Photo: Christos Kalohordis / Netflix
Although he set much of the history in Dallas around 1963 – with the assassination of the JFK looming on the horizon – Umbrella Academy he spent the first few minutes of his second season setting up very familiar stakes: an apocalypse that could only have been prevented if the Umbrella Academy was able to understand what caused it and how to stop it, within a few days.
For most of the season, it was difficult to analyze why Umbrella Academy built the second season around a story that echoed the first season so naked. If you were generous, you could do it Umbrella Academy argued that history repeats itself; if you were ungenerous, you could do it Umbrella Academy it was just repeating itself.
So this climatic episode is both a delight and a relief: a signal that, after a bit of trampling on the water, Umbrella Academy he is ready to let both his story and characters grow beyond the archetypes established in the first season. He could have easily gone to the other side. Once again, Vanya broke out and, once again, the collateral damage could prove to be the end of the world. And when Allison, Diego and Klaus can’t reach Vanya and stop the attack – which is actually more like a superpowering spasm triggered by Vanya’s physical and emotional pain – it seems that the best hope for Earth’s future could be a another leap in deck clearing time.
And then an improbable hero emerges: the ghostly brother Ben, who manages to penetrate into the psychic defenses of Vanja and finds her, frightened and alone, in his mind. While Vanya relives the horrors of the past, Ben manages to reach her, not imprisoning her, as her brothers once did, but reassuring her that all those horrible things were not her fault. “Dad treated you like a bomb before you were ever one,” he says. “You are not a monster. You are my sister.”
It is enough to arrive in Vanya, but it has a cost: the effort that Ben had to spend to reach Vanya means that, 17 years after his “death”, it is time for Ben to really die. I’m not 100% clear because this is the case – but intuitively, it seems like the right sender. And while I accused Umbrella Academy that he is reluctant to embrace great emotions, he is certainly successful here, as Ben expresses gratitude for this true farewell and asks Vanja to embrace him as he vanishes. Vanja, for her part, seems to internalize Ben’s love and understanding, which will hopefully preclude other appearances uncontrolled by the white violin.
In the real world, Vanya returns to normal and the crisis that defines the season seems to be avoided. Without the Vanja explosion that spoils JFK and intensifies the Cold War, the timeline is restored.
Which means, unfortunately, that JFK is still being assassinated. The role of five in all is ultimately a red herring; despite a long and strange fight with the other five, neither plays a significant role in the assassination. Diego’s attempt to stop the assassination is another failure, although for a brief moment it looks like it might indeed succeed. But when he tackles “Reginald Hargreeves” on the grassy knoll, he turns out to be a bait. The fatal bullet arrives somewhere else and the president is killed.
Diego will surely assume that the murder was another of the deformed schemes devised by his father (and perhaps one day he will also be able to face it). But unbeknownst to Diego, Grace and anyone else who suspected Reginald had committed a foul on JFK, the truth turned out to be more complicated. When Reginald rushes to a Majestic-12 meeting in a fury, he reveals that he only participated in the plot for the assassination of the JFK on the condition that the JFK was not actually injured.
And when smug Majestic-12 members laugh at him, Reginald – and honestly, I can’t stress it enough – he removes his rubber mask to reveal that he’s an alien. Yes: Reginald Hargreeves has always been an alien in disguise, and he is now a seriously pissed off alien. The camera teases us only with the back of his alien head and some terrifying sounds off the screen, but it certainly seems to be slaughtering a group of smug guys in suits.
You would think that the murder of, I don’t know, everyone in Majestic-12 would be a shocking anomaly in the timeline, so it’s not exactly surprising when a shocking anomaly is detected by a Commission agent at the end of the episode. But Umbrella Academy has a final turn in store. For all the crazy things that have happened in Dallas since the Umbrella Academy came, the truly unprecedented anomaly doesn’t directly involve any of them. He returned to Sissy’s farm, where Harlan uses his newly awakened superpower to push a rebel bullet directly to Carl, hitting him in the chest and killing him.
And apparently, that was only the beginning, because the Commission’s monitor shows that the whole barn subsequently lit up with a strange blue glow. It is not exactly clear what is going on inside, but given that it has triggered a bigger alarm within the Commission than either Umbrella AcademyThere are two apocalypses, it is probably safe to assume that some important things will arrive in the season finale.
• Reginald Hargreeves is revealed to be an alien in one of the first panels of the Umbrella Academy comics – but aside from a strange flashback scene involving missiles towards the end of the first season, the TV show was far more evasive about its true identity. Now that it’s finally outdoors, I hope a third season will reach Reginald’s true goal, which apparently involves the dark side of the moon.
• I suppose it’s a conclusion about Ben and actor Justin H. Min, who has been put on a regular series for Umbrella Academy second season after occasional appearances in the first season. I still think the show could have found more to do for him, but his chat with Klaus was reliably fun, and Min managed to find tension in a dead guy who had a second hit on the experiences he they missed him in life. I will miss you if Umbrella Academy returns for the third season.
• Stuck in an aquarium on the handler’s desk, A.J. Carmichael tries to deal a decisive blow by bringing Lila to a dossier that reveals that the death of her parents was a murder ordered by the Commission. Unfortunately, Lila fails to realize that the handler played a key role in the decision, blaming Carmichael (whose name was used to stamp the order) and Five (who executed the shot).
• The Handler ends up swallowing Carmichael, which looks like an unfortunate ending for a character who has been presented with so much panache. Maybe he can find a way to take revenge from within?
• I’m glad Vanya has returned to normal, but won’t the FBI still be angry at all those dead agents?
• Aside from a (nice goal) conversation about how gross the whole thing has been, we haven’t really seen anything about Luther and Allison will / won’t do it in season two. I wonder if the show’s creative team saw the criticism after the first season and adapted the course accordingly.
• If you’re going to do a Five vs Five fight scene, I suppose setting everything to “Dancing With Myself” is practically irresistible.
• Five “I can do it all day” looks like a nod to Captain America, who also ended up fighting himself through time travel in Avengers: Endgame.
• There is an extremely short shot of a boy with a Bell & Howell-style video camera passing the JFK procession, which may be a nod to the notorious Zapruder film.
• Klaus to Diego: “You look like Antonio Banderas with long hair.” Five to Luther: “You look like King Kong and Hitler Youth had a baby.”
• Any guesses about what Ben whispered to Vanja before disappearing?