The Netflix show’s second season wasn’t quite up-to-snuff.
Vikram Nijhawan, Staff Writer
Cast: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castaneda, Aidan Gallagher, Robert Sheehan, Justin H. Min
Creator(s): Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater
Length: 10 episodes
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
What better show to watch in 2020 than one about the impending apocalypse?
While many of us were trying to pass the time under quarantine, sitting idly during the supposed end-of-the-world, the protagonists in Steve Blackman’s hit Netflix show were actively trying to prevent it. Based on the eccentric Dark Horse Comics series by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, the second season of Umbrella Academy follows the uber-weird Hargreaves siblings and their time-traveling adventures.
The season begins with our seven superheroes realizing that they’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, they’re in Dallas. In the year 1963, ten days before JFK’s assassination is set to occur. After a major mixup (courtesy of the family’s resident time-traveler, Aidan Gallagher’s Five), the Hargreaves find themselves separated, and once again saddled with the burden of preventing doomsday, which in this timeline is triggered by the killing of the president.
Of all the siblings, only Five has a glimpse of the imminent threat. In a fantastic scene, the showrunners depict a Cold War turned hot, as Soviets invade the mainland U.S.A., while the other Hargreaves use their unique powers to fend off the Red Threat. It ends with nuclear missiles looming on the horizon, as Five understands the stakes the heroes face, before promptly zapping back in time to stop the armageddon he narrowly escapes. All this while Frank Sinatra’s timely “My Way” plays ominously in the background. This entire scene starts the season on a banger and effectively establishes the central conflict.
From there, the first episode, suitably titled “Right Back Where We Started,” continues in a similar fashion as the previous season, with Five tracking down each of his disparate siblings, who are each scattered across the timeline. Much like the first season, Gallagher’s performance as the no-nonsense, twelve-year-old trapped in a grizzled veteran’s body is easily one of the show’s highlights. Season two continues Five’s character development from the first season. Having chiseled through his gruff exterior, and with a newfound trust in his family, the precocious time-traveler seeks to unify the Hargreaves once more. And for a while, the season seems promising.
Each of the super-powered siblings embodies a new role in this foreign world. Irreverent, knife-throwing vigilante Diego (David Castaneda) is sequestered in a mental asylum after trying to kill Lee Harvey Oswald. Meanwhile, family patriarch Luther (Tom Hopper) works as an enforcer for infamous nightclub owner, and real-life Oswald killer, Jack Ruby. The drug-addled ghost whisperer, Klaus (Robert Sheehan), having now achieved sobriety, gets accustomed to life as a cult leader. But perhaps most interesting is Allison’s (Emmy-Raver Lampan) storyline. As a black woman, she works as an integral part of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. With the current social climate surrounding the treatment of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement, this subplot felt incredibly prescient and relevant.
Sadly, the season spends little time developing any of these story threads. Instead of exploring the unique milieu of the early 60s from a 21st-century lens – with the paranoia around communism, Civil Rights, anti-war sentiment, and other defining events of the era – the writers are content with providing yet another convoluted time-travel plot. While these hijinks, involving the nefarious organization known as The Commission, felt fun and refreshing in the show’s first season, the sophomore outing would have benefitted from some thematic depth and a greater emphasis on character growth. With a few exceptions (mainly Justin Min’s Ben Hargeaves), all of the heroes’ potentially great character arcs are sidelined for a poorly-paced plot.
Even though the story left much to be desired, season two undoubtedly ramps up the show’s production quality. The action set pieces are more ambitious and better-choreographed. The standouts are the aforementioned apocalypse opener and the final battle which involves the siblings teaming up to fight a newly-revealed enemy. The season’s soundtrack is also a treat. Gerard Way lends his musical talents by composing an original track, “Here Comes the End”, alongside an eclectic (and at times, unexpected) mix of songs. Hearing the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” in this particular time setting was jarring, yet oddly fitting, which pretty much encapsulates the series’ overall tone.
The first season of Umbrella Academy presented a cohesive and compelling story about a dysfunctional family coming together and putting aside their differences for the greater good. Season two follows-suit, but while it tries to tackle more significant themes for the superhero genre, it doesn’t adequately delve into them. However, it still manages to deliver plenty of spectacle, and leaves the story on a major cliffhanger which the third season can pick up.
If there’s one silver lining to be gleaned from The Umbrella Academy, it’s that the “end of the world” isn’t so daunting when we work towards a solution together. In the absence of a briefcase time-machine, there’s no going back to the beginning of 2020. Perhaps we should take a cue from the Hargreaves family and learn to act as a team to weather through the bad times.
Vikram Nijhawan is a third-year undergraduate student at Trinity College, studying English, History, and Classics.