The Umbrella Academy
With his first plan to save the world thwarted by his siblings’ inability to follow a schedule, Five comes up with one last Hail Mary, which also stretches Umbrella Academy’s conception of time travel straight into Looper territory. As the doomsday clock ticks down, Five decides to confront the “old man” version of himself, who has been sent to Dallas by the Commission to ensure that JFK gets assassinated. (It’s worth noting that this “old man” version of Five is technically younger by 14 days. It’s time travel, just go with it.) And because Five has already lived this moment, he knows Other Five will be carrying a time briefcase that could also, at least theoretically, be used to set the timeline right again.
There’s just one problem: Any time traveler who dares to confront himself runs the risk of Paradox Psychosis. It’s a condition with no fewer than seven stages, which range from wacky (uncontrolled perspiration, excessive gas) to deadly (homicidal rage). And even without the extreme side effects, Five isn’t exactly the kind of guy to play nicely with anybody, including himself.
This seems like it should make for an unusually fun episode of Umbrella Academy, with Five and Other Five confronting each other in a very personal game of Spy vs. Spy. But having set up this promising premise, Umbrella Academy doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with it. So the two Fives just spend the episode squabbling and farting at each other in an Irish pub, while Luther awkwardly ping-pongs between them as each of them argues, unconvincingly, that he’s the sane one.
By the end of “The Seven Stages,” the Five vs. Other Five confrontation remains unresolved, so there’s probably still a solid payoff on the horizon as Umbrella Academy sprints toward the season finale. But for now, the real action is happening across town, where Vanya is suffering under some extremely cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the FBI. The federal agents believe Vanya is a Russian sleeper agent, because she claims to have amnesia, and because … well, because her name is Vanya. So the agents interrogate her via a combination of electric shocks and LSD, which is mostly an excuse for Umbrella Academy to do one of those big drug trip scenes full of surreal imagery and dutch angles.
In her hallucination, Vanya is back at the actual Umbrella Academy building. Everyone else is there too: her siblings, the robot version of Grace, and the older, reliably cruel Reginald Hargreeves. It’s dinnertime, and everyone is being served a full human brain on a platter. With every bite, Vanya recovers another painful memory from her past, and gets one step closer to reemerging as the White Violin.
This extended drug trip leads to the episode’s big reveal, as Vanya’s powers once again reemerge. In a kind of trance, Vanya murders the FBI agents and blows a massive hole in a federal building in downtown Dallas. Meanwhile, at The Commission’s headquarters, Diego pieces together the real reason a second apocalypse is slated to hit Dallas in a matter of days. Vanya’s explosive superpowers will scare off JFK’s motorcade, saving his life while convincing him that the whole thing was a botched Soviet attack. In the following days, the Cold War will dramatically heat up, starting a series of retaliatory back-and-forths that will culminate in nuclear armageddon.
And just as before, it all starts with Vanya. “Vanya is the bomb. She will always be the bomb,” says Diego.
This reaction is perfectly in character for Diego, who has spent the entire season fixated on chopping off Lee Harvey Oswald’s trigger finger so he won’t be able to fire a gun at JFK. It’s probably safe to assume Diego is now hatching a similar plot to stop Vanya once and for all.
But despite Diego’s characteristically black-and-white approach to heroism, I hope Umbrella Academy is sharp enough to acknowledge that the truth is rarely that simple. Yes, Vanya is the bomb this time around — but why does mean she’ll always be the bomb?
Over the course of Umbrella Academy, we’ve seen two scenarios where Vanya ended up destroying the world. But it’s worth remembering that both of those incidents only happened because Vanya was pushed to the absolute limit, and lost control of herself in the process. It would be both pessimistic and inaccurate to argue that a bomb, once armed, will inevitably go off. What Vanya really needs is for someone to try to defuse her before it’s too late.
• So: What’s the deal with Harlan? The ending of “The Seven Stages” certainly seems to hint that he has latent superpowers similar to Vanya’s (and a few seemingly out-of-place moments in the previous episodes, like the cracked window in the kitchen, play very differently if you assume Harlan has powers as well). Then again: As far as we know, there were no superpowered children at all until October 1, 1989, when 43 kids (including the seven Reginald Hargreeves adopted) were born. Maybe Vanya somehow awakened Harlan’s powers when she revived him at the lake? Or maybe Harlan always had powers, and Reginald (or some other, similarly shadowy figure) is going to find him and cover it up?
• There’s another moment here when Umbrella Academy hints at tackling a social problem, then backs away from the complexity it. As Ray contemplates the dead Swedish assassin on his couch, he comments that a dead white man in his living room will, unfairly but inevitably, lead him to the electric chair. But rather than grapple with the problem of racial bias in the legal system, the show ultimately hand-waves it away, as Herb arrives from The Commission and cheerfully explains that he can offer a body removal service.
• The sole surviving Swedish assassin realizes that The Handler was playing him and his brothers all along, so I suspect she’s not long for this (or any other) world.
• As Grace investigates Reginald’s office, there’s a brief shot of a blueprint for the Televator, which should look familiar to fans of the original comic.
• Grace confronts Reginald about the JFK assassination plot, and when he refuses to answer her questions, she dumps him. Since this confrontation only happened because Diego convinced Grace to interrogate Reginald, it’s possible it’ll change the future, where Reginald uses Grace as the model for the kids’ robot surrogate mother. (Then again: The real Grace wasn’t around in the original timeline either, so maybe things will play out the same either way.)
• The song in Vanya’s drug trip is “Pepper” by Butthole Surfers.
• Klaus says being possessed feels like “having sex with a lesser Baldwin,” which raises several questions.
• “We have all the time in the world,” Lila tells Diego — which, in addition to being literally true for agents of the Commission, is a neat little James Bond reference.
• Per the orientation video, benefits of working for the Commission include coffee (free!) and weekly donuts (fees apply).