After nine episodes of buildup, it was always going to be a challenge for the Hotel Oblivion to live up to the hype generated by an entire season’s worth of puzzle-box mysteries surrounding it. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t live up to the hype.
Though we got a quick, intriguing taste of the Hotel Oblivion on Diego and Lila’s ill-fated exploratory trip, the full meal is pretty underwhelming. We rejoin our heroes (and villains) immediately after the deaths of Luther and Klaus. But the team barely has time to mourn before they get busy running around the Hotel Oblivion, eating sushi, and fighting Guardians. (To be fair, there’s not much to mourn: The show barely even pretends that Klaus and Luther are dead, with a brief trip to Klaus’s afterlife that ends with both men being conjured back into the world to help save the day.)
The best choice “Oblivion” makes is refusing to let its characters be idiots. Five and Viktor are immediately and correctly suspicious of Reginald and Allison (though Allison, we soon learn, did not know Reginald’s plot would end with Luther and Klaus dead).
Still, now that everyone is here, there’s not much to do besides explore the hotel itself, which Reginald evocatively describes as “a test and a trap and a means of salvation.” Soon after, he rings the bell — a part of this process that, frankly, seemed entirely incidental to the ultimate solution — and the gang is forced to square off against both the hotel’s weapon-toting Guardians and the building itself.
Unfortunately, everything about the Hotel Oblivion is more interesting in theory than execution. The idea of hallways and rooms that reconfigure themselves is unnerving, but Umbrella Academy doesn’t really take the idea of an infinite maze to its full potential, and it doesn’t turn out to be much of an obstacle. And given an entire cosmos of possibilities, the Guardians themselves are pretty uninspired: four armor-clad dudes, wielding the same kinds of weapons you’ve seen in plenty of samurai movies, who are ultimately killed without causing too much trouble. I kept waiting for the Hotel Oblivion to get freakier — some wrinkle that would exploit the idea of a nightmare space, not governed by the rules of space and time, to its fullest potential.
It never came. Instead, the solution was staring our heroes in the face all along. Seven spots on the lobby floor that, when occupied by seven bodies, would reveal the universe’s reset button. This feels less like a clever answer to the most mysterious place in the cosmos and more like the solution to an escape room in Burbank. But it does lead Allison to the crisis point she’s been stomping toward all season: When push comes to shove, does she care more about the family she has or the husband and daughter she lost?
Allison’s siblings are slowly being killed by the energy used to power Reginald’s long-awaited universe-restarting machine, and in the end — in a redemptive moment that feels largely unearned — she saves them by slicing Reginald in his green-blood-spewing alien head, saving her siblings.
But the button is still there and active, and Viktor opts to stand down, trusting Allison that pushing it is the right move. It’s yet another moment this finale didn’t really earn, given the genuinely awful things Allison did to reach this point, and I’m genuinely unclear on if we’re supposed to view this as a redemptive moment or another self-centered point of betrayal.
The result does prevent the apocalypse — sorry, Old Five — but creates yet another new timeline with its own reality for us to catch up on. For better or worse, we’re now living in a media landscape defined by multiverses, in which any consequence can be undone with the push of a button. The Umbrella Academy is unusual because the solution is literally pushing a button, but the result is the same: a hard reset that sets the stage for the show to do pretty much anything it wants in season four.
We don’t spend a lot of time in this new reality, but here’s what we know. Even more than before, Reginald Hargreeves seems to run the world, and this time with his wife Abigail by his side. Allison, for her devil’s bargain, gets a future in which both Claire and Ray are back. And the rest of the Umbrellas are adrift. It’s better than being obliterated by a kugelblitz, perhaps, but they’re stuck in yet another future they don’t recognize — and this time, their superpowers have been stripped away.
What this means for Sloane, or Stan, or the rest of the people we meet in season three … well, I guess we don’t know yet, and maybe the show doesn’t either. But there’s certainly a strong precedent for The Umbrella Academy to blow up reality first and work out the consequences later. The season two finale was a little confounding too, and the third season it teed up was probably the show’s strongest overall. As always, I’m sure Umbrella Academy will find interesting stories to tell no matter what reality we’re in.
• The mid-credits scene has a QR code that, when I scanned it, just took me to the Netflix page for The Umbrella Academy. But it’s possible that was just a placeholder for something more interesting that was patched in after the early screeners Netflix sent to critics? If you scan it and get a different result, let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.
• I buy that Lila fears she’ll be a bad mother because she had a bad mother, but I don’t buy that she’d say that out loud in a scene that feels like it’s there because The Umbrella Academy didn’t trust the audience to grasp that subtext. And I definitely don’t buy that she’d be anything but furious with Diego for patronizingly locking her up instead of letting her join the fight (even if she slaps him before she kisses him once she gets out).
• The Quantum Age TV show spends a bunch of time rambling about reality and turtles, which might be a reference to this famous, probably apocryphal Bertrand Russell story.
• I do like that the Guardians seem to be controlled by cockroaches that crawl in and out of their bodies. Gross!
• Reginald’s holdings in the new future include real estate, a financial institution, and a really big tower. Seems like the old alien rewrote history to put himself at the center of everything.
• If you’re going to be stuck in the afterlife anyway, you could do worse than hanging out in a bouncy house.
• Just one song in this episode: “Short Change Hero” by the Heavy, during the closing montage.