3P Reviews, The Umbrella Academy

Leg – The Umbrella Academy, Season Two, Episode Five

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The band is back together, more or less. As the Umbrella Academy reunites (finally), we return to that sibling group dynamic that made the first season function.

There have been a few important changes since the seven protagonists were all in the same room together. For one, the characters have been through one apocalypse already. With Vanya part of the team in earnest, even with some memory loss, and everyone more or less united in ambivalence toward their father, the group is in rare accordance, and this get-together is far more cordial than… well, any other point in the series so far. It’s nice. These characters cooperate well when they do cooperate, and while they all still have their quirks and faults and desire to bicker, the stakes are lower than they once were.

I mean, the world’s still ending, so those stakes are unchanged, but the deep-seated grudges are lifted and the characters have more to relate to each other with — to greater and lesser degrees. They’re still the same people, but their collective unit has grown and changed, and they all seem to realize it, at least a little.

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3P Reviews Series: The Umbrella Academy

Season Two

Episode Five:  Valhalla – ****

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Spoilers: Yes

Audience Assumptions: Familiarity with the series and/or my review series for the first season.

Content Warnings: Mention of alcohol, death, incest, parental abuse.

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Part One: “Unfortunately, Ghosts Can’t Time Travel”

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This episode and the next are more cohesive than previous ones have been, owing to the group coming back together for a bit. There are a few subplots, but I think I want to structure this review by discussing different arrangements of character collectives, starting with the entire Umbrella Academy.

Skimming over a few scenes that wrap-up where we last left the characters (and also an odd opening about Pogo’s backstory), Five decides to bring everyone back together, now that he knows where they all are. They reunite at Elliot’s hideout, where Five explains about the second apocalypse and his and Diego’s efforts to track down their father.

Not a lot happens in this episode, plot-wise. When the protagonists break apart once more to pursue their personal subplots, Luther and Diego come across a black sedan which delivers invitations for them to meet Reginald Hargreeves for dinner, which will form the basis for the next episode. There’s a little something to do with the Swedes and the Handler, the latter of whom is trying to mislead the former three and manages to blow up one of them, hence the episode’s title, but I don’t have a lot to say about that that I haven’t already covered. Let’s focus instead on character dynamics.

There are many things I like about the reunion scene. I like how snarky Luther is — he gets several good lines in this episode, even if they’re as simple as, “No” when Elliot asks if stole his robe (he did) and “I’ll try,” when Five tells him not to crush Vanya this time. Luther is all levels of done with this ridiculous family, but in a comical way — like a straight man hanging around a bunch of clowns.

Speaking of clowns, Klaus is drunk and eventually gets both Allison and Vanya to join him, which is great. As always, Klaus’ dynamic in the group walks the border between being obnoxious and actually amusing, so your mileage may vary as to whether you like him as part of the group, but I think the show reigns him in sufficiently here to make him a distinct personality without letting him detract the group discussion severely. Him joining in on Allison and Vanya’s special sister reunion hug is delightful and pretty much the sort of thing I would want to see from his character — much, but not too much.

One major issue, though, both as the way Klaus is written and as the way the series is written, is that Ben is rather conspicuously sidelined for this episode, as in many of the episodes. I think I know why the series did this, but especially in light of some of the later events in the season, it doesn’t sit entirely well with me. When asked about Ben, Klaus tells them “ghosts can’t time travel” — mainly lying to get on Ben’s nerves because Ben disapproves of him drinking. I still like that dynamic, and the line delivery is hilarious, but we’re well past the point where the series can keep Ben out of the group interactions. We still have yet to give Ben a proper reunion with any character other than Klaus, and even though the show built up to it all through the previous season, the show is still dragging its feet about exploring Ben’s existence as a ghost in much detail at all. I realize that’s not the focus of this group reunion, and it clearly merits its own scene, if not an entire episode, but Ben continues to get the short shrift in the mean time. The show needs to prioritize Ben as his own character and actually do something with him for once. Just once. Just one thing would be nice. He’s barely a character, even though he’s clearly written to be as important as any of the other siblings.

Vanya doesn’t contribute much to the group discussion, but at this point in the season, she’s up to speed sufficiently that she can just sit and listen, occasionally making faces in response to odd things the others say. She is still an important part of the episode, as the others are adjusting to having her as part of the regular group and not, you know, a supervillain. I probably would have preferred her retaining her memory, but like I said, the amnesia doesn’t matter especially anymore. There is one excellent point where Diego is staring menacingly at her and flicking his knife around because he still doesn’t trust her, but as soon as she says something to the effect of, “I’m sorry about that, I don’t remember any of it,” he immediately accepts her apology and starts telling her about his girlfriend troubles. It’s beautiful.

Diego almost steals the show here. He is still dead-set on saving Kennedy, god love ‘im. Every time Five explains that they’ve been tracking down their father, Diego adds that it’s to stop their father from killing Kennedy (it is not). He’s actually right that Hargreeves is part of a syndicate that, at least in this series, is plotting the assassination, but neither Five nor anyone else in the room cares about that. They also don’t take up Diego’s solution of, “We have to kill Hargreeves, the man who will adopt us in the future but hasn’t yet, so we can save Kennedy. That will somehow return the timeline to normal.”

Allison doesn’t have a ton to contribute to the conversation, though her enabling of Klaus (to Ben’s consternation) and emotional reunion with Vanya are both sweet. Again, I wish Vanya had her memory here, but the interaction is well-acted. Allison is clearly very emotional about seeing and talking to Vanya after their last meeting face-to-face took place behind glass, and amnesiac Vanya understands some of the weight of this interaction, but not all of it. The resultant hug is warm, but a little awkward, made doubly so by a drunk Klaus also contributing. I like it.

The siblings still bicker plenty, but what I particularly like about this episode is that their bickering is mostly quite a bit more jovial than in the first season. There, you got the sense that these were people who grew up together and had some inherent familiarity, and empathy for their shared trauma, but they were also confined by personal problems that prevented them from really connecting. Part of that may have been the house; their father went to great lengths to separate them and often pitted them against each other so they would fight for his approval. Reminders of that overbearing figure lingered in both the environment and main plot, so that the characters all seemed estranged from one another. Here, the family is much more functional, even if the characters themselves are not. All of them have gotten into some sort of trouble or another, but that’s mostly down to choices they’ve made that are largely independent of their upbringing and personal traumas. In some ways, this is kind of the first time the characters have been in the same room and been allowed to be completely themselves. It’s enjoyable to see them bounce off of each other, and it reminds you why this series is worth watching.

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Part Two: “Technically, We’re Adopted”

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Even though I’ve covered the main focus of the episode, I do still feel some obligation to continue with my three-part format, so I might as well have some fun reliving a few of the scenes of note outside of the primary reunion.

At some point in the conversation, Five reaches the conclusion that their father will know the answer and they have to find him. Luther gets upset at this suggestion and leaves, so Diego runs off after him and Five heads off on a little bunny trail of his own. What are the rest to do?

Why drink, of course!

Klaus, Vanya, and Allison go for tacos, which quickly turns into a gossip session at an empty hair salon. This is also a nice little scene, because when two of the main characters have been in the same room this season, usually whatever relationship those two have dominates the interaction. For instance, Klaus and Allison’s conversations have mainly featured Allison being cordial, Klaus being airheaded, and Allison regretting being cordial, or something similar to that. By inserting Vanya into the mix, we don’t just have Allison and Klaus bantering back and forth nonstop. I love banter, but even just having one extra person to divert the feedbacks that arise can bring a scene together. Vanya asks questions, some of which are basic and almost stand in as audience vectors, and then watches as Klaus and Allison bring up some of the many things she hasn’t been filled in on as they bicker about specifics.

I imagine it’s here partly in response to judgemental audience members (hello), but the discussion about Allison being with Luther is pretty funny. To my recollection, it’s the only time any time any of the characters has acknowledged that it’s weird. And, well, all three of them seem to think, yes, it’s weird. I appreciate how Allison is almost in a benign but awkward position in the same way as, like, Jon and Sansa shippers or something. She’s not in any sort of active relationship with Luther, and she’s got a husband whom she is very much not abandoning for her brother. You almost feel like she would rather leave that whole episode in the past as a weird dysfunctional sibling thing, and kind of regrets it when Klaus and Vanya point out how it’s still basically incest. And Klaus is not helping matters even slightly. “They’re lovers,” he proclaims, as Allison counters with, “We never even kissed!” Even though she’s probably thinking, But we almost did, and also they definitely did in that alternate timeline.

I am waiting for the day that we (and the characters) learn that no, they actually are all related somehow, yes it deffo is incest, and everyone’s going to have to sit with their life choices for a while. I mean, that’s not the sort of thing I want to see in a series, but, well, I mean presumably it’s better to know, right? And anyway, I anticipate the reaction will be rather funny. It’s nice at least to see that the series is thinking about how to navigate this very odd situation they’ve written themselves into.

I also enjoy Klaus’ assertion that they’re all failures at maintaining healthy relationships and that the only person who got it right of the seven of them was Five with his mannequin. I mean, you could make an argument against it, but I don’t really disagree with him.

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Part Three: “He Shanked Your Heart” — Another Line for the Ages

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Whittling down the number of characters we’re talking about, Diego and Luther get a few scenes where they spend time together, and as with the main group, there’s something delightful about seeing them together without the ghost of their overbearing father hanging around. Early on, Diego and Luther are set up as rivals, both serious boys who do serious superheroing. Diego is Batman to Luther’s Superman, and they both fill those roles in ways that I’ve come to appreciate far more than I did when I started this series.

Luther is the more grounded of the two and despite occasional outbursts, he’s less prone to mucking things up when his frustration clouds his judgement. Diego is more impulsive and rarely thinks things through, often rushing into situations without a backup plan, and while at times he’s more driven than Luther, and seems to have more realistic expectations of the outside world, he’s not good at leading or organizing. Diego’s desire to be in charge stems from an inferiority complex, where his insecurities about how he is perceived make him seek opportunity to gain respect from his peers. He does this first by trying to show that he’s a more capable leader than Luther, then when that fails, by showing he can do more on his own anyway. Luther, meanwhile, is not actually a good leader, he’s a good follower. When he has instructions from his father, he’s basically a boy scout and can lead the charge in whatever the characters come across. However, he’s not actually good at formulating plans and he doesn’t often have clear goals that align well with what needs to be done.

At this point in the story, both Diego and Luther have realized that their group is more cooperative than hierarchical, and if they have anything resembling a leader, it’s not either of them, it’s Five. They both struggle to internalize this revelation, by the by. Diego continues to contribute in completely useless ways, but it’s actually Luther that is having a harder time accepting the group’s new dynamic.

As Luther reveals in this episode, he’s actually already found their father. Almost the first thing he did when he got to Dallas was hop on a bus back home to find Hargreeves and explain the situation. The welcome he received was less than convivial. Unsurprisingly, Hargreeves hates children and is not especially enthusiastic at meeting a son he really doesn’t want.

This isn’t the first time Luther has been rejected by his father, but this time, it’s in-person, and Hargreeves is particularly vicious toward him with little provocation. The interaction impresses upon Luther the idea that Hargreeves will not help them, and kind of never did even when they were kids. He’s embarrassed and disillusioned to have sought Hargreeves out in the first place, and with that in mind, you can understand how Five ignoring Luther’s warning would rub him the wrong way. Luther is probably wrong to abandon the Hargreeves investigation so soon, but you can understand why he would do that. He has plenty of reason not to want to participate, both out of anger toward their father, and insecurity about his own capabilities as a meaningful player. He’s been told all of his life that he’s not only one of the few people destined to save the world, but also the leader of those few. And it was all lies; he’s not saved the world from anything, in fact he played a rather significant role in fucking it up last time, and he’s not even that good at leading. If he’s not useful in any of the roles he knows, what does he bring to the table at all?

Diego going after him is adorable, because Diego is also in the middle of recognizing his own uselessness. Just earlier this episode, he confronted his girlfriend about why she went to help Five in the middle of the previous episode’s fight instead of helping him, to which she responded, “He’s a child and you are a grown-ass man.” I mean, she is duplicitous, but Diego is miles away from figuring that out on his own. Even as he’s trying to convince Luther that their father was an asshole and he shouldn’t feel obligated to keep trying to impress him, Diego still fails to move past the “I’m Batman” mentality that their father instilled in him. But, you know, he’s trying, and stilted as the conversation gets toward the end, I think the gesture at least is meaningful.

And they hang out a bit together after that, too. When Hargreeves invites them to dinner, they’re both caught off-guard by the request and are still mulling it over hours later. I quite like their awkward attempt to be friendly to each other for once. It’s character growth.

There are other things I could talk about with this episode, like the multiple pop music intrusions and Five’s confrontation with Lilah that amounts to very little of substance. I think the main characters and the family dynamic are the important thing here, though, so that’s where I’ll leave you for now.

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Series Breakdown Rating:

Characters and Character Development: 8
Aesthetics and Style: 6
Creativity: 6
Overall Plot: 5
Subplots: 7
Sum: 32/50

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