It’s a strange complaint about a TV show where the stakes are always apocalyptic — but if I have one complaint about The Umbrella Academy’s third season so far, it’s that the actual drama has been minimal. Though the premiere opened with an all-out brawl between the Umbrellas and the Sparrows, the rival academies have since devolved into petty skirmishes, hopeful truces, and one giddy love story.
I suspect that’s why The Umbrella Academy has packed the frame with tertiary conflicts: The return of Lila, the introduction of Diego’s son Stan, the mystery man with the tape collection, Klaus’s largely standalone quest to find out the truth about his mother, and — most notably — the pulsing energy blob in the Sparrow Academy’s basement, which grows in power with every episode that passes.
But this used to be a show about a genuinely dysfunctional family with real internal strife, not a show about a pleasantly dysfunctional family that sits around slinging zingers at each other. There’s no conflict The Umbrella Academy has ever introduced that’s as interesting as when the family itself is at odds.
In the absence of internal battles, external ones will need to do, and “Pocket Full of Lightning” offers more than a few. Most entertaining is the reluctant alliance between Five and Lila. These two have always shared likably prickly chemistry, and their first big fight was one of season two’s highlights, so it’s no surprise that The Umbrella Academy found an excuse for them to indulge in another round of sparring (albeit this time with Lila in the nude).
Once they’ve battled to a draw, Lila reveals her two malfunctioning briefcases, which means neither she nor Five is going anywhere (or anytime) without the other in tow. Together, they do manage to slingshot themselves to an era when the Commission’s headquarters are buried in ice. Far into the past? Far into the future? I guess we’ll find out next time.
Back in the present, things are starting to come to a boil. Apart from the unpleasant revelation that this timeline’s Reginald Hargreeves is a victim of elder abuse, drugged into befuddlement by at least some of the Sparrows, the main action here is Allison’s needlessly aggressive approach to the Sparrow Academy problem. At a meeting that could have been a de-escalation, she pretends that the Umbrellas abducted Marcus so they can swap him for the missing briefcase — a risky plan since the Umbrellas don’t actually have Marcus (and, to be fair, the Sparrows don’t have the briefcase).
Allison suggests that they conduct the exchange at the Hotel Obsidian, revealing the Umbrellas’ home base, which not even lovestruck Luther was reckless enough to do without catching himself first. So when the Sparrows arrive and Christopher, the floating cube, is able to paralyze all of our heroes into inaction, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll get out of it and where they’ll go next, even if they manage to survive.
And that’s when one of those external forces lingering in the background of The Umbrella Academy’s third season finally comes to the forefront. “Lester Pocket,” the old man with the cassette tapes, turns up just as Ben orders the deaths of the Umbrellas. In a genuinely horrifying burst of violence, the old man blasts a massive, fatal energy wave at the Sparrows. Luther is able to push Sloane out of the way, but Alphonso and Jayme are dead.
Who is this mystery man with such unimaginable power? It’s Viktor, and only Viktor, who knows him well enough to recognize him even decades after they originally met. Yes, “Lester Pocket” is Harlan — Sissy’s son who Viktor saved from death (and inadvertently infused with superpowers) all the way back in 1963. Maybe the family is about to get a little bigger after all.
• This episode kicks off strongly with a funny (and genuinely helpful!) instructional film explaining exactly how a grandfather paradox works, so expect to see more of those consequences ripple out in season three.
• Grace helpfully reminds us that the entirety of what we’ve seen in season three has taken place over two days, which … wow, this has been an eventful two days.
• While sleeping, Reginald mumbles, “Oblivion,” which is yet another nod to comics readers about where this story is likely going.
• Luther and Diego have a funny-slash-sweet discussion about whether they should make a grand gesture to welcome Viktor as their brother or just go with it. In the end, Luther settles for complimenting his new haircut, which seems like a nice middle ground.
• Music in this episode, which are literally all songs that remind lovestruck Luther of Sloane: “Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful and “The Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh. His mixtape also includes Phil Collins, Neil Diamond, and Lionel Richie, so, yeah, that’s going to be a banger.
• Klaus and Reginald watch the 1939 film adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and an old episode of the William Shatner–led ’80s cop drama T.J. Hooker.
• Stan shouts out Cobra Kai, so congrats on the cross-platform synergy, Netflix.
• Hard to imagine the kind of trouble Stan could get into with $8 in his pocket, but I guess Molotov cocktails aren’t that expensive.