3P Reviews, The Umbrella Academy

Separate Roads – The Umbrella Academy, Season Two, Episode Seven

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The episode so famous, it became a meme. At least on the corners of the internet I frequent.

To be honest, I didn’t remember much about it after I saw if the first time, but this time around, I was reasonably impressed. It’s a transitional episode, as are many this season, but it uses the gimmick of a tight in-universe time limit to give the episode internal structure. Five has secured a route back to 2019 for his family, apocalypse-free, but he only has one shot and it will be gone in an hour. His concern is getting his siblings ready in time, but many of them have goodbyes to say that can’t be rushed, and others are caught up in drama that has just recently boiled over.

Will they make it in time? Well, there are still three episodes to go in this season, so this would be an odd spot to insert the climax. This is more of a setup for later events than anything else, but the episode is still worth watching.

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3P Reviews Series: The Umbrella Academy

Season Two

Episode Seven:  Öga for Öga – ****

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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 death, violence, murder, assassination, whitewashing, racism, gore.

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Part One: Brief Farewells

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The episode opens with a sequence that is all over the place in terms of tone, yet fits the series quite well. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, as I don’t particularly care for this sequence, but I’m in too deep to reflect on my poor decisions now.

At the end of the last episode, Five had arranged a deal with the Handler: he’ll assassinate the board so she can get her job back, and in exchange, she’ll pull some strings once she has it to ensure his family’s safety. It’s not a good deal, but Five is desperate, so at the start of this episode, he heads to the time and location where the board are meeting. After causing a ruckus and possibly going a little bit mad over a packet of chips in a vending machine, Five breaks into the board room and hacks everyone to bits with an axe. It’s quite gruesome and bloody – we’ve seen gore before in this show, but it comes up rarely enough and contrasts with the rest of the show enough that it catches me off-guard whenever the show decides to turn into a horror fest. To be fair to the show, it is stylized in a kind of goofy way, with the blood and dead bodies very visibly fake and the shots edited so that it looks like Five teleports off-screen and the camera pans over to six Halloween decoration corpses. The stylism doesn’t really work for me, but I get what they were going for and I’ve forgiven the show for worse.

Apparently Five doesn’t like doing this sort of dirty work (he really does not sell his distaste very well, and I don’t know if that’s intentional or not); when he gets back to the Handler, he tells her that’s all he’s willing to ever do for her again. Somewhat surprisingly, she holds up her end of the bargain – though of course there’s a catch. Five gets a time-travel briefcase that will ferry his family away, averting Armageddon, but they only have an hour to use it. Five’s family are spread out in their various corners of Dallas, and what’s more, most of them have other lives they’re going to have to uproot in order to go back to their own time. Getting them all to return with him within the hour is not going to be an easy feat.

That’s the basic setup for the episode – it starts with the clock ticking down, and ends when the clock runs out.

I’ll tell you right now, they don’t make it in time, but that’s not really surprising; it would be rather odd to reach the climax not even 75% of the way through the season, and we’ve spent long enough in 1963 that we have unresolved plot threads all over the place. The promise of a dramatic shift in the plot comes to the audience almost as unexpectedly as it does to the characters, so it wouldn’t be a satisfying conclusion to anything, but it is a useful way to shake things up, especially after the last episode largely resolved the buildup of reuniting with their father. This episode doesn’t really solve the problem of the overall season not having a clear arc, but it does set the series on the right path leading into the climax, which I have to commend.

First, Five gets out the news to everyone. Luther is all set to go because he doesn’t really have anything here anyway. Diego also doesn’t have much tying him here, but he’s loathe to leave things unfinished. He still wants to save Kennedy, bless his little heart, but it’s actually Lila and Eliot who leave him wanting to put that extra time to use. Five tells him Lila is a time-traveler from his agency and was scheming to get close to him, which he doesn’t sit well with him. He agrees to track down Klaus, but also plans to take a side trip to bury Eliot.

Klaus, meanwhile, is having a standoff with Ben over their recent discovery that Ben can possess him. Ben wants to feel things and talk to people again, and Klaus is being boorish about it. He doesn’t really have a good reason to refuse Ben, though, and after a candid conversation where Ben reminds him of how much it sucks to be dead, Klaus agrees to let him pilot his body around for a bit. Diego runs into him while he’s trying to confess his love to Jill, one of the girls in the cult. While his time with Jill is cut short by the news that they have less than an hour to leave, Ben gets a tearful reunion with Diego and manages to drag Klaus’ body to the rendez-vous point on time before Klaus kicks him out.

Luther disperses the news to Allison, who has a much harder good-bye to prepare for. She explains everything to Ray and asks him to come with her, but he has too much of a stake in the Civil Rights Movement and local affairs to just uproot all of that, and he regretfully declines. Before Allison can get to the others, though, the remaining two Swedes break into their house and attack. Allison uses her powers to make one man kill the other, which causes the survivor to run off in horror. This leaves Allison shaken, but also in the predicament of having to choose between missing the deadline or leaving her husband to be caught with the body of a White man in his house.

Allison misses the deadline, but she’s far from the only one. Diego misses it too, albeit for a stranger reason. After leaving Klaus and Ben, he goes to give the recently murdered Eliot a makeshift burial. Lila tracks him down and they talk openly as he digs. She professes to genuinely liking him, though she admits to deceiving him as well. They appear to make amends and Lila offers him a drink to toast in Eliot’s memory. The drink is drugged, though, and Diego passes out as per Lila’s plan. What Lila knows that the siblings don’t is just how devious her mother can be. In the previous episode, her mother hinted that the reason she sent Five after the board instead of her is because she plans to set Five up as a scapegoat. Fearing that Diego will get caught up in her mother’s plans, she’s taken it upon herself to hire him as part of the agency’s security team, now that her mother has made her head of security. Lila has also decided to start calling Diego her boyfriend, and introduces a very confused Diego to her mother as such.

Over the course of the episode, Vanya has mostly been at Sissy’s house, planning to help her and Harlan escape from Carl. While Sissy is in town, Carl takes Vanya aside and tells her, in unflattering terms, he knows she’s with Sissy. He tells her to leave town and threatens to send Harlan to an asylum unless she complies. While on her way to pack, she runs into Five who tells her she can’t run away with Sissy because she has to come with her siblings back to 2019. Vanya decides that Sissy and Harlan will come with them to the future, then, which Five is not on-board with. After a stand-off, though, he relents. Vanya rushes to pack, and when Sissy gets home, she tells her that they need to leave now. Her rushed explanation doesn’t go down well, though, even when she tells Sissy about Carl’s threat. Sissy trusts her and agrees to go, but leaves a goodbye note for Carl despite Vanya’s advice. She means well by it, feeling she owes her husband an explanation and assurance that Harlan is okay, but it damns them in the end; Carl calls his brother, a state trooper, who blockades the road. Vanya takes out several of the men with her powers, but is distracted by Sissy’s frightened face when she sees what Vanya can do. A policeman knocks Vanya out and she’s taken into custody, setting up an anxious start to the next episode as the Sissy subplot begins to boil over.

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Part Two: Yes, Ben, Oranges are Gross

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Perhaps the most important part of this episode is that it finally – finally – brings Ben into the fold as a proper character in his own right. Frankly, this is the sort of direction they should have taken with him from the start of the season, but it’s a step in the right direction even if it’s very late in coming.

I’ll have more to talk about regarding Ben in later episodes, but here’s my assessment for this one: I liked it. The story direction and execution have very visible flaws, but I think it generally works, in concept and for certain small exchanges that cumulatively make it a charming sequence.

Now, first things first, I feel I should address the problem Klaus poses as part of Ben’s story, especially in the framing and meta context. Because Ben is meant to be possessing Klaus, we see a lot of Klaus’ actor (Robert Sheehan) portraying Ben’s character rather than Ben’s actor (Justin Hong-Kee Min). Considering how rarely Min shows up in the series elsewhere, it’s not a great look. The show gets around this a bit by occasionally cutting to Min in Sheehan’s place to show what Ben is experiencing, but I don’t know why they couldn’t have gone with mostly using Min. I might be more concerned if the series had more possession scenes of this ilk, but it doesn’t – at least not in this season. I could see this being a more frustrating problem to others, though, and I wouldn’t fault them for it.

What does work, I think, is the charm and humor of the sequence. For once in the series, the narrative is focused on Ben and we get to see his personality shine through mostly devoid of Klaus. Generally, Ben is portrayed as a mildly irritated and disappointed pep coach. This season, we’ve seen that he has a bit of a playful side as well, and in this episode, we find that he shares the same one brain cell Klaus and Diego use. The ice cream truck escapade suddenly makes a lot more sense. While some of Ben’s dazed presentation can be chalked up to him being able to feel things for the first time in fifteen years, he also has moments like immediately asking the girl he likes if he can smell her hair and offering wisdom in the form of Backstreet Boys lyrics.

His standoff at the beginning of the episode with Klaus is also quite funny – he wants Klaus’ body and Klaus very much does not want him taking his body, so they’re locked in a test to see how long Klaus can stay awake. This transitions into a surprisingly candid conversation where Klaus laments not being able to affect Dave’s future, Ben explains that’s what it’s always like for him, and Klaus sympathizes, eventually deciding to allow Ben to use his body for a little while.

Ben’s reunion with Diego is another strong point. This is the first time he’s talked to any of his siblings aside from Klaus, and it’s very emotional on both sides. It’s a short reunion, but I like it quite a bit. It’s also somehow fitting that the person he reunites with first is Diego; Klaus interacts with Diego a lot, and Ben is always there in the background, so him finally being able to talk to Diego feels like it has a bit of buildup.

As I mentioned, there are parts of this sequence that don’t work, but for me at least, the parts that do shine through more brightly. My feelings toward it may change with the coming episodes, but at least in this one, I think it’s generally good.

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Part Three: Two Settings

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As with many episodes, the character involvement in this one is split with about half of the protagonists contributing to the story significantly and the others getting only a few moments if any at all of note. Allison and Vanya feature prominently as they both have difficult decisions to make regarding the lives they’ve built in anticipation of being trapped in 1963 indefinitely. Although both offer to bring their respective partners with them into the future, that seems less and less likely given the rules of this world and the structure of the story. The siblings’ situations are both slightly different, with Allison’s relationship being more stable and suddenly uprooted, while Vanya’s is very fresh and was always built on shaky ground, but there’s an inherent tragedy to both of their impending farewells.

Vanya’s persecution as a queer person and Allison’s persecution as a Black person contribute to the tragedy of them leaving what could otherwise be supportive life partners. To some extent, I think the choice to focus on these relationships only to end them prematurely brushes up against tropes of women – especially marginalized women – being denied happiness for the sake of drama. Klaus losing Dave falls into this same category. However, it’s also not out of line for this particular show, or this genre for that matter.

Five, Luther, and Klaus don’t do much this episode, but I wanted to spend a bit of time with Diego for this last bit as he’s in a b it of a unique situation moving forward.

Like Allison and Vanya, he has to say goodbye to a romantic interest. Unlike the other two, his romantic interest can also time-travel.

I’ve said before that keeping Lila around as a recurring antagonist would be a good move because she can bounce off of Diego well and their relationship can build in interesting ways. Here, the series gets a jump start on that exact concept by having Lila come clean, partly because Five tells Diego who she is. Diego is frustrated to have been duped, but they still have decent chemistry and clearing the table prevents the story from having to lean back on the tired trope of a villain trying to keep up a façade. Lila seems to genuinely like Diego, which makes it unexpected and a bit comedic when she knocks him out and drags him to her mother’s office.

Diego is understandably confused, and while there’s a certain weight for the audience of one of the siblings other than Five ending up at the time agency, Diego’s face perfectly conveys how much that sentiment is lost on him. Not only does he barely know what this place is, if Five has ever mentioned the Handler to him, it clearly hasn’t stuck with him. Lila clutching his arm the whole while and declaring him her beloved adds to the delightful confusion.

Diego gets several nice little moments here that show the depth of his character and the skill with which David Castañeda portrays him. His reunion with Ben is as emotional for Diego as it is for the former, and he’s the only one of the main siblings who takes the time to give their unfortunate co-conspirator Elliott a half-decent send-off. On that last note, the scene where he and Luther try to track down the killer only to end up threatening a little old lady by mistake is a worthy entry into the Luther and Diego Fuck Around saga.

I actually think putting Diego in the time agency, physically or as an occupation, is an interesting move. If they keep up the development they’ve been working on with his character, this plot point will put him in an interesting spot moving forward, even if it doesn’t last past the end of the season. Diego would fit well at the time agency, better than Five in some ways. He has a similar skillset, but less of a desire to be in proximity to his family. While Diego doesn’t hate them and seems to get along with some of them fine, his desire to make a name for himself and his draw toward power fantasies would make this job look appealing. However, the duplicitous nature of the Handler and the potential for Diego to be set against his siblings by the agency gives a good foundation for future drama. Again, it’s a bit late in the series for it, but maybe not too late.

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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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