The second season of Netflix’s comic-book adaptation sends its fractured superhero family into the past, to mixed results.
Through a combination of superpowers, poor communication skills, and unresolved issues with their father, the members of The Umbrella Academy failed to prevent the end of the world at the end of the first season. Instead, they basically caused it. Nonetheless, in the final moments of Earth’s existence, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) pulled their fat out of the literal fire and sent them back in time to Texas in the early ‘60s.
As the teleportation was done on the fly, each member landed at slightly different times, trying to survive until they can get back together. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), with spectre Ben (Justin H. Min) in tow, ends up an early innovator in the spiritualist movement. Luther (Tom Hopper) pledges fealty to another shady father figure, this one a treat for history fans of the era. Diego (David Castañeda) tries to play the hero and pays the price. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) seeks inclusion and regains her voice in more than one way. Vanya (Elliot Page), of course, ends up the odd one out, with no memory of her past and in a place of belonging sure to crumble when her truth is revealed.
Last but not least is Number 5 who, very on-brand, arrives in the ‘60s just in time to see the world end (again). Unfortunately, it appears Armageddon made the trip back down the timestream too. He witnesses the reunited Academy dying as the world is once again consumed. But how did they get back together? And if they were all there, whose fault was the apocalypse this time?
Heavy stuff, right? Well, no, not really. Under show creator Steve Blackman’s creative guidance, The Umbrella Academy season 2 isn’t so much interested in taking things like the end of human existence all that seriously. Number 5 is certainly on the case, but he also looks like teen boy in a British boarding school uniform. Meanwhile, the rest of his teammates seem more dedicated to the personal dramas they have created in their time in this era they don’t belong to.
In some ways, this lightness is welcome. The world outside our windows is, shall we say, not great these days. Entertainment that doesn’t take it all so seriously can be a balm. Why not have a giggle if we are all doomed, right?
Unfortunately, it also robs the show of stakes. If The Umbrella Academy doesn’t care about the end of the world, why should we? If they’re only mildly interested in getting back to their proper place in the timestream, how worked up should we get about it?
If The Umbrella Academy doesn’t care about the end of the world, why should we?
Instead, the show makes the personal monumental, which yields mixed results. When it comes to Vanya’s stumble towards romantic and familial love with Sissy (Marin Ireland) and her son Harlan (Justin Paul Kelly), it works. Page’s rendition of Vanya is almost entirely closed down, which makes the character’s microexpressions impossible to ignore. You can feel her hunger for some sense of self — for acceptance, for love.
That the writing finds another way to explore her disconnect from those around her is also worthy of praise. Of all the ways Season 2 attempts to mirror the character’s biggest issues in a new time and place, her place in this new world is the farthest away from last season’s. But it also feels lie the most effective, the one that best tackles how the Academy’s lives in the ‘60s are just their pathos moved a half-century into the past.
On the other hand, Allison and Luther’s dynamic never seem to gel. For one thing, their love for one another is oft-stated but never felt. Both Raver-Lampman and Hopper are good in their roles, but they have zero chemistry together. Their past lives make sense on the surface — Luther again in the sway of a demanding patriarch, Allison seeking to use her voice for something bigger than herself — but the show gives both plotlines short shrift.
That said, Raver-Lampman gets two of the most powerful scenes of the series, with a luncheon sit-in turn riot and her subsequent revenge of the counter waiter. They would have been strong in their right, but amid news of literal secret police snatching up Black Lives Matter protestors off the streets, it hits that much harder.
That shakiness carries throughout the ten episodes. Castañeda and Sheehan, for instance, are almost cartoonishly reduced to one-dimensional cutouts of their season-one characters. At the same time, both get strong moments that don’t break characterization but make you wish they had more to do. Min gets his best moment in either season opposite Page, Gallagher basically graduates to lead, and Colm Feore remains a grumpy delight as the Academy’s adopted father Sir Reginald Hargreeves.
Therein lies the rub of The Umbrella Academy season 2, and the series as a whole. It’s impossible to dislike; the characters are too lovable, the images too well composed, the soundtrack too compelling. But look closely, and you’ll see significant cracks beneath the surface. In the end, it’s all light, too little heat.
The Umbrella Academy starts a new school year July 31st on Netflix.