The Umbrella Academy season 2

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Welcome (back) to the end of the world. Wikipedia Commons

Since the principal cast members of The Umbrella Academy announced that Season 2 would be coming back to Netflix this summer – In a fantastic home-shot video mirroring their now-iconic dance sequence from Season 1 – I have been waiting with bated breath to see how the show was going to write its way out of its last cliffhanger. 

After all, ending the first season of your show with the end of the world doesn’t usually set you up for a sequel. 

*Spoilers for both seasons of The Umbrella Academy below*

The Umbrella Academy, based off the comic book series of the same name written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, follows a set of adopted sibling superheroes. “Dysfunctional” doesn’t even begin to cover their home situation – their robot mother Grace and talking ape butler Pogo are some of the more positive aspects of their childhood. 

Their adoptive father puts them through a brutal training regimen, sends them out on missions and only calls them by numbers – one through seven – but Grace names them. There’s Luther, who has super strength; Diego, who can curve anything he throws; Allison, who can control minds; Klaus, who can talk to the dead; Number Five (his only name), who can jump through space and time; Ben (who died as a child while the group was out on a mission), who can summon “tentacled horrors” from his body; and Vanya, who is initially thought to have no powers, but is actually able to convert sound waves into destructive force. 

At the start of Season 1, the siblings reunite for their father’s funeral, setting in motion a chain of events that results in Vanya unintentionally using her powers to blow up the moon and end the world. To save his family – and, hopefully, everyone else – Number Five jumps them back through time, scattering his siblings through early 1960s Dallas, Texas. That’s where Season 2 picks up. 

One of my favourite parts of Season 2 is that the siblings don’t land all together. Instead, they all land on slightly different dates, each thinking they are the only ones who escaped the apocalypse. Number Five is the last one to land – on November 25, 1963 – and finds his siblings battling a Soviet invasion of mainland U.S. before the world is wiped out in a nuclear war. He manages to escape to ten days earlier, where he needs to find the others, figure out what went wrong with the timeline this time, and save the world again. 

Somehow, even though the primary stakes of The Umbrella Academy’s second season are exactly the same as the first – a countdown to the end of the world, and a mystery as to what caused it – they feel different this time. 

Since each of the characters landed on their own in the past, they’ve managed to build a life for themselves. The most moving plotlines here belong to Allison, who reacts to being a Black woman displaced from time by becoming in the Civil Rights movement, and Vanya, who has lost her memories, but falls in love with steely farm wife Sissy. Sissy, who is brave and loving and fantastic, is such a major step up from Vanya’s abusive (and now very much deceased) ex-boyfriend from Season 1. And Klaus, Diego and Luther all have their moments in this timeline, too. So when Five informs them that the apocalypse has followed them back in time, the problem feels a lot more urgent this go-around – they’re not just fighting for the big-picture concept of “saving the world.” On the individual level, they now have so much more to lose. 

The show is still as weird as ever, from a creepy trio of Swedish assassins to a major plotline involving a talking goldfish in a tank perched atop a suit, but it’s the extraordinary talent of the designers and production crew members that really anchors this narrative weirdness in a solid framework and allows it to shine.

The Umbrella Academy’s first season was instantly lauded for its brilliantly on-the-nose soundtrack, and while this season’s music choices are less ostentatiously fantastic, they’re still pretty great – we watch the world end to the classic strains of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and a legitimately awesome Swedish cover of Adele’s “Hello” does a lot to elevate a funeral scene in Episode 5.  

And there is amazing attention to detail in the set and blocking as well. For me, the best example of this is a short scene midway through the season involving a spacecraft accident. Some of the shots in the aftermath seem to directly reference the funeral of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov (note: the real-life pictures from his funeral are much more graphic than the reference in the show, so google with care). 

And the show’s writers have clearly thought through the nuances of time travel, in big and small ways. The way the characters have altered the timeline leads to a huge plot twist in the final moments of the season, but for my money, I’m more excited about the small changes. In Season 1, Klaus is accidentally sent back through time to the Vietnam war and falls in love with fellow soldier Dave, who dies in his arms on the battlefield. Now that Klaus has been sent back to the past, he tries to stop Dave from enlisting in the military, to no avail – except that Klaus told Dave that his older self was in the army when he died, and this version of Dave enlists in the Marines. So maybe we’ll see more of him in Season 3? I can only hold out hope – the Klaus and Dave plotline was one of my favourite parts of Season 1, but it was mainly wrung out for emotional pain in Season 2. 

To sum up where The Umbrella Academy has left its characters at the end of Season 2, I’ll paraphrase Tolkien: they tried to save the world, and it has been saved, but not for them. While they won on the big issues – there was no nuclear war, they haven’t all been murdered at the hands of sinister time travelers – in doing so, they have all had to sacrifice so many of the smaller, precious things that make victories worth fighting for. 

And while I’m already looking forward to Season 3, I’m hoping the future of the show trends a little less bleak. Happy characters don’t make for good drama, but The Umbrella Academy characters all deserve a little bit of happiness that lasts. 

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