The Umbrella Academy
So it’s come to this. Not the end of the world — that was averted in the previous episode — but the end of … well, the end of something, as the finale’s title cheekily proclaims. Something sinister is going down on Sissy’s farm, and it’s going to take the combined might of the Umbrella Academy to take care of it and set the timeline normal-ish again.
And since this is a superhero show, the solution mostly involves a lot of punching and kicking. If the penultimate episode wrapped up most of Umbrella Academy’s emotional beats, the season finale is the show’s chance to show off its special-effects budget, with much of the runtime spent on a flashy, blockbuster-esque action scene at the farm.
At first, it looks like Vanya might need to handle it solo. When she asks for help saving the woman she loves, her siblings awkwardly turn her down, before Klaus starts a sympathetic chain reaction that ends with all six of them standing at her side. (Honestly, I’m amazed the series resisted the impulse to cue up “We Are Family.”)
The Hargreeves children arrive at the farm to find Harlan caught in some kind of horrifying energy cyclone. (I’m not clear on why Harlan’s superpowers would also make it snow, so let’s go with “because it looks cool.”) As Vanya tries to help him, the Handler arrives to kidnap Harlan and dispense with Five and his meddlesome siblings once and for all. And when Five plays the old “You and what army?” card, the Handler replies with a “This one,” as hundreds and hundreds of Commission agents flood into the farmland.
Our heroes somehow survive being shot at by an ungodly number of machine guns — because apparently the Commission’s deadliest agents can’t hit even a single, human-sized target — and Vanya’s White Violin powers are enough to dispatch with all of them. But the Handler has one last trick up her puffy sleeve. She unleashes Lila, who has been harboring a secret all along: She has a superpower too.
Umbrella Academy doesn’t come right out and say it, but as far as I can tell, Lila’s power is a little like like X-Men’s Rogue: She can borrow the superpower of anyone she faces. (I’m not sure why she didn’t use this power at any of the many, many other time it would have been useful this season, but I’ll give Umbrella Academy some rope for wanting to pack in one last twist.) As Lila squares off against the Hargreeves kids, she uses each of their powers against them: blasting Vanya with a sound wave, ordering Allison to stop breathing, and teleporting all over the place in a Matrix-y standoff with Five.
This twist retroactively explains some of the Handler’s more puzzling decisions throughout the season. In the end, it seems like her goal was similar to Reginald Hargreeves: Round up a bunch of superpowered kids and raise them to fit her own warped goals. Like the Hargreeves kids, Lila was born on October 1, 1989 (which also means there are 35 we still don’t know about).
But Harlan is something different: a kid who was infused with superpowers when Vanya saved him from drowning. Kidnapping him is a chance for the Handler to add to her already considerable power, so it makes a grim kind of sense when she slips into the barn and shoots every single member of the Umbrella Academy, as well as Lila, in favor of a fresh start with Harlan. Unfortunately for the Handler, the surviving Swedish assassin is also bent on revenge, so he comes in moments later and kills her too.
For a moment — if you’re feeling extremely credulous — you might wonder what a third season of Umbrella Academy centered on a silent Swedish assassin and a kid with a magical superpower might look like. (Hey, it’s not that different than The Mandalorian.) But this is, of course, another fake-out. Five harnesses his time-travel powers long enough to rewind everything and play out a better version, with no one but the Handler getting gunned down this time around.
And so the world is saved. Again. Which means the rest of the episode is spent on loose ends and teases for a third season. Lila takes a time briefcase and teleports away, but she’s bound to pop back up at some inconvenient point in the future. The Swedish assassin, having concluded that the Handler was his real enemy all along, leaves without killing anybody else. Vanya reabsorbs Harlan’s superpowers, saving him from the kind of childhood that was so painful for her to endure. And Vanya and Sissy share a tearful goodbye, with Sissy planning to take Harlan to California to raise him in peace and safety — though they vow to reunite if the timelines ever allow it, so who knows?
With everything more or less resolved, it’s time for the Hargreeves children to return to 2019. And an ungenerous viewer might wonder what the point of all of this was. If Umbrella Academy’s second season was essentially one long shaggy dog story designed to return everything to the status quo at the beginning of the series, did any of this matter?
The show’s answer to that question comes in a letter that Allison leaves for Ray. The timeline is back to normal, she says, but her time in it has changed her. “The fight for a better world is never over, and we all have choices to make,” she writes. “And we have to live with the consequences before we find the right way home.”
Here, Umbrella Academy is making the case that internal character growth is just as important as whatever actually happens in the world. The impact on specific people like Ray and Sissy might be small in a utilitarian sense, but their experiences — and the impact on the people who loved them, like Allison and Vanya — is just as earth-shattering an event as, well, the end of the world.
And while I can appreciate that on a thematic level, I have to admit: I’d be a little bummed if the entirety of season two was just an extended Wizard of Oz riff, with the Hargreeves children returning to 2019 to discover that there’s no place like home.
That’s why I was relieved when the Umbrella Academy arrived back in 2019 to discover that everything seems a little … off. As they wander around the old familiar mansion, they notice that some things seem out of place. Almost like they haven’t returned “home” after all.
Yes, it turns out mucking around with the past can have some real consequences after all — because in this 2019, the Umbrella Academy doesn’t exist at all. “This is the Sparrow Academy,” says Reginald Hargreeves, as our heroes meet their shadowy doppelgängers — apparently led by the very-much-not-dead Ben Hargreeves. “Dad, who are these assholes?” Ben asks as the Umbrella Academy stand awkwardly in the center of the living room. Now that’s going to be a long story.
• It’s probably going to be a long wait before season 3 is ready, so let’s theorize: What’s going on here? My best guess is that the younger Reginald’s encounters with his future children in 1963 changed his approach to parenting, which resulted in the alternate-universe Sparrow Academy versions of the kids (and somehow prevented Ben’s death). It’ll be interesting to see how these Hargreeves children differ from the versions we know — in particular, I’m hoping we get to meet a Vanya whose superpowers were never suppressed, and see how differently she might have turned out.
• After his strong work throughout the second season, I’m really glad Umbrella Academy found a way to keep Justin H. Min in the cast without reversing Ben’s poignant death.
• It’s hard to gauge whether the shadowy figures that make up the Sparrow Academy are physically different than the Umbrella Academy, but at the very least, it didn’t look to me like Sparrow Luther had his bulky ape torso.
• Now that the season is over, it’s worth noting that Dallas — the second major plot arc of the Umbrella Academy comics — uses this same basic setting and premise in a much different (and much darker) way. I’d encourage fans of the TV show to check it out, if only to see how wildly an adaptation can differ from its source material.
• The episode opens with a prologue set in 2006, as the 17-year-old Hargreeves children assemble for Ben’s funeral. Reginald delivers a characteristically grim eulogy that might also offer a clue to his real goal: “The world is full of injustice, the good and the bad die, and this cosmic equation will never change unless evil itself is wiped from existence.”
• I’m sure there are a ton of easter eggs hidden in the army of Commission agents who arrive at the farm, and I look forward to Umbrella Academy fans studying the sequence, Zapruder-style, and posting screenshots of their findings online.
• Luther saves Allison from suffocating with mouth-to-mouth, which inevitably turns into a kiss. No thanks!
• There’s a beat in the closing montage when Vanya puts her head on Diego’s shoulder, which feels like a nod to the siblings’ closer relationship in the comics (where it’s also hinted — ugh! — that Diego might be nursing a crush on her).
• Sissy and Harlan are off to start a new life in California — and a brief shot reveals that Harlan can still levitate stuff with his superpowers, so apparently Vanya didn’t absorb everything after all. I’m not really sure why they’re in the clear for Carl’s death — it’s not like police are just going to shrug and give up when they find Carl dead and his family missing — but Umbrella Academy paints this as a happy ending, so I guess I will too.
• The sole surviving Swedish assassin ends up joining the Destiny’s Children cult, so maybe he’ll find some peace after all.
• Happy for Herb and Dot, who seem like the perfect pair to lead The Commission into a far less homicidal future.
• I’m bummed A.J. Carmichael didn’t get revenge on The Handler after all, and that whole character ended up feeling like a missed opportunity. Maybe he’ll pop up in another timeline.
• The song in the closing montage is a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” by Parra for Cuva (featuring Anna Naklab). You can listen to it here.
• And that’s a wrap on Umbrella Academy season two! Thanks for reading along, and feel free to share your thoughts on the season in the comments below. See you again whenever the Sparrow Academy opens its doors for season three!