In Review: Umbrella Academy – Season 2

"sticking together for the greater good only through gritted teeth and a fragile tension"

Synopsis:  Season 2 is finally here! Following on from season one’s dramatic climax, the gang escaped the Apocalypse that Vanya  caused. However, due to Five not really being able to control his time travel ability (a power in progress, by the looks of things), they all ended up at different points in early 1960s Dallas. Five already knows that things don’t end well for them, there. Having escaped one Apocalypse, they now need to prevent another one, brought about by a different set of circumstances. First, they need to locate one another.  A mixture of the familiar, the new and some intense, explosive surprises ensure it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Buckle in and get ready for Sci-Fi Pulse’s comprehensive review . . .

 

Story

Straight off, the stall’s laid out. The standard “butterfly-effect” is used to create another obstacle that spans a whole series. That’s what heroes do. They save the world. Countless stories use this trope. It’s how they do it and what happens along the way that matters. The complexity of their relationships, and them often sticking together for the greater good only through gritted teeth and a fragile tension, was clear and expertly penned. The challenge was to find a way to make it work again. Again, sticking to basics is best, in terms of formula. Before they could even get to that stage, they at least had to be together again. Them being scattered provided a great way to get things moving. With enough backstory established in season one, the lives they went on to live were feasible enough, but in-keeping with having to make the best of things being stuck in the wrong decade. Let’s take a look at who got up to what and then discuss how it influenced the overall story . . .

 

Luther (Tom Hopper), arguably “number one”, though Diego (David Castaneda) would likely disagree . . . is working as a hired heavy, and earning a living on the illicit bare-knuckle boxing scene. His employer is Jack Ruby (played by John Kapelos), the man who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s killer. This is a natural fit for Luther, give his brute strength. Also, it shows nuanced understanding of the character, from a writing perspective. Ruby works as a father-figure for him, which is in line with his emotional condition and “daddy issues”.

Meanwhile, Diego is currently incarcerated in a secure unit, having been deemed to be demonstrating behaviours consistent with insanity. We see him in group therapy, which is amusing. It’s there that he meets Lila (Ritu Arya), who is introduced as his love interest. She certainly seems to be a good match for him, and the set up helps to drive the plot forward too, and link this meet up to the story connecting everyone. More on that later . . .

Alison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has wound up working in a beauty salon, after arriving there to seek safety from three white men who were chasing her, shortly after she was dropped off from the vortex, by Five. She still can’t speak, and doesn’t for the first year she’s there. Though early in the series we see her at a later point, when she’s recovered her ability to talk (and crucially, her superpower). She’s married. Good use of non-linear story-telling, a common feature of the show. Alison becomes involved with the Civil Rights Movement, that her husband, Ray (Yusuf Gatewood), is an advocate for and of. This is great representation from the writers, and grounds Alison as a strong inspiration to women and persons of colour. The mixture of both is especially important and is worked in to the story brilliantly, so that it isn’t just an insulting token. It’s a powerful arc,  and great to see.

Klaus (Robert Sheehan). Klaus is just Klaus, wherever he is. That said, he is now sober and has become a guru, in the Timothy Leary sense. More perfect observation by the writers. If ever there was something he’d probably become, it was this! He really captures the early sixties vibe, and in many ways foreshadows the Hippy movement (more counter culture references, so common in stories adapted from comic book worlds). It’s fair to lump him and |Ben ( Justin H. Min) together, as they’re never apart. That said, he comes much more into his own in this series, as the relationship between the two develops further, with some hilarious and also deeply poignant moments, sometimes both at the same time, which is what makes such great viewing.

Vanya (Ellen Page) loses her memory and ends up working as a nanny, on a farm, for a family who have a son, Harlan. Her amnesia allows her to completely absorb herself into her new life. Whilst she can’t remember who she is, it’s made clear that she’ still someone who simply wants to be accepted. Her portrayal of non-vital to proceedings again turns out to be the exact opposite. She slowly grows closer to the boy’s mother, and we learn Vanya isn’t heterosexual, which again makes this show a leader in representation of oppressed groups. What results is a smart, tragic love story and exploration of prejudice, that focuses on the damage such an attitude can have.

 

Of course, Five (Aidan Gallagher) doesn’t need to be in just one place. He’s zipping about, trying to find a way for them all to get home. In many ways, his power is pivotal to everything; but the fact he can’t do it on his own is the real rub. He comes to really realise in this season just how much he needs his family. But until he can help to reunite them, he must rely on conspiracy theorist, Elliott (Kevin Rankin)

Slowly, they all begin to drift towards one another, but are inevitably tripped up first, and kept separate via many well worked hurdles and other stumbling-blocks. Everything is tied together really tightly and neatly, as they eventually regroup, having overcome traps and ploys set by The Handler (Kate Walsh), who of course survived Hazel’s bullet. She was too good a character to kill off. She sends The Swedes, Otto (Jason Bryden), Axel (Kris Holden-Reid) and Oscar (Tom Sinclair)  after individual members of our hero team. They are triplets and act as a unit. Introducing new faces isn’t easy, but they do it with skill and always ensure things are fun, which is vital to this show. With that in mind, The Handler’s rival, A J Carmicheal is a Goldfish in a robotic suit. And it smokes . . .

If all that isn’t enough then there’s the ongoing narrative of who Reginald Hargreaves (Colm Feore) really is. They really are playing the long game here, which is wonderful. It keeps things interesting. He makes an appearance at the end of the season, which sees them all land back in 2019. Predictably, things aren’t quite what they were, brilliantly setting up season 3, which is already going to be hotly anticipated, despite it not even being officially confirmed yet. Surely, that will only be a matter of time.

 

Characters & Acting

The time the gang spent apart influenced how they would interact as a unit, again, when they inevitably were once again drawn together. That was a brilliant concept and allowed the actors to further explore aspects of the characters. There’s even a moment where Klaus says “are we all sexier”, and virtually breaks the fourth wall, talking to the viewers. The chemistry between the actors is what makes the show so good to watch, and the individual aspects of their relationships. Watching, you clearly see they have missed one another, even if that (sometimes, especially so) includes them infuriating one another.

Ritu Arya had the difficult task of entering into a tight-knit unit of a task, who established themselves so well in season one as the number one ensemble out there, at the moment. Her portrayal of Lila was always going to be difficult and potentially upset the apple cart. What she did well was to play on the conflict of the character, and really show just how damaged she is, and why. Her relationship with The Handler kept the theme of parental failure, and heavily relied on her to make that clear. She did a great job and drew on the darkness within her to let viewers discover whether she is ultimately a hero or a villain. Arya must have known that the character was going through the process of discovering that, herself, and so made sure that came through. She’s a welcome edition and should fit in well in the future. Holding her own in scenes with David Castaneda proved that.

Aidan Gallagher has to get the special mention. It’s incredibly hard to believe that he’s only sixteen. It just doesn’t seem possible. He’s amongst many experienced actors, but so often surpasses them all, even the incredible Robert Sheehan. How a sixteen-year-old manages to behave as if he’s much, much older, is really nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps it’s unfair to say that he holds the show together, as the others are all brilliant in their own ways, but the show simply wouldn’t work without him. If any of them were to leave or be replaced, it would be hard to think about how things would work; if Five was absent, it just wouldn’t be the same show.

Ben (Justin H. Min) manages to become more of a presence in his own right, in this season. It really comes clear just how much Klaus relies on having Ben, and their constant bickering and bitching is expanded upon. As Klaus finds Dave, before he joins the Army, Ben becomes genuinely concerned for him. It makes for some great characterisation expansion, for both roles, and helps to understand their motivations and mindsets. Ben’s place with the group is vital, and often shown via his absence; that changes late in the season and viewers really see how much he loves his family. The shared painful memory of his death by the group is a big part of what binds them all, but especially Klaus, as it’s revealed that much of Klaus’s inner anguish stems from guilt, from a conversation he had with Ben, shortly after he died. The version of him we’ll see in the next season should prove interesting and allow Min to let another side to Ben show.

Group dynamics can be tricky when their characters are all so strong-willed and often compete for the limelight. This is what defines the group, though, and the show, too in many ways. The difficulty is pronounced and made to work by there being arguments, fights and then them being resolved. Stand out moments of this season have to include the dance scene with Klaus, Allison, and Vanya, just for the sheer joy of it and outstanding choreography. Luther and Diego finally stop their constant battle for the top spot in their “team zero” approach, which proves that whilst it may be hard, they always do better as a unit. At least in the end. Five’s fight with his older self (Sean Sullivan – worthy of an accolade of his own) is also a highlight. These are just some. There are a great many, and the cast, both as individuals and a group, make for one of the best shows in recent years. They’re talented, smart actors and capable of humour and seriousness, which makes for a great mix of drama and comedy.

 

CGI & Action

The superpowers shown in this series are much more than just plot-devices. The writers know that, and so they make sure that the sequences that use them show this, and add to the characters and the story, too. One example is Luther using his own power against himself. He knows that his strength makes him capable of taking extreme punishment, that would potentially kill others subjected to it. When he finds out that Allison is married to Ray, he encourages the opponent he is fighting to hurt him. He wants to feel the physical version of what he’s experiencing within. This type of scene makes for much better writing than gung-ho heroics.

Allison has long had a difficult relationship with her powers, and this season we see her really come to terms with having the burden of them. She gets to the point of having to use them, to save her husband’s life. The element of them being a “curse and blessing” is blatantly apparent. She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Once she does begin to use them again, they start to become seductive and her reluctance to use them is again understood. During her protest at the Diner that says Whites Only, her dark side comes out, as she begins to enjoy the racist proprietor burning himself with scolding coffee. Further evidence of every scene being considered and not just thrown in for entertainment purposes.

On a general note, the effects look slick, and it’s obvious the show producers haven’t scrimped on them, and the team responsible have done all they can to bring the world show in the comics to life, on the small screen. Particularly impressive are the fight scenes, that always exist between brutal and cool. They’re made with just enough held back to stop it from being a gratuitous blood bath, but still let viewers know that these are serious battles, with very dangerous consequences at risk (like Diego getting stabbed).

The series finale arrived via an epic battle, that was very well executed. The sudden appearance of hundreds of assassins really upped the ante, and seemed to turn the tide on the gang. As if that wasn’t enough, the rematch (they’d battled earlier in the season and Five had bested her) between Five and Lila (as her powers are revealed), made things even more tense and exciting. Then, The Handler seemed to have the final say, arriving with a machine gun and shooting all of them, before Five again saved the day at the last minute. Viewers got to see him rewind time for the first time, having taken his father’s advice from earlier in the season. It looked good, and incorporated the blue energy field of the time-travel vortexes, giving it an “illustrated” feel.

Overall & Incidental Music

 

Building on the first season was always going to be what this season was about. No matter how good, the initial whirlwind that was achieved couldn’t be replicated; though, season two did brings its own breaths of fresh air, in clever ways that added to characters’ histories, gave the story arc multiple, interweaved elements, but kept the all-important themes of the show. Personal growth, through adversity, via flawed individuals trying to become more than the series of regrets their lives have embodied. Toxic parenting and the immeasurable damage inflicted on the children, as a result. Addiction, self-loathing, and as a result deep-running loneliness and depression. This is why the show works, and are the true superpowers of it. Viewers can relate to so much, their own experiences growing up and the parts of themselves they’ve brought into adulthood; their fears and insecurities and neuroses.

The music on the show could have its own review. It’s a massive element and is used so well to capture mood and theme. The aforementioned scene that sees Klaus, Vanya, and Allison “Twisting the Night Away”, to Sam Cooke’s classic is but one example. It worked particularly well because of the setting of the 60s, too, and the costume element. They know exactly what to put in and when to put it in; who to have done what at each scene and how they should do it. Absolute gold. There could be much, much more said about the music in the show. Those who know, know . . . those who don’t and haven’t seen any of The Umbrella Academy will be the envy of the millions of avid viewers, who would love to watch and listen to the show all over again. It’s that good. The show has still only scratched the surface, by the looks of how it was left, so we can expect more antics, more music and more information on who exactly Reginald Hargreaves is. We await confirmation on season 3. Eagerly. Desperately. Hurry up and make it. With the world in chaos and that not looking to change in the immediate future, we need to know there’s more coming! There’s nothing quite like it.

 

9.5
Umbrella Academy Season Two Review
  • Story
    9.4
  • Acting
    9.6
  • CGI&Action
    9.2
  • Incidental Music
    9.7
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