After a coin-flip first season, let’s see if The Umbrella Academy can sell me on season two.
Netflix’s superhero series, The Umbrella Academy, had a lot going for it. The cast is packed, the source material is smart, and the project oozed style. For all of those points, the first season’s flaws kept me from recommending it. Only later, after some fits and starts, did I finally finish the first season with an improved outlook. That brings us to season two, where I hope The Umbrella Academy spent the off-season polishing its A game.
The Umbrella Academy, Season Two
Despite overcoming their traumatic childhoods and bonding as a team, the now-adult members of the Umbrella Academy failed to stop one of their own, Vanya (Ellen Page), from destroying the world.
In a last ditch gambit, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) uses his powers to throw all of the super-powered siblings back in time, avoiding the apocalypse. Unfortunately, each sibling landed in a different time in 1960’s America. Even worse, Number Five discovers that the end of the world has followed them and is now somehow tied to the Kennedy assassination.
Episode 1: Right Back Where We Started.
Five throws all of his siblings through a hasty time portal as Vanya’s uncontrolled power causes the moon to smash into Earth. Each sibling crash lands in the same alley in Dallas, Texas but are scattered across the early 1960’s in time.
Each sibling believes themselves to be the only survivor, and attempts to make a life for themselves in a world very different from their own.
The last sibling to land in the timeline is Number Five, who arrives just as the Soviet Union and the United States begin a nuclear exchange born of a Cold War gone suddenly hot. Seeing his siblings at the center of the conflict, he jumps a few weeks back in time to again try to prevent the end of the world.
The first episode resets the plot a bit, but feels like a smarter iteration. The stakes are the same, but now we know the players, and the heroes also have a firmer grasp of themselves. We immediately get the big spectacle and on-point music montages that became the selling point of the first season, but without the lengthy set-up. All in all, a highlight reel of the first season in just a few minutes of story.
From there, we pivot to the episode (and season’s) strongest point: getting our heroes in isolation. The first season spent so much time on the complex dynamics of the group, the individuals felt like either enigmas or one-note sketches. Here, we get to see how they have grown based on what they choose to do with their post-Umbrella Academy lives. It works great.
Episode 2: The Frankel Footage.
Five’s attempts to recruit his siblings seems to fail. Team leader Luther (Tom Hopper) is bitter at his own failure with Vanya and opts to stay a bouncer for mobster Jack Ruby. Diego (David Castañeda) is obsessed with killing Lee Harvey Oswald. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is married to a civil rights leader and busy trying to organize a protest against segregation. Vanya has disappeared, having been struck with amnesia upon exiting the time portal. Klaus (Robert Sheehan)…Klaus is a mess!
Despite trying to make a new start, each sibling’s life begins to intersect with each other. When Five reveals that their father is still alive in this timeline and involved with the Kennedy assassination, the team starts coming together.
The machinations start to build here. The cross-pollination of the siblings begins to awaken the connections between them, but also jeopardizes their new identities. We also see old antagonists start to plot their revenge on the Umbrella Academy.
The series decides to layer the stakes into four tiers: the personal ambitions of the siblings, the societal stakes of a flashpoint era in American culture, the global stakes of the Cold War and their father’s ambitions, and the universal consequences of potentially destroying the fabric of time and space with their actions. It gives the series room to maneuver in.
Episode 3: The Swedish Job.
We see that Lila (Ritu Arya), another inmate who escaped with Diego after he was committed for stalking Lee Harvey Oswald, has her own demons…and a connection to an old enemy of The Umbrella Academy.
Outside forces begin to put the squeeze on the heroes, just as their assumed identities start to come crumbling apart.
One a positive note, I really like Ritu Arya’s character, and I’m glad that she’s getting proper development. That’s the highlight of an episode that starts to feel like a relapse into the bad elements from season one.
I disliked season one for having petulant, selfish characters who refused to pull their head out of their keisters. I also felt a lot of the drama and mystery created by that was just to keep you on a treadmill of subplots. This episode has lots of these subplots (though they are better than season one’s), lots of characters being myopic, and some clunky telegraphing. It also shows that it’s easy to overuse characters like Five, Klaus, and Vanya, with the result that they still flirt with becoming caricatures.
The series is also starting to abuse and overuse the needle drop music moments, cheapening them a bit. It’s a great soundtrack…but it definitely feels like it’s trying to be a soundtrack instead of an organic film score.
Binge or Purge?: The Umbrella Academy, S2.
Unambiguously, season two of the Umbrella Academy: Binge.
I have lots of little caveats, but
- I don’t think they are too major.
- I did actually binge the entire second season in one sitting, so yeah, it’s binge worthy.
That being said, some of the old problems of the first season do pop their head up from time to time. A slightly more worrisome concern is that the best elements of the first season wind up diluted.
We never get that jaw dropping confluence of music and cinematography that floored me several times for the first season…despite the second season obviously trying to lean into it. Also, character’s and dynamics that were gripping in the first feel abandoned or put on hold for this season.
On balance, I didn’t mind, because the ways the story improved outweighed these points. Yeah, some characters feel underused, but that’s because they dominated season one and season two gives the background characters room to shine. Everything felt more mature and confident. I’m glad the end sets up a third season, because I’m really looking forward to more time with these characters.