4YE Reviews: The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is a Wild, Super Powered Ride Through 1960

Credit: Netflix

Season one of The Umbrella Academy was an uneven mishmash that laid the groundwork for season two. Where character beats in season one often felt trite and underdeveloped, and where the plot seemed to veer into territory that made no sense more often than not, season two hits the ground running–literally–and doesn’t stop. What follows is a much more narratively sound season two that manages to balance everything from its narrative to its character development much more sharply and much more tightly than the previous season. Gone is a side quest-esque mystery that felt more like a bumbling police procedural than a superhero rock-’em sock-’em bombast. What replaces it is humanity and dysfunction and that is where The Umbrella Academy hits its stride.

Season two is a journey of self-discovery for the infamous Hargreeves children. Gone are the machinations of the previous apocalypse. The Academy kids changed that ending. Instead, there is another impending apocalypse in the form of nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and, surprise, Kennedy isn’t dead. This is the reality that Five (Aidan Gallagher) finds himself when he finally drops from the portal he created in the finale of season one. The date is November 25, 1963, two days after Kennedy was supposedly assassinated. Soviets and their tanks are rolling through a decimated Dallas neighborhood and who shows up but The Umbrella Academy, all dressed in black, using their powers together in a way we’ve never seen before. Even Vanya (Ellen Page) is there and she is fully in control of her powers and no longer a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. (Well, not yet anyway.) But this harmony in the face of destruction only lasts for a few minutes before Five is whisked away to ten days earlier and told that, surprise, the Hargreeves children brought the apocalypse with them.

This is the kind of breakneck speed that permeates the entirety of season two. The audience and the Hargreeves children are barely given time to breathe and that is just part of what makes this season so much better than the first. Every beat of the narrative pulses and forces the story forward. There are no lapses of time that feel like wasted potential. How could there be? What Five quickly finds out is that his siblings have been scattered to time, each one landing in their own pocket of it in the same Dallas alleyway. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) lands the earliest, in 1960. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) follows in 1961. Luther (Tom Hopper) a year later in 1962. Diego (David Castañeda) a year after that on September 1, 1963. Vanya follows in October 1963.

Each Hargreeve sibling (other than poor Five) is given the opportunity to shine in a multitude of ways thanks to this dividing of the group. No one grows more as a character than Luther. Thank goodness. The only one-note sibling in the first season comes into his own during this radical time. He becomes an underground boxer and body man for a mob boss. Though he still loves Allison, he is forced to confront the reality that they’re really never meant to be (thank goodness). What defined Luther before (his love for Allison) sets him free and it’s for the better. This is a man who is still tied to the emotional trauma Sir Reginald thrust upon him, but he is given less time to dwell on it as he must make a living in this brand new world and he embraces his body dysmorphia to become a fully fleshed-out character who isn’t as uptight and rule-abiding as he was. A moment with Vanya later also shows that he’s willing to confront his mistakes and make them right, even if the moment was tinged with a will he kill her or won’t he suspense.

Another character who was allowed to grow in relation to the first season is Diego. After he crashes into Dallas, he’s promptly arrested and institutionalized because why not? It’s Diego and he’s mentally unstable and carrying around a small arsenal of knives. He’s also attempting to save the President from assassination…by telling everyone he can about it. Of course, no one believes him, but at least in the mental institution, he is given the chance to work out his own daddy issues and emotional trauma. He also meets new character Lila (Ritu Arya) who’s bite is as sharp as her bark and who is the perfect foil for him. It’s in his moments with Lila–and later with a character from his past–that Diego shows just has much he’s changed from the first season. He’s a far more empathetic character with emotions and understanding. He’s softer around the edges. He still can deliver a one-liner and is still the butt of the joke, but he takes it with much more ease and a lot less cheek than before.

And, finally, Allison. While she was a fairly fleshed out character from the get-go, dropping her in the middle of Jim Crow Dallas only solidified those changes. As Collider’s review states, Allison learns “what it means to be a hero and how heroism does not require superpowers” thanks to her connections with the Civil Rights movement. It’s a great learning process for Allison who could easily just rumor herself out of sticky situations. Instead, in the aftermath of getting her throat slashed by Vanya, she chooses to be as normal as possible, a move she attempted in season one, but not with nearly as much success. This time, she is far more successful and far more willing to embrace normalcy. While that might seem like an easy way out, there is nothing easy about her situation, not as a Black woman in the South in the 1960s. The audience gets evidence of that in narrative beats throughout the season in ways that make it pointedly obvious just how much danger she’s in both by being a Black woman in the 1960s and by being out of her time.

Five, the obvious anchor of the show, is the only one who doesn’t grow this season. He remains the same smart ass older/younger sibling we all know and love. He doesn’t give a flip, takes no guff, and goes through the motions with the same type of swagger we saw in season one. He’s confident, flippant, and clearly at the top of his game, whatever his game may be. He’s also clearly insane and still homicidal and still keeping secrets from his siblings. Writer/showrunner Steve Blackman should give Five the character growth he deserves in season three if we get a season three because even if Five is insane, there is no way that the amount of carnage he leaves in his wake doesn’t affect him in some way. The payoff with his character should include growth and some self-discovery. Maybe we’ll get it next time, maybe not.

When the characters, finally, get together to solve the problem and hopefully end the impending apocalypse, is when season two really hits its stride. This is a family that does better together than apart, even though their individual character arcs make them a much more cohesive family unit. The humor in the season comes from many moments where the siblings are allowed to interact with each other and each new character team-up comes with surprising and heartfelt moments that the first season was sorely lacking. Blackman and his writers definitely figured out the kinks involving their ensemble cast and are now able to balance them much more efficiently. This gives the actors much more room to explore the underlying chemistry between them all in much more believable ways.

Whatever qualms that might have been had about The Umbrella Academy season one are a thing of the past this season. This season is a wild, maniacal tour de force with brilliant performances throughout. The action never lets up, not even for a second, and every performer is at the top of their game. The writing and pacing inconsistencies are a thing of the past. The second season is far more beautiful in every way. From lighting, to shot composition, to character arcs, and more, Blackman and the cast and crew deliver a far more inclusive endeavor that rights wrongs and proves that The Umbrella Academy should be here to stay as Netflix’s more ambitious franchise endeavor. There is so much more to say but this season deserves to be seen and not read about. As such, anything else that needs to be said would just spoil an almost perfect season of television.

Shelby Arnold
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