Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for season 2 of ‘The Umbrella Academy.’
Welcome to the Umbrella Academy — the elite school formed by Sir Reginald Hargreeves to educate the seven young, gifted children he purchased after their sudden births to women showing no previous signs of pregnancy on October 1, 1989. The series follows these seven children as they navigate their adult lives after a childhood of neglect and abandonment, and super powers. Our seven are: One, Luther (Tom Hopper); Two, Diego (David Castañeda); Three, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman); Four, Klaus (Robert Sheehan); Five (Aidan Gallagher); Six, Ben, deceased (Justin H. Min); and Seven, Vanya (Ellen Page).
Season 1 left off with Five transporting his siblings and himself away from the Apocalypse of 2019 (caused by a volatile Vanya blowing up the moon), and season 2 picks up as the Hargreeves are transported to Dallas in the 1960s. Five still doesn’t have the best control over his time-traveling abilities, and each of our siblings get dropped off at various times between 1960 and 1963. They all seem to form their own little pockets of “normal” — Klaus forms a cult, Allison gets married and joins the battle for civil rights, Luther becomes a fighter for the gangster Jack Ruby, Diego gets sent to a mental institution for trying to preemptively save JFK from being assassinated, Vanya begins a peaceful life on a farm, and Five shows up right when the end of the world begins … again.
The plot is the same as season 1. Five shows up from out of time and has to collect the siblings to prevent a Doomsday caused by Vanya. It is virtually a carbon copy of season 1 at the root of it, and that isn’t a downfall. The format works. What makes it work so well again, and not seem like a cheap recycling of the massive success of their first season, is the characters. We see our siblings again, but in no way are they the same. The effects of what has happened to them in season 1 have changed them, and we see a little deeper into each and every one of them throughout season 2. All of them go through some major, life-changing developments in this season (minus Five because he’s basically emotionally dead), and it was great to watch each of these arcs unfold.
The most important arcs belong to Allison and Vanya (with Ben coming up in a close second). Allison’s arc is undoubtedly the most important in terms of societal similarities as she is suddenly thrust into the historical horrors of segregation, and she doesn’t succumb to its evil. She marries a civil rights activist, Raymond Chestnut (Yusef Gatewood), and together they begin a fight for equality — a fight Allison later has to tell her husband isn’t won yet even in 2019. This is coming in the midst of another massive civil rights battle, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the stark similarities we see are jarring, but necessary. Vanya’s story was key for the LGBTQ+ community, for representation in the media as a whole, but also as she helps Sissy (Marin Ireland) find her true self, commit to that truth and find happiness in it, even in an era that was not accepting of different sexual orientations. Vanya also finds herself and comes to terms with her powers and what her father did to her, and she finds faith in her siblings, changing the ending to season 2 versus season 1. Vanya doesn’t feel that betrayal and alienation here in Dallas, and Doomsday is avoided completely. Finally, Ben got some closure here in season 2, even if that meant he had to die (again?). But he sacrificed himself to save Vanya — and the world — which was a good indication of the heart of Ben we hadn’t gotten to see yet.
Diego also went through a metamorphosis in season 2. Season 1 saw a bitter, jaded man who hated his father and wanted nothing more than revenge. But Diego becomes a new man when he meets Lila (Ritu Arya), a patient in the asylum where he’s being held at the front of the season. Lila turns out to have as much baggage as Diego plus some, but Diego himself softens significantly throughout the season, even coming together with his siblings to fight for Vanya, and then for Harlan. He sheds the battle of finding his worth in numbers (always battling Luther for being Number One) and accepts who he is, his powers, and his siblings as equals, not competition. The end of the season saw all of our (living) siblings come together and finally form somewhat of a family. There wasn’t as much animosity or inner quarreling between them here; season 2 was more about the Hargreeves fighting as a family unit, which is what made this season so different from season 1 despite the recycled story line.
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Ritu Arya was also a welcome and invigorating new addition to the cast as she joins Kate Walsh’s exquisite character, The Handler. Lila gave us the most up-and-down emotions as she betrayed us, then made us trust her again over and over before revealing in the final episode she is one of them — a child born on October 1, 1989. We can only hope Lila isn’t gone for good and we get to see more of her in any capacity with a little more insight into her powers, and her relationship with Diego (who deserves a little happiness).
Of course, no season of The Umbrella Academy is complete without the impeccable performances of Robert Sheehan as Klaus and Aidan Gallagher as Five. These two are perhaps the most eccentric and entertaining of the bunch, and they do not hold back in season 2. Klaus is consistently both the comic relief and the heart of this family, as the … well … eff up. Now a cult leader, which came as no surprise, Klaus softens every edge he comes across and makes you simultaneously want to protect him at all costs and also smack some sense into him. Sheehan brings this character to life in such an endearing fashion that it’s impossible not to rave about his performance. While Five does not give us the warm and fuzzies like our favorite drunk medium, Aidan Gallagher is just flawless in his role as the 58-year-old shoved back into a 13-year-old’s body. He’s cynical, jaded, and just incredible, especially for an actor of his age. Every delivery of each of his lines is infallibly on point; it’s almost a guaranteed, wholehearted entertainment when Gallagher hits the screens. He’s a showstopper through and through and his future in the industry is bright. Tom Hopper’s Luther also gave a breath of fresh air as he’s a bit more lighthearted in this season, and it was great to see Luther smiling, and for Hopper to stretch more of those comedic muscles he clearly has than he did in previous episodes.
If there was one shortcoming to season 2, it would be that the final episode felt a little rushed. It left us with some questions that didn’t seem like they were left in the fashion of a cliffhanger; how did Vanya and Diego garner a seemingly better grasp on their powers than they had before, and how was Vanya able to remove her power from Harlan so quickly and efficiently? However, the season as a whole had no long drags or lulls that take up space where these answers could have gone. The only real solution would have been to add an 11th episode, which is out of the control of the showrunners.
Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy was absolutely a riveting and captivating ride from start to finish. Somehow we love these characters even more than we did before, and we’re impatiently waiting the season 3 announcement (especially after that major cliffhanger). The Umbrella Academy continues to be a leading force in bringing equal representation to our media, not shying away from women in positions of power, people of color, or LGBTQ+ relationships, and a lot of shows out there would do well to follow in their footsteps.
Both seasons of The Umbrella Academy are streaming on Netflix.