With the arrival of The Umbrella Academy Season Two on Netflix, the adaptation of Gerard Way’s hit graphic novel is here to entertain audiences with another helping of dysfunctional superhero siblings. Season One impressed audiences with its mix of wit, humor, and pathos, but can the follow-up match that energy or, better yet, top it? Read on to find out!
The Groundwork Has Been Laid
While one understands the need to introduce any fictional universe with some sense of grounding, any show with time-traveling assassins, an ape man, and a guy with a fishbowl head was always going to have its work cut out for it. Cherry-picking elements from author Gerard Way’s acclaimed graphic novels, showrunner Steve Blackman (Altered Carbon, Fargo) elected to adapt the spirit of the material, rather than the letter, in his first go-around. Resembling the early 2000’s X-Men films in palette, design, and tone, the endeavor could have fallen flat on its face, but, to the surprise of many, it didn’t.
It’s about characters (with issues)
Blackwell cleverly allowed the overt quirkiness of the comic to shine through the gloom, doom, (and leather) via the relatable personalities of the characters – they may not have been battling hordes of robots or supervillains in this version, but they were the same bunch of broken misfits with daddy issues that readers know and love. While the stakes were appropriately large (doomsday, anyone?), and visuals impressive, the main draw was the characters and their relationships with each other, with none being so boring as to be defined by their powers — half the time, we forgot that they had them! Portrayed by a killer cast and backed by a brilliantly irreverent soundtrack, The Umbrella Academy was an immediate hit with fans, critics, and newcomers alike.
The story continues
Season Two picks up moments after the Season One finale, with the Hargreeves siblings hurtling through time to wind up in Dallas before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While they all landed in the same place, the unpredictable nature of Number Five’s (Aidan Gallagher, TV’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn) powers results in them arriving months, even years, apart. Thus, the first few episodes are dedicated to getting the siblings back together, as Five searches for his time-displaced kin in an effort to stop another apocalypse.
Unbeknownst to Five, this will be easier said than done; sensitive Luther (Tom Hopper, Merlin) has found work as a brawler for a local gangster, hot-headed Diego (David Castaneda, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) has been locked in an insane asylum, a repentant Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman, of Broadway’s Hamilton) has become a civil rights leader, the perpetually addled Klaus (Robert Sheehan, Misfits) has started a cult, and Vanya (Ellen Page, Juno) has amnesia and is living on a farm.
Women of change and growth
While the mission here remains to avert doomsday, the underlying mystery takes a backseat to the familial interactions and character beats that made the first season a hit. Rather than pandering, each character’s path feels organic to the proceedings, with some of the changes made for the show resulting in plotlines that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
This is most apparent in the decision to cast Allison as an African American (versus the Caucasian of the books) in Season One – without that, we wouldn’t have her believable transition from formerly spoiled character to self-reliant adult after being deprived of both her powers and the privilege of family wealth.
The same goes for giving Vanya an actual personality, which results in a surprising romance that makes up for the disastrous one from last year. While one still wishes that Page would exhibit more emotional range, her commitment to the material is undeniable. In allowing Vanya to explore her emotional boundaries, the character has aligned herself with Page’s personal advocacies in seeking a world where same-sex relationships are not frowned upon.
While the girls get to enjoy grown-up relationships, the boys don’t fare as well, with Luther sill pining for Allison, while Diego enters into an ill-advised pairing with Lila, an inmate from the mental institution. As played by Ritu Arya (Last Christmas), Lila delivers a much-appreciated jolt of wild card energy to the proceedings, hotwiring cars and taking out Swedish assassins with flair. We know from the second we meet her that she’s bad news, but her vibe is so infectious, it rules the screen whenever she’s on. When her true nature is revealed to be exactly what we (and Number Five) thought it’d be, it’s done so well that it’s hard to complain.
On the other hand, we get a lot more development and screen time for Diego, who, prior to this, had registered the bare minimum of traits to be considered a lower-tier Batman. Castaneda plays the part well, alternating his character’s aggressive physicality with moments that earn him Lila’s assessment as, “an open book for very dumb children”, while striving for the approval of a father who will never give it.
To be perfectly honest, the character who contributes the absolute least to the story -while somehow remaining eminently watchable- is Klaus, who’s spent his time in the ’60s becoming a cult leader based on “wisdom” derived from Destiny’s Child lyrics, as his dead brother, Ben (Justin H. Min), watches in disdain. Klaus remains haunted by the love that he lost in his own personal time travels, regressing to an even more aloof state than before following an attempt to prevent the inevitable.
Given that Ben didn’t have a big role in the comics — apart from being dead and appearing in flashbacks —Blackwell and his team take the time to flesh his character out as a spirit not quite ready to move on out of fear for the afterlife. Min makes the most of the expanded role as Klaus’ (oft-ignored) conscience, who clearly misses the feeling of being alive. This leads to a surprisingly touching moment between Ben and Vanya that exists almost entirely independent of Klaus’ hijinks.
Fact and fantasy
Unlike the overly-serious Transformers: War For Cybertron (which premiered a day earlier on the platform) Umbrella Academy’s sophomore outing fully embraces the ludicrousness of its premise, going so far as to unleash superhumans, a Russian invasion, and a nuclear apocalypse in the first five minutes!
The Commission is back, too, and as nefarious as ever in its attempts to police the timestream. Unbeknownst to our heroes, the impeccably contoured Handler (Kate Walsh, 13 Reasons Why) has returned, and enacted a coup against her former masters, with an eye towards eliminating all who oppose her. As before, the Commission is presented as an organization run by bureaucracy, with much humor being derived from the notion of time-traveling assassinations being a regular part of the job.
Balancing things out on the opposite end of the spectrum are sequences depicting the burgeoning civil rights movement of the 1960s and its motivations. It’s one thing to read about segregation, and quite another for one of your show’s leads to be turned away from an establishment because of her skin color. If that, and subsequent sequences of police brutality are unsettling and comfortable, that’s because they were, and are, potent reminders of the dangers of institutionalized racism in any form. That the show is able to present such sequences as an organic part of the narrative is impressive, to say the least.
The bottom line
The Umbrella Academy Season Two is a thrilling ride that fulfills the promise of the comics in an altogether different and unique way that nevertheless displays its inspirations with pride. With the returning cast in fine form, a slew of new, memorable characters, and a thing or two to say about the state of the world, this is a worthy follow-up that every fan should watch!
Have you watched The Umbrella Academy Season Two? Tell us what you think in the comments!