[Editor: After writing this 3 episode review we managed to watch the remaining episodes of season 2. A second article reviewing all of season 2 will be coming soon from Andrea Rittschof.]
What do you do when you try to save the world, only to fail and attempt to escape, but then disaster follows you anyway? Worst of all, you’re separated from your entire family and they are the only ones who can help you try to save the world again. What is a person to do?
This new season of the Netflix original series The Umbrella Academy reintroduces us to the most unusual family of seven superheroes. Number 1 is Luther, the morbidly muscled man with incredible strength. Number 2 is Diego, a highly-skilled crime-fighter with outstanding fighting skills including an amazing ability with knives. Number 3 is Allison who can make anyone do anything suggests merely by saying “I heard a rumor…”. Then there is number 4 who is Klaus. At first, he merely sees dead people, although we get a glimpse of a more powerful use of that ability. Number 5 doesn’t have a name. He’s just called 5 and he’s basically a human TARDIS as well as a master assassin. He can jump through space and time. Number 6 is Ben. He died in an earlier mission and is now a ghost that only Klaus can interact with. Lastly, there is number 7. Vanya at first didn’t have any powers, but by the end of last season it turned out that has some pretty destructive powers that aren’t fully understood.
One of the elements that made the first season of The Umbrella Academy was the establishment of such interesting characters that make up this family. They are all highly dysfunctional, largely brought upon them by their adopted father and the torturous treatment he subjected them to. They are misfits, but now they are in Texas in the early 1960s and if present-day society would consider them misfits then you can only imagine how they would fit in here, especially Allison given that she is a woman of color. Here is where the writers beautifully managed to fit these people in the perfect situation to capitalize on their specific plights. Klaus is a madman because of his ability to see dead people but in the era of the 1960s just before flower-power came into being he used his gifts to start something that could only be considered as a cult. Having ghostly Ben along with him certainly aids in what he does.
Then there is Luther who makes money in an underground fight matches and his boss is Jack Ruby, but he’s still pining over the loss of Allison. Forget the fact that they’re adopted siblings. The man is IN LOVE with her. As for Allison, being a black woman in 1960s Texas certainly has its drawbacks and to see her engage in the civil rights movement is both inspiring and eerily relevant given what is happening today in the US with the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s a fair bet that her storyline regarding the civil rights movement will be a short one as there are much bigger fish to fry, but it was emotionally powerful to see what black people had to endure and fight for 50 years ago. Poor Vanya was hit by a car and has no memory of who or what she is, and it isn’t until a peculiar trio of assassins tries to take her out that she accidentally summons her power and manages to rid herself of them just long enough to be found by 5.
And then there is 5, the old man in the body of a young teenager. He is the one who has taken it upon himself to try to save the world from a premature nuclear holocaust. While each of these scenarios makes for compelling drama, these first three episodes add a very specific personal touch as we see the social problems of the day reflected in the eyes of our heroes, especially with Allison. The writers of this series could have taken these issues to an extreme where it could become “preachy,” but instead deliver just enough impact for just the right amount of time to remind viewers of where we came from and that perhaps those issues might still be with us to this day. That is also the beauty of being able to tell this story as a series instead of a feature-length movie. By using the episodic format the showrunners could give take the right amount of time to delve into each of these specific themes without sacrificing the main element of the story.
Each of the main cast members has returned for this series and they pick up right where they left off. I’m not sure as to how much time had elapsed since they finished filming season 1 before working on season 2, but they jumped into these roles like old comfortable clothing, especially Aidan Gallagher as 5. I was concerned that he might experience a growth spurt that would make returning to the role of 5 problematic. Fortunately, any growth that may have occurred is perfectly handled by the production team making him appear that no time has passed. As for Gallagher’s acting, for a young actor to display a certain adult-like snarkiness can be difficult, but Gallagher handles it wonderfully making him one of the most enjoyable characters in this series. All of the cast is amazing from Ellen Page’s Vanya and her calming work with an autistic child (which I found to be very touching) to Robert Sheehan’s Klaus and his behavioral health issues to Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Allison as she reminds us of the painful mistreatment that black people received in their fight for equality.
With only three episodes in I already find The Umbrella Academy to be witty, moving, and exciting with these individual story themes. Add the incredibly awesome music that serves as a soundtrack (even though some of these songs are not representative of the era) to this show and all I can say is that for now, The Umbrella Academy is off to running start with their sophomore season!