Just one episode after I suggested that The Umbrella Academy hadn’t stirred up enough intrafamily drama this season, the show returned to what it does best: stirring up intrafamily drama.
“Kugelblitz,” season three’s best episode so far, takes the relatively freewheeling stories introduced over the first three episodes and turns the heat way, way up. It starts with the immediate fallout of the cliffhanger at the end of “Pocket Full of Lightning,” when Harlan turns up and kills two members of the Sparrow Academy in one devastating blast. (Rest in peace, Alphonso and Jayme. We truly hardly knew ye.)
This dramatic escalation in the Umbrellas-versus-Sparrows skirmish means everyone needs to make some hard choices, fast. Viktor is, understandably, most concerned about protecting Harlan. Luther is, understandably, most concerned about his budding relationship with Sloane. Diego is, understandably, surprised and touched when his tough-acting son responds to the violence by seeking comfort from his dad. And Klaus is, characteristically, sort of bemused by the whole thing.
But there’s not much time before the Umbrellas need to formulate an actual plan for dealing with Sloane, their hostage. And that’s where this season’s first real cracks begin to form. Diego and Allison are out for blood — the former because that’s kind of his thing, the latter because this alternate future has pushed her down a particularly grim path. (It’s possible that there’s also some latent jealousy from her own quasi-romance with Luther, but it seems like the show is pretty eager to sweep that subplot under the rug.)
I’ve always felt that Allison’s superpowers are the show’s most unsettling, and her treatment of Sloane certainly bears that out as she weasels her way into Sloane’s brain to get dirt on the Sparrows. Allison’s behavior is enough to disturb both Luther and Viktor (and set the stage for an uncharacteristic bond with Diego, who rarely draws moral lines when it comes to his adversaries).
As the Umbrellas split up again, the remainder of the episode is cleverly divided among subplots that visit a tantalizing series of closed doors. The first sits across a darkened parking lot. When Diego takes Allison to a dive bar emblazoned with the Confederate flag, he offers her the chance to let off some steam by beating up some racists. She takes it.
At the same time, Viktor and Harlan catch up on the intervening time (days for Viktor, decades for Harlan) in a quieter part of the hotel. Their conversation leads to the horrifying revelation that — because of his uncontrollable powers — Harlan is (inadvertently) responsible for sparking the aneurysms that killed the Umbrellas’ mothers. Like Luther, Viktor may soon need to choose between someone he loves and someone his family has very good reason to turn against.
Meanwhile, Klaus and Stan break into a mysterious place called the White Buffalo Suite, where they discover a room with bizarre similarities to the artwork in Reginald Hargreeves’s own bedroom at the Sparrow Academy. Stan also accidentally shoots Klaus with a crossbow — and apparently kills him. (But come on, they’re not writing Klaus out of the show like that.)
And finally, in a different place and time, Five and Lila enter the now-frozen Commission building and follow a trail of bread crumbs to the Operations Bunker, which exists outside of time altogether as a “break glass in case of emergency” fail-safe, in case of something like, I don’t know, a grandfather paradox.
There, Five and Lila meet a very old man in a cryogenic chamber who turns out to be a very old Five. Old Five warns his younger self about a “kugelblitz” — an “extra kinky” kind of black hole that will eventually grow to consume the universe, resulting in (say it together now!) oblivion. That kugelblitz happens to be in the basement of the Sparrow Academy. And just when you can see Five’s wheels turning about what to do next, his older self uses his dying breath to mutter a strange warning that runs counter to every instinct we’ve seen Five exercise over the course of the series: “Whatever you do, don’t save the world.”
• This show has always known how to do a good montage, and the rapid-fire opening, depicting Sissy and Harlan moving whenever his powers cause problems, is another showstopper. It also parallels nicely with the genuinely disturbing parallel closing montage, which depicts the sudden, bloody deaths of each of the Umbrellas’ birth mothers.
• Luther is often used for comic relief, but Tom Hopper plays the dramatic scenes just as well. I particularly liked the open-hearted earnestness with which he pitched Sloane on needing to trust each other and rise above the squabbling between their families.
• I also loved the brief conversation in which Diego and Allison bond over being the two people of color in the Umbrella Academy and the experiences they share that their siblings, no matter how well-intentioned, simply can’t understand.
• Allison looks in a mirror and tries to rumor herself into being happy — another tragic example of her trying to use her superpower as a shortcut around the very real difficulties of life.
• I’m no theoretical physicist, but I thought this article on how an actual kugelblitz might someday be harnessed for space travel was pretty interesting.
• By his own testimony, this timeline’s Ben was originally No. 1 but was eventually demoted to No. 2 and replaced by Marcus. Maybe that’s why a guy who was such a sweetheart in the normal timeline turned out to be a jerk in this one.
• Older Five is missing a forearm, so it’s probably a safe bet we’ll see his younger self lose it at one time or another.
• Five also cuts a chunk of tattooed skin from Older Five’s corpse, which will surely be useful for … something? I don’t know, I’m not a time-traveling super-assassin.
• Music in this episode: “House of the Rising Sun” performed by the Animals in the opening montage and “House of the Rising Sun” performed by Jeremy Renner in the closing montage. (Yes, that Jeremy Renner.)
• Can’t believe Allison had a slushie-and-flask cocktail without the show telling us what kind of slushie or what was in the flask.