The Umbrella Academy
If you’re looking to add tension to a TV show, there’s no greater shortcut than a ticking clock. There’s a reason that 24, which literally stuck a clock in the corner of the screen, ran for eight seasons: When you know time is always running out, the stakes in every scene get higher. As soon as we learn that Five has just 90 minutes to get all his siblings assembled so they can return to 2019 via a time-travel briefcase from the Commission, “Öga for Öga” cranks up the stress and doesn’t let up.
So I suppose I can’t blame Umbrella Academy for turning “Öga for Öga” into a race against the clock (complete with tick-tock sound effects at the end of numerous scenes). But I can blame Umbrella Academy for the thoughtless, tossed-off explanation for why Five has only has 90 minutes. The episode’s “answer,” more or less, is that The Handler likes screwing with people in strange and arbitrary ways — which is true to character, if not a particularly sturdy foundation on which to build an episode.
To even get to this point, Five needed to time-travel to Wisconsin in 1982 to assassinate The Commission’s executive board. Over the course of the series, Five has become more devoted to his family (and more heroic in general), which can make it easy to forget that he’s one of the deadliest and most amoral assassins of all time. The opening of “Öga for Öga” offers a reminder that’s honestly a little disturbing to watch, as Five crashes the meeting and uses a fire-axe to dismember no fewer than 11 people. I know these are theoretically the baddest of bad guys, and that Five isn’t exactly a good guy — but who are we supposed to be rooting for in this show, anyway?
Back in Dallas circa 1963, Five rationalizes the killings by insisting they were necessary to get his siblings back to 2019, which (for some reason?) will also save the world. But because The Handler has assigned that arbitrary 90-minute time limit before the briefcase will vanish, the fate of the world also depends on Five criss-crossing Dallas and wrangling all of his siblings to meet the deadline in time.
Umbrella Academy is loaded with thwarted ambitions, so it’s no surprise that Five doesn’t even come close to making the deadline with everyone in tow. (For the record: Only Five, Luther, and Klaus/Ben make it before the timer expires.) And while the others have surprisingly good reasons for not making it, it’s worth noting that each failure is tied, in some way, to their love lives. “The only thing the Umbrella Academy knows about love is how to screw it up,” mocked Klaus earlier this season — and if that’s not exactly fair, it’s safe to say that the lovestruck Hargreeves children are finding themselves unexpectedly anchored to life in 1960s Dallas.
First comes Diego, who confronts Lila about her obvious betrayal, and ends up passing out when he takes a swig from her drugged flask. But Lila’s separation from Diego has also given her some time to think. When Diego wakes up again, he’s in The Handler’s office, where Lila — now her mother’s Head of Security — declares Diego to be her boyfriend. There’s something interesting about these two deadly, damaged people, who each grew up under the thumb of a bizarre and overbearing parent, coming together and forging a new union of their own. We’ll just have to see if Diego can forgive Lila for, you know, lying about everything from the moment they met.
Across town, Allison is forced to rush a major decision on Ray: Would he be willing to abandon the civil rights movement in 1963 to begin a new life with her in 2019? Even when Allison tells him, quite accurately, that the work is far from done in 2019, Ray decides not to go, concluding that the movement still needs him in 1963. And when Allison offers to use her superpower to erase his memory of her, he refuses, concluding that he’d rather live with the pain if it means he can keep their year together in his mind.
This is a powerful sequence, nicely written and beautifully played by both Emmy Raver-Lampman and Yusuf Gatewood. Which is why I was frustrated when the Swedish assassins busted in — complete with a soundtrack cue for “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” of all things — for yet another glossy, empty fight scene. At times, Umbrella Academy can feel like it’s allergic to human emotion — like the show is afraid the audience will get bored if they spend too much time with the characters before cutting to a brawl or a pop song. In another legitimately (and accidentally?) disturbing bit, Allison uses her power to make one of the Swedish assassins strangle his brother to death — but by the time the fight is over, it’s too late to join her family in the alley.
And then there’s Vanya, who flirts with the same destructiveness that led to the apocalypse in season one when Five insists she can’t bring Sissy and Harlan back with her to 2019. Vanya decides to do it anyway, but kindhearted Sissy decides she can’t abandon Carl without writing a Dear John letter, which gives Carl enough time to sic the cops on her. As Vanya, Sissy, and Harlan speed toward the alley, they’re interrupted by the police. With no choice but to fight or surrender, Vanya fights, unleashing her powers on the police until one of them manages to sneak up and knock her out. And with no clear way to get back to 2019, it’s certainly looking like there will be some major consequences for everyone to face in 1963.
• Love must be in the air in Dallas, because another subplot sees Ben possess Klaus’ body to woo Jill, the girl he’s been crushing on from the afterlife. This is mostly just a goof, but it is kind of moving to see Ben enjoying all the sensory experiences he’s missed as a ghost: The taste of fruit, the feeling of dirt under your toes, the smell of a girl you like. The episode veers close to some seriously dicey territory when Jill tries to have sex with Ben (who she assumes is Klaus) — but Diego shows up before anything can happen, so I guess that’s a bullet dodged.
• I assume the Handler is keeping A.J. Carmichael alive in a fishbowl in her office for purely vindictive reasons, but something tells me he’ll find a way to get revenge before the season is over.
• Five’s tossed-off reference to the time the Umbrella Academy fought a sea monster is probably a nod to the one-off comic “… But the Past Ain’t Through With You,” which was released on Free Comic Book Day in 2007.
• Poor Olga Foroga, spending the rest of her life looking over her shoulder because Luther and Diego don’t speak Swedish.
• Klaus’ largely song lyric-based cult is called — what else? — Destiny’s Children.
• Klaus’ rules for occupying his body: no cutting his hair, no dairy, no looking at his dick. (Ben violates that last one almost immediately.)
• Another happy memory from the Hargreeves household: The time when the kids reprogrammed Allison’s Teddy Ruxpin doll to say, “Luther sniffs dad’s underwear.”
• Here’s a harrowing (and genuinely interesting!) history of the 1924 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak mentioned by Carl. I’ll leave you to contemplate this pull-quote in light of the times we’re living in: “The 1924 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak suggests two points that are relevant to other national crises. The first is that advance planning and preparation do pay off. […] The second is that neither then nor since are governments very effective in preventing and suppressing the rumors and panic that accompany a national crisis.”