It’s no secret that Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy is one of the more unique entry into its original catalogue of films and series. While not exactly perfect, its first season’s quirky charm, jet black sense of humour and novel marriage between superpowers and familial dysfunction bought plenty of goodwill. Most critics found Umbrella Academy to be an overall enjoyable watch, describing it as ambitious and witty. Personally, it took me a while to warm up to the series. The first few episodes felt far too indulgent in the show’s melancholic tone and far too proud of its less than memorable jokes. Some time was needed to adjust to the show’s tonal whiplash. When all was said and done, though, I found the show’s first season to be surprisingly poignant and emotionally resonant.
Its greater focus on child abuse and manifestations of trauma over the comic’s more tongue-in-cheek stories scored high points with me. By the time I’d finished with the series, I was thoroughly invested. The season finale definitely ended with a proper bang with Vanya unlocking her full psychic abilities. The troubled girl had brought about the end of the world. Before they could all perish Five, a time-travelling genius trapped in his younger self, teleported them all away. Now, we pick up right where they left off. It’s time to see if this second season has anything new to offer, or if it should have ended in a blaze of fiery glory.
In this new season, we learn that our gang of lovable metahuman misfits have been transported back to America in the 1960s. An era marked with civil unrest, racial violence and Cold War paranoia. Five has inadvertently separated each member of the Academy by time periods, one year apart to be exact. When Five arrives in 1963, years after his siblings, he realizes that a whole new apocalypse is on the rise. A thermonuclear war has erupted between US forces and the Soviet Union. On that day, the Earth was once again destroyed. In a bid to prevent yet another extinction-level event, Five travels back by a few days to enlist the help of his family and to figure out how it all happened. Let the groovy tunes, not-so-subtle racism and time-altering shenanigans roll.
First off, the one thing you cannot call The Umbrella Academy‘s second season is unambitious. Trust me when I say that shit goes totally bananas here. The show truly went above and beyond in trying to squeeze as many quirky characters, action-packed subplots and emotional pay-offs as possible. While the scale is certainly appreciated, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The inclusion of a subplot involving a time-keeping organization called the Commission is definitely the least interesting aspect of this season. Honestly speaking, their entire presence could be omitted from the plot and wouldn’t have made a difference.
The show also retreads familiar ground with the character of Vanya. Without giving too much away, let’s just say she essentially serves the same function she did in the first season. Seriously, leave the poor girl alone! The main plot of this season follows Five trying to track down the exact origin of the thermonuclear war. The show makes full use of the cultural setting on America in the 1960s, touching on key events such as the ongoing civil rights protest and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, the big reveal wasn’t nearly as captivating as the journey towards it. There’s no doubt creator and writer Steve Blackman brought a ton of heart and passion to this series. That being said, sometimes less is more and there were definitely subplots that could have revised or left on the chopping room floor.
The true beating heart of The Umbrella Academy has never been the stylized action sequences or over-the-top narratives. Much like the first season, its appeal lies the emotional gravitas of its main cast of miserable heroes. This is where the second season excels over its predecessor. Most of the characters’ baggage and growth from the previous season is further developed and expanded in new and satisfying ways.
My favourite out of the seven characters has got to be Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Allison. In the past, we learned about how her selfish use of reality-altering powers led to disastrous ends. Now we see her trapped in the 1960s, in a time in which black people were historically oppressed. Her marriage to a civil rights activist allows her to truly understand the meaning of struggle and sacrifice in lieu of taking the easy way out.
Klaus and Diego’s journeys in this season take on a more fun and lighter tone in comparison to the previous season. The Umbrella Academy pokes fun at Diego’s brooding, dour hero complex by having him locked up in a mental asylum alongside a female inmate Lila, played wonderfully by Ritu Arya. The two of them have excellent chemistry together with playful banter and heartfelt talks in between the frantic action. Klaus once again reprises his role as the reckless wildcard of the group, playing the role of a runaway ex-cult leader. Aidan Gallagher as Five steals every damn scene he’s in as the cantankerous, brilliant old man trapped in a little boy’s body. The kid has got real talent and we’ll be paying close attention to his career.
The least interesting pair out of the seven has got to be Tom Hopper’s Luther and Ellen Page’s Vanya. Their story arcs aren’t nearly as creative as the others. As a matter of fact, their characters have shown little signs of any growth. Luther’s still the same stoic, brooding man-ape from the first season, except now he’s taking orders from someone else. Vanya is still the same unstable, emotionally-withdrawn powerhouse but this time she has amnesia (cue dramatic pause). You may have noticed that I’ve only mentioned six of the seven members of the team. That’s because Justin H. Min as the spectral member of the team, Ben has a special surprise for fans at the final episode this season. His lack of prominence throughout the series will be a thing of the past come season 3!
There’s a lot of heart, wit and charm in The Umbrella Academy‘s second season, even if they’re mired in the show’s bloated storytelling and predictable character arcs. The series’ emotional payoffs and intriguing portrayals of trauma through the eyes of superheroes are just as good as I remembered. Unfortunately, so is the annoying slog that comes with it. If you’re willing to look past these flaws though, there is a groundbreaking series worth investing your weekend nights into.
You can now catch the second season of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix today!