Much of the fun of an alternate-universe story is seeing what might happen to a familiar character if they’d made a radically different series of choices. By that standard, you have to love what Umbrella Academy has done with alternate Pogo. The family’s mild-mannered, debonair chimpanzee caretaker — frequently offscreen in this series, for what I can only assume are budgetary reasons — has reemerged in the Sparrow timeline as a grizzled old biker living in an RV, with a sideline as a not-bad tattoo artist.
This Pogo, we learn in the opening flashback, was dismissed by Reginald Hargreeves after he objected to the Sparrows being sent on a suicide mission called — what else? — Project Oblivion. Now he’s tooling around with a woman named Tammy (and delivering just enough exposition to keep Five on track to solve this apocalypse problem).
Pogo’s biker makeover is the most literal version of a theme that most of these characters are confronting: If you’re not yourself, who else could you be? It’s the question at the center of a heart-to-heart between Luther and Ben. As Luther describes the selfless, caring, kind Ben he knew in his own timeline, this alternate Ben — selfish, uncaring, and cruel — sneers back in his face. But you can’t help but wonder if the other Ben is in there somewhere.
And while it’s clearly yet another one of Ben’s manipulations, he also offers Luther an irresistible chance to redefine himself as a Sparrow, stepping into the slot that Marcus vacated when he got sucked into the kugelblitz. Now feeling alienated from his entire family — who, to be fair, didn’t even notice when he was kidnapped earlier this season — Luther ultimately takes the Sparrows up on it, opting for a promising future with Sloane over the dysfunctional family that has defined his entire life.
And what about Diego, discovering a new side of himself as a dad? In a twist that’s only truly surprising if you forgot that Lila is a pathological liar, it turns out that Stan isn’t his kid at all. (Unless Lila is lying about lying? Like a kugelblitz, it’s hard to guess exactly how deep all of this might go.)
Lila confesses the truth when she and Diego venture through the secret door in the White Buffalo Room, which leads them to an alternate-universe Hotel Obsidian called the Hotel Oblivion. Apart from the sushi conveyer belt, it’s eerily empty until Diego rings the front-desk bell — at which point he and Lila are attacked by a minotaur-esque monster wielding a sickle on a chain, which promptly slices off two of Diego’s fingers. The two make it back to the Obsidian just in time to watch the kugelblitz absorb the real Stan. And while Diego might not technically be his father, it’s a safe bet he and Lila will do whatever they need to do to rescue their surrogate son.
Meanwhile, Viktor and Harlan spend a day at an abandoned drive-in movie theater, where Harlan hopes to dispense with the superpower (or curse?) Viktor accidentally bestowed upon him so many decades earlier. The process finally works, though it’s unclear what the ramifications will be. We’ve seen what happens when Viktor has uncontrollable powers; maybe it wasn’t the best idea to let him reabsorb even more?
In theory, Harlan’s arc is one of season three’s most poignant. In a series in which so many people are squabbling for power, Harlan has run away from it. Now, after a lifetime of isolation, maybe he can enjoy the rest of his life as a regular human — a final gift from Viktor, honoring his love for Sissy by taking care of her son even after all these years.
At least that’s what I wish I could say, because there’s one more character busily and tragically redefining herself: Allison, who continues down the darker path she’s been walking all season despite a vision of Ray that offers her warm comfort and sound advice. When Harlan confesses that he’s responsible for the deaths of the Umbrella Academy’s mothers, Allison snaps. She kills Harlan, tosses him into the trunk of her car, and delivers his corpse straight to the Sparrow Academy. I guess that’s the danger of trying out another version of yourself: Sometimes, it’s going to be a worse one.
• Conspiracy theory time: What’s with the odd little nod between Ben and Reginald when Allison drops off Harlan’s corpse? If I had to guess, this timeline’s Reginald is as manipulative as the one we know but sees a strategic value in pretending to be cuddlier to the Umbrellas. (Maybe to create a schism between them, as Allison murdering Harlan will surely do?)
• Luther makes a brief reference to “The Jennifer Incident” — the mysterious mission, occasionally teased in the comics, that led to Ben’s death in the original timeline. Here’s what comics writer Gerard Way has to say about it: “I named it the Jennifer Incident because I have no idea what Jennifer is. I have no idea what it even refers to. I just came up with something that sounded interesting and could be thought-provoking. […] The Jennifer Incident will appear again. And it will explain a lot. But I can’t really say when. I would like to say that initially, it was never intended to be explained. That’s kind of the beauty of it.”
• It’s probably not worth getting bogged down in this — especially since season three was filmed during the pandemic, necessitating special production protocols — but given that the premiere had a huge crowd of fans swarming around the Sparrow Academy building, it’s a little annoying that no civilians are even attempting to get these very famous superheroes to help with the kugelblitz’s energy waves.
• One loop closed: The drugs keeping this timeline’s Reginald Hargreeves so complacent were supplied by Pogo, who saw it as the best way to stop him from sending the Sparrows on a suicide mission.
• Another loop closed: Five gets the same tattoo he saw on his older self, ensuring that the past and future remain consistent.
• Looks like Klaus got Reginald hooked on T.J. Hooker reruns. He could do worse.
• Diego, dispensing some useful parenting wisdom: “No warm blooded 12-year-old can resist a mystery tunnel.”
• “Are you insane?” “We met in an asylum.”
• Music in this episode: “Into My Soul” by Gabin, during the 2014 Sparrow training sequence flashback that opens the episode.