a relationship that hasn’t even happened in this timeline — sends him back to the bottle. And while Klaus’s act of radical honesty marks the end of his relationship, Allison’s failure to be honest seems like it might mean the end of her marriage to Ray. When Allison refuses to explain what she whispered to the cop, Ray assumes she’s working undercover with the Dallas police department to undermine the city’s civil rights movement, and dismisses her outright.
Fortunately, not all of the episode’s interactions come with so much painful baggage. Luther ends up splitting a tank of nitrous oxide with oddball conspiracy theorist Elliot, whose compulsive laughing fits are only somewhat undercut by the knowledge that the world is poised to end in a week. While undercover at the Mexican consulate party, Diego stumbles into Grace — the real woman who provided the template for their robot mom — and gets to achieve some semblance of the closure he was denied when he shut down Robo-Grace back in season one. There’s something almost Back to the Future–esque about this sequence, as the Hargreeves children bump into the younger versions of their distant father and the prototype version of the mother they could never fully comprehend as children.
At the consulate Five briefly spies on Reginald Hargreeves as he meets with the other members of a shadowy cabal called Majestic-12, before things inevitably go hairy when the Swedish assassins attack. (This fight is set to “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” by KISS, because Umbrella Academy is Umbrella Academy.)
But while I’m definitely tired of this show’s penchant for trotting out a cliched pop/rock anthem for every single fight scene, there are some promising signs that Umbrella Academy is also ready to start moving the plot along. The show could easily have kept Diego in the dark about Lila’s duplicitousness for another few episodes — but her decision to abandon him to save Five, per The Handler’s orders, should force a conversation about Lila’s real priorities the next time they see each other.
Still, for all the fun and bluster of the fight scenes, the episode’s real high point comes in a quieter story, as Sissy and Vanya finally consummate their obvious attraction. We know from the first season that Vanya’s greatest struggle was her desire for a real family, and while she may be suffering from amnesia, that desire hasn’t gone away. After Harlan runs away and nearly drowns, Vanya’s superpowers kick in long enough for her to save him. It’s a reminder that Vanya’s terrifying superpowers could have been world-saving instead of world-shattering if only she’d had the proper guidance.
And after the dysfunction of Vanya’s relationship with Harold Jenkins (a.k.a. Leonard Peabody) in season one, it’s a relief to see her in a relationship with Sissy that seems much healthier. As Sissy talks about feeling unseen by her husband and disconnected from her son — which are, not coincidentally, versions of the same problem Vanya faced with her own family — Sissy pours her heart out to Vanya: “You don’t even notice the box you’re in until someone comes along and lets you out.”
She’s speaking metaphorically, but Vanya’s own experience was literal: Being forced into solitary confinement by a family that didn’t know what to do about her true self, and manipulated her into suppressing it as a result. There’s just one key difference. In season one, Vanya wasn’t let out of the box by someone who loved her; she had to violently break out of the box on her own. As Vanya and Sissy finally act on their feelings for each other, it’s a reminder that there was always another, better way Vanya could have been treated. Maybe this do-over will be what she needed all along.
• Something I’ve been wondering since Reginald Hargreeves first emerged in Dallas: As Reginald encounters his “future” children in Dallas in 1963, does he already know and recognize them? This version of Reginald is obviously younger than the old man who died in the series premiere. But given how much this show plays with time travel, it wouldn’t surprise me if Reginald actually orchestrated all of this — including his adult children traveling back to 1963 — as part of some greater plot.
• I don’t want to get too bogged down in time-travel paradox shenanigans — but the flash-forward to Lila’s parents dying is set in 1993, which shouldn’t even be possible if the world ends in 1963.
• Along those lines: We don’t see the face of the man who killed Lila’s parents, but it could definitely be Reginald Hargreeves, right? Or Five? It’s got to be somebody we know.
• Secret identities obviously go with the territory in these kinds of stories, but is there some reason why Allison can’t just… tell Ray she’s a time-traveling superhero? Yes, it’ll be a shock — but is it really worse than losing her marriage because Ray thinks she colluded with the Dallas P.D.?
• At least Five, who routinely proves to be the shrewdest of the Hargreeves children, is sharp enough to recognize that there’s something sketchy about Lila.
• “The Scorpion and The Frog” has become such a cliche, so I was deeply relieved when Umbrella Academy ended up undercutting it with Klaus’ incoherent version, where the moral is apparently that “frogs are bitches.”
• Majestic-12 is yet another real-life conspiracy theory that Umbrella Academy is riffing on. If you’re curious, you can read about it here.
• In addition, the host of the party — “Hoyt Hilenkoetter” — combines the real names of Central Intelligence directors Roscoe Hillenkoetter and Hoyt Vandenberg, who are alleged to have been Majestic-12 members.
• In addition to the 50,000 dead Americans, I appreciate that Klaus also mentions the 1,000,000 Vietnamese who died, who often go unmentioned when Americans discuss the Vietnam War.