The Umbrella Academy is expanding its scope and the size of its ensemble cast heading into the beloved Netflix series’ third season. In a surprise announcement that fans have been waiting on for several months, Netflix revealed the identities of the six mysterious new characters we glimpsed in the second season’s cliffhanger finale, as well as the actors who will take on these roles. And yes, one of them is in fact a literal glowing cube.
These six new characters (plus a returning star) will make up The Sparrow Academy, the alternate-reality nemesis to The Umbrella Academy that we’ve followed through the series’ first two seasons. While The Umbrella Academy fell apart due to infighting and trauma, The Sparrow Academy is still fully operational and nearly perfect in every way: a highly-elite family unit headed by the same tyrannical father figure whose abusive parenting methods caused The Umbrella Academy to break apart. The Umbrella Academy unintentionally brought them into existence in season two, meddling with the timeline enough that Reginald Hargreeves, their eccentric alien adoptive dad, chose not to adopt them when he was supposed to…but instead selected seven other children to become his superhero bodyguards and accomplish his ultimate goal (which is still shrouded in mystery); children he apparently perceived as being more extraordinary than his earlier, failed, experiments.
One of these children is Ben (played by Justin H. Min), the one member of The Umbrella Academy whom Reginald Hargreeves didn’t meet in the 1960’s and thus didn’t have any reason to strike off his list. But The Sparrow Academy’s Ben is nothing like his past self: Deadline describes him as “a Machiavellian tactician…Vicious, pragmatic, and hyper-vigilant”. Ben is second-in-command to The Sparrow Academy’s leader, Marcus, and is “determined to gain his status as the leader at all costs”. That parallels the power dynamic between The Umbrella Academy’s leader, Luther, and second-in-command, Diego; but I have a feeling Ben will go to much greater lengths to establish himself as this Academy’s commander than Diego ever did, and will likely be season three’s primary antagonist. My wild guess: he’ll probably be Reginald’s favorite child right up until the point someone tells ol’ Reggy that Ben is actually another straggler from The Umbrella Academy, at which point Reginald will reject him and send him down a path to villainy.
Marcus, The Sparrow Academy’s leader, will be played by Justin Cornwell – who just recently appeared in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, where he flaunted his vocal talents performing “This Day”. There’s no word on whether he’ll do any singing in this role, but Deadline describes him as “Honest, virtuous, and demanding”, noting that his innate leadership qualities help him keep the family together. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of The Umbrella Academy’s leader, Luther, under whose administration the Academy fell apart completely. Marcus is presumably also superpowered, but the only hint about his powers is that he’s a “colossus” (again, like Luther), and that he’s “Graceful but lethal” (unlike Luther).
Number three, our Allison parallel, is a character named Fei, played by Britne Oldford of Hunters. The description of her is pretty vague: she “sees the world in a special way”, which could be a reference to whatever her powers are. A portrait in duality, she “comes across as a misanthrope” yet secretly yearns for companionship. She’s “the smartest person in the room”, but hinted to be vengeful. She’s also the least like her Umbrella Academy counterpart, perhaps intentionally.
Alphonso, The Sparrow Academy’s fourth team-member, played by Jake Epstein from Designated Survivor and Suits, seems a lot like Diego on the surface: a battle-hardened crime-fighter covered in scars, who verbally berates his enemies. But like The Umbrella Academy’s number four, Klaus, he compensates for his years of trauma with humor. Klaus also compensates with drugs and excessive partying, whereas Alphonso’s addiction appears to be food: there’s a single, strangely specific reference to him loving “a good pizza and a six-pack of beer” more than anything else in the world. Maybe Alphonso’s superpower somehow relates to eating, or maybe he just really loves pizza and beer in the same way Hazel loved donuts back in season one. Maybe this is totally insignificant. Either way, the fandom has already decided that, like Klaus, Alphonso should also be LGBTQ+ and preferably coupled with headcanon bisexual Diego (assuming the two aren’t related, which is always a possibility with this show).
Number five, the counterpart to…Number Five, is a mysterious young woman named Sloane. Genesis Rodriguez, star of Big Hero 6, She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, and The Fugitive, is attached to play Sloane, making her arguably the series’ biggest new cast-member and suggesting that Sloane has an important role to play. The character is described as “a romantic and a dreamer who feels a higher cosmic calling” that leaves her divided between her “obligations to her family” and her desire “to see the world and experience a life beyond her upbringing”. This air of youthful innocence and naivete would serve as an effective counterbalance to Five, who is already world-weary and grizzled by the age of sixteen. But what is a cosmic calling, and how do divine powers fit into The Umbrella Academy’s universe?
Cazzie David, whose better known for her work as a writer and magazine contributor than as an actress, will play a character named Jayme – the team’s number six, filling the role that Ben would usually fill if he weren’t this Academy’s number two. Jayme is a hoodie-wearing loner with a “fear-inducing snarl”. Like The Umbrella Academy’s Ben, her strongest connection is with her team’s number four, Alphonso, described as “her only friend”.
And finally, we have an unexpected newcomer to the Hollywood scene! Existential Dread Inducing Psykronium Cube will play Christopher the Cube, a floating, sentient, “telekinetic cube of unknown origins”, who uses he/him pronouns and has multiple powers, including the power to lower the temperature in a room to subzero, ignite “paralyzing fear” in the hearts of his enemies, and see into the future. Despite being an incredibly dangerous cube, the Sparrows treat him “like any other sibling”…making him the clear parallel to Vanya Hargreeves, whose biggest characteristic is that she’s constantly pushed away, shunned, and betrayed by her family because of her destructive powers. Expect these two to share scenes, and for them to share a connection somehow.
In fact, expect all these characters to share connections with their counterparts that will slowly be revealed. Although I assume we’ll see the two Academies go to war with each other in season three, I strongly feel we’ll also be treated to some much-needed downtime first – with the two families intermingling and having their loyalties tested as they make new friends and new enemies.
So what do you think? Which Sparrow Academy member are you most excited to see in action? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Netflix’s business strategy when it comes to streaming series’ has become infamous for a reason: it’s well-documented how the the service favors first seasons, which draw in lots of new subscribers at once, rather than big, multi-season commitments, which (at least according to Netflix) tend to see dwindling returns over time. Entire fandoms have had to wait in anxious impatience for multi-season orders and renewals, every show’s necessary next step towards enduring success. It doesn’t always happen, and that’s why we end up with fan campaigns to save The OA, or Anne With An E, or Sense8 (the latter of which got a very hasty movie finale tying up everything as best as it possibly could under the circumstances). In a cruel twist of fate, these fan campaigns often last longer than the shows themselves. Thankfully, we won’t have to plead with Netflix to save The Umbrella Academy – the series has officially been renewed for a third season consisting of ten more hour-long episodes, and will resume filming in February of next year.
You don’t even have to worry about a catch, because as of yet there isn’t one. Unlike Netflix’s Lost In Space, which will end with its third season, The Umbrella Academy is poised to continue far into the future. It’s encouraging for those of us who love this series and can’t wait to see what happens next, but there’s no doubt this announcement still feels bittersweet considering all the other great shows that Netflix has canceled after just one or two seasons, particularly this year as they’ve had to prioritize more than ever before (I didn’t even get to finish watching Away before they canceled it, and now I don’t know if I actually want to, if it’s some sort of permanently unresolved cliffhanger that’s in store for me).
Anyway, now that I’ve depressed you and myself by bringing up bad memories of shows that ended too soon, let’s celebrate The Umbrella Academy‘s renewal! As one would expect, all the main, superpowered cast will return: Elliot Page as the violinist of the apocalypse, Vanya; Aidan Gallagher as time-traveling super-genius, Five; Robert Sheehan as the necromancer turned cult leader, Klaus; Emmy Raver-Lampman as the lethal gossip, Allison; David Castañeda as the team’s knife-thrower and apparent telekinetic, Diego; and Tom Hopper as the most controversial character in the fandom, Luther. In the closing moments of the season two finale, they had all just escaped from the alternate 1963 in which they nearly started World War III, and had landed in a new, alternate version of the year 2019, their original start date – one which seems to have come about as a direct result of their accidental meddling in the 60’s. In this new timeline, the Umbrella Academy never existed, but its founder, Reginald Hargreeves, did set up a new organization called the Sparrow Academy, which has a new line-up and shadowy new motives – Colm Feore, who plays Reginald, will reprise his role as the Academy’s homicidal father figure.
Ritu Arya is confirmed to be returning as Lila, the Handler’s semi-villainous daughter, who was revealed to be another superpowered being in the season two finale, though her power is literally being able to steal the powers of her opponents. The last we saw of her, she was escaping to some completely different timeline with the help of a briefcase, after being betrayed and temporarily murdered by her mother in a shoot-out. And yes, I’m aware of how confusing that last sentence probably is to anybody who hasn’t watched the show.
Justin H. Min will also return; but not as Ben, the lovable, socially awkward ghost he played throughout most of seasons one and two. Near the end of season two, Ben sacrificed himself to save his sister Vanya, and finally entered the light at the end of the tunnel, something he had been putting off for years. But while it was heartbreaking and we all cried, it wasn’t the end of Min’s time on the show…because Ben is back, with a twist. The Sparrow Academy set up in this new, alternate 2019 features a very different version of Ben as its leader and most high-ranking student – and the suspicion is that this Ben, with his goth haircut and menacing attitude, probably isn’t quite as nice as the old Ben. He’ll most likely be trying to kill his time-displaced siblings throughout season three, with the help of the primordial, tentacled monster that dwells in his chest cavity (which functions as a portal to the netherworld, in case you were wondering about the logistics of how everything works in a show that stars talking monkeys, shapeshifting aliens, and sentient green cubes). On the flip-side, at least this means Justin H. Min gets more screentime, and actually gets to interact with all the other characters!
It’s still too early for me to make any further predictions about season three, though there are plenty of theories out there. As of right now, I just have a very disorganized wish-list of things I want to see in the show’s near future, which includes things like Vanya leading the Umbrella Academy into battle as a team (or just, like, being respected by the rest of her family and treated as an equal, and not getting beaten up, suffocated, or imprisoned), or Diego coming out as bisexual (one of the more popular fan campaigns in the wake of season two, and The Umbrella Academy listened to fan demand for lesbian Vanya after season one, so don’t write this off), or Luther dying (heroically on the Moon, of course, to tie up his character arc). Just, you know, stuff. No grandiose, over-arching theories about how everything fits into place, or at least not yet.
But what about you? What do you hope to see happen in season three of The Umbrella Academy? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY SEASONS 1 & 2 AHEAD!
By the end of the weekend, almost everyone who intends to watch the second season of The Umbrella Academy will have binged all ten hours on Netflix: but for those of us who simply couldn’t wait and/or spread out our viewing across multiple days and who are now probably wishing they could travel into a future where season three is already out, here’s what I hope will be a comprehensive and detailed breakdown of every major twist and turn in season two of the mega-popular superhero series – with a special focus on those developments which will probably impact the series’ third season (if it’s renewed, but I think it’s a given that it will be). Not everything was left crystal clear after the season finale’s closing credits, and a bunch of burning questions were left unanswered. Characters were once again scattered across time and space…and some had even died. There’s a lot to go over, so settle in.
Let’s start from the beginning. There’s a massive spoiler in the first couple of minutes. Soon after Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) teleports his family out of an apocalypse in 2019 (a.k.a. everything that went down in the season one finale), he finds himself trapped in another one in 1963 – this time a nuclear apocalypse caused by the Soviet Union invading the United States and littering the country with atom bombs. Not only that, but the rest of his family have all been scattered throughout the early 1960’s; though each one arrived at the exact same location, in a back alley in downtown Dallas. Texas. Before Five can be obliterated in the cataclysm, he is rescued by Hazel (Cameron Britton), the sweet, lovable assassin sent by the Commission to kill Five in season one. Hazel, now an old man, takes Five back in time just ten days and instructs him to find the other members of the Umbrella Academy and unite them against the forces of evil. In the exceedingly brief time that Hazel is onscreen, he has time to inform Five that he lived out a full and happy life with his girlfriend Agnes before she succumbed to cancer – and almost immediately after that, Hazel himself gets violently murdered by the Commission’s newest agents, a trio of white-haired, Swedish gunmen. It’s a shocking one-two gutpunch that instantly raises the stakes for the rest of the season and reminds us that no one, not even the fan favorites, are invulnerable to a cruel writer’s whims.
Although it forms the crux of the second season’s plot, the nuclear apocalypse that Hazel warned about is actually dealt with prior to the finale. To nobody’s surprise, the key to the whole mess is once again Vanya Hargreeves (Elliot Page), who starts out the season suffering from amnesia after being hit by a car: since she’s unable to remember anything about her world-destroying superpowers or the harm that her siblings did to her, it seems for a hot minute like she might just get to be happy and carefree – but of course, it just wouldn’t be The Umbrella Academy unless Vanya was having every ounce of joy ripped away from her at all times. Before the end of the season, she relearns everything about herself and unleashes her powers on a group of cops, leading to her being arrested and placed in the FBI’s custody. Due to the horrible misfortune of having a Russian name, Vanya is suspected of being a KGB spy placed in Dallas to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. She gets tortured, but proves to be too strong for the FBI to contain – with her mind straining under pressure and her emotional state already fragile, it doesn’t take long before her sonic powers incinerate her guards and she starts blowing up buildings.
But this time, thankfully, Luther (Tom Hopper) isn’t around to make matters worse by trying to run headfirst at her, yelling. This time it’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Diego (David Castañeda), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and Klaus’ ghostly traveling companion and deceased Umbrella Academy member Ben (Justin H. Min) who are there to try and save their sister and the world – and they actually do a good job. Diego, Allison and Klaus, to be fair, all get knocked out, but it’s Ben, taking a corporeal form with Klaus’ help, who manages to walk effortlessly through Vanya’s shield of shockwaves and possess her: a talent that Ben only began to learn about earlier in the season after accidentally (and later intentionally) doing it to Klaus. Ben is able to possess Vanya’s body long enough to bring her back, but it comes at a high cost.
Ben is a ghost, but it turns out that he’s also not officially dead yet, having never entered the literal “light at the end of the tunnel”. This explains why he’s still able to take a physical form and sometimes even interact with other characters. Klaus is led to believe that the reason for this is because of something he told Ben years earlier, at the latter’s funeral, but Ben reveals to Vanya while inside her head that it was never that: it was because Ben was too scared to leave his family behind entirely. But by entering Vanya’s head and possessing her body, Ben uses up all his energy, sacrificing himself to save her. He and Vanya have a touching final conversation before Ben drifts away, with Vanya hugging him so that he won’t have to die alone.
But despite how climactic all that may sound, that’s actually not the finale. President Kennedy still gets shot, and the government still puts out bounties for the arrest of Vanya and the rest of the Hargreeves family, but the Umbrella Academy has bigger problems to worry about. Vanya realizes through visions that she needs to return to the farm outside of Dallas where she had been living with her lover, a woman named Sissy (Marin Ireland), and Sissy’s son, Harlan, who accidentally received a portion of Vanya’s powers and has become a swirling tornado of unstoppable energy. In what I feel might just be the most emotional scene in the entire series, Vanya at first starts driving off toward Sissy’s farm alone, but is stopped when Klaus suddenly jumps into the passenger’s seat. He is followed by Allison and Diego, and, soon after, Five, who tells Vanya that she owes him one now. Even Luther clambers into the trunk. The family, finally united, heads to the farm to take on the new threat.
But when they get there, they don’t just find Harlan and his mom stuck in the barn while snow and lightning whips around them. They are also greeted by none other than The Handler (Kate Walsh), who had returned earlier in the season (she didn’t actually die when Hazel shot her in the season one finale: a steel plate installed in her skull saved her from his bullet). Now in charge of the Commission and intent on slaughtering the Umbrella Academy, The Handler brings with her an entire army of the Commission’s time-traveling assassins – every last one, in fact. Also alongside her is her adoptive daughter, the mysterious woman named Lila (Ritu Arya), whose short, tempestuous romance with Diego (before he knew she was a Commission agent) ended with Lila promising to murder him, if only to please her mother. The Handler’s army sweeps across Sissy’s farm, but it’s Vanya who actually averts a catastrophe this time by using her powers to fly over the battlefield and send a massive shockwave hurtling back towards The Handler. All of the Commission army are killed in the blast, but The Handler and Lila somehow survive, thanks to a force-field bubble around them. A force-field bubble which looks identical to Vanya’s own powers.
As the Umbrella Academy watches in horror, Lila herself takes to the air, absorbing Vanya’s powers and sending them straight back at her. Vanya tumbles from the sky, crashing into the side of Sissy’s barn. But Lila isn’t done yet – she hunts down every member of the team (well, except for Klaus and Diego), and proceeds to mimic their own powers: she sends Luther hurtling through a brick wall with super strength; she persuades Allison to stop breathing (Allison is only rescued by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from Luther); she even fights Five, blinking in and out of portals and nearly defeating him – but Five stops her in her tracks by revealing a terrible truth: The Handler never loved her. She’s always been using Lila. In fact, she gave the order to kill Lila’s parents so she could pretend to swoop in and rescue the orphaned child. Why? Because Lila’s powers of imitation prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is one of the other thirty-eight superpowered children born on the 1st of October, 1989, and The Handler has been manipulating that power for Lila’s entire life.
But here’s the real shocker. Just as Lila begins to realize that Five is telling the truth, as her eyes well up with tears of emotion, as the rest of the Umbrella Academy joins her and offers to take her in as family – The Handler enters with a machine gun and mows down the entire Academy. Only Five survives the initial attack, and is able to watch, dumbfounded, as The Handler goes on to murder Lila before herself being murdered by the last of the three Swedes, who rightfully blames her for the death of his brothers. Just before the Swede can shoot Five dead, Five remembers something he learned from his father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), earlier in the season when they sat down for a light supper – that time travel can be a matter of seconds rather than years or decades. Five is thus able to rewind time to the moment right before The Handler entered, and snatches her weapon. A lot of things happen very quickly: Lila angrily confronts her mother, asking for the truth, but The Handler is shot by the Swede before she can respond. Lila, enraged, grabs her mother’s time-traveling briefcase and escapes. After a tense staring contest, the Swede and Five both put down their guns and the Swede leaves.
Despite how much death and destruction there is, the final battle ends on a happy note, with Vanya rescuing Harlan and Sissy, and The Commission, now in chaos, electing sweet, innocent Herb (Ken Hall) to run the organization. Herb, who became a close friend of Diego’s during the latter half of the season, shows up to inform the Umbrella Academy of the good news and seems to indicate that The Commission will even be an ally of the Academy’s going forward. I expect The Commission to still play a large part in the storyline, but I wonder whether they’ll ever again return to villainous practices, or whether Herb’s leadership will improve the place exponentially.
With the battle over and 1963 saved, it’s time for The Umbrella Academy to pack up and return to their own timeline. We watch as each member of the team says their goodbyes to the people they met and became close to in the 60’s – Allison is spared having to do so in person, but she leaves an emotional farewell letter for her husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood). I hope Allison and Raymond will be able to see each other again at some point. Their marriage was fraught with trust issues, but both characters were willing to do everything in their power to make it work, and they weren’t siblings, which was a big step up from season one Allison.
Thankfully, Allison’s relationship with her brother Luther is pretty much over by the end of the season, though there are still hints that it could continue into season three. Luther still yearns for her and is clearly upset that she got married to someone else, and his mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is a bit too enthusiastic, if you ask me. But where one incestuous relationship on this series ends, another one begins. Diego and Lila’s romance is suddenly very disturbing in hindsight, and even Diego realizes that – though that doesn’t stop him from confessing his love to her just a few minutes after learning that she is, in fact, somehow related to him. That’s one of the major problems with having a show that focuses so heavily on family: romantic options are limited.
However, that’s not a valid excuse, because somehow Vanya was able to do the unthinkable and form a close, romantic bond with a person outside the Hargreeves family unit. Her slow burn relationship with Sissy is the second season’s beating heart – she gets to finally enjoy the company of someone who actually loves her for who she is and isn’t just trying to play on her emotions and weaponize her powers, and that love (as well as the responsibility of having to care for Sissy’s autistic son in an era before the condition was fully understood) proves vital for her character development. Unfortunately, the couple go through some hard times, with everyone around them trying to pull them apart, send them to pastors for spiritual guidance, or imprison them. They end up mutually parting ways at the end of the season, despite how hard Vanya begs for Sissy to accompany her into the future. Sissy tells Vanya that if she ever finds a safe way back to her, that she’ll be waiting – which gives me hope we’ll see her again. We’ll definitely see her son again, since it’s shown that he still has a little bit of Vanya’s powers left in him.
Klaus is also able to reunite with the love of his life, a man named Dave (Calem MacDonald) he met via time travel in season one, though his attempt to stop Dave from enlisting in the army (an action which will later result in Dave’s death in the Vietnam War) only results in Dave doing so even sooner. Near the end of the finale, we see Dave boarding a military bus, but looking back over his shoulder – is he regretting his decision? Could we possibly see him again? If we do, I hope it will be with the actor from season one: Dave in season two seems to be in his late teens, which would make any actual romance between him and Klaus slightly uncomfortable.
Speaking of Klaus, the free-loving, groovy cult he leaves behind ends up recruiting an unexpected new member in the finale – the third Swede, who sighs deeply before boarding their flowery double-decker bus and riding off into the sunset.
But the Umbrella Academy themselves aren’t going to be able to ride off into the sunset just yet – after giving Klaus a moment to steal one of Sissy’s cowboy hats, the entire team teleports again, this time as a group and to the future. The date of their arrival is April 2nd, 2019: the day after the original apocalypse. The Academy mansion is still standing, the world is not destroyed, and it almost looks like everything is alright. But it’s not. Because somehow, Five seems to have made another mistake in his calculations: they’ve landed in a different timeline entirely. One in which Reginald Hargreeves himself is still alive, and is the headmaster of a new, Sparrow Academy with its own team of superheroes. And this team’s Number One is a scarred, floppy-haired alternate version of Ben Hargreeves.
The impression I’m under is that this timeline is some sort of parallel universe. Something that the Umbrella Academy did in 1963 must have caused Reginald to start a very different kind of Academy: by the looks of it, an ultra successful one that hasn’t been divided by infighting over their years of service. I’m already prepared to hate them all, and their smug, entitled attitudes. But there’s another interesting thing about the possibility of an alternate timeline – in this timeline, who else is still alive? Could we see Eudora Patch, Diego’s former girlfriend, return? Is Allison’s daughter Claire even alive? Does Harold Jenkins still bear a hatred for this version of the Academy? And most importantly, are our six protagonists going to meet themselves in this timeline?
Then there’s the question of who Reginald is. Late in the season, it’s revealed that Reginald is an alien (something that was already suspected) when he pulls off his face and reveals his true, reptilian form. Unfortunately, we only get a little glimpse of this, so we’ll have to wait until season three to find out what he really looks like beneath his human disguise. Whatever he is and wherever he’s from, I assume it has something to do with his secret operations on the Moon – throughout season two, he’s busy working with the real-life Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), who seems to have been a scientist specializing in animal behavior and Reginald’s girlfriend before she was the Umbrella Academy’s robotic mom. Pogo, the humanoid chimpanzee who acted as Reginald’s right hand man in season one, is also revealed to have been Grace and Reginald’s pet project: for some reason, the couple were training him to fly rockets to, you guessed it, the Moon. Something is going on up there, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think Luther may have been right all along: the Moon and the history of the Umbrella Academy are intrinsically linked.
But don’t expect the moon to cause another apocalypse in season three. Showrunner Steve Blackman has already revealed that he plans to move away from end-of-the-world storylines in the third season, which makes me suspect that the Umbrella Academy will have to face off against a more physical enemy – the Sparrow Academy.
In this confrontation, I fully expect Vanya Hargreeves to take the lead. Although Luther is still technically the Umbrella Academy’s leader, he has become a lot less arrogant and defensive about his position over the course of season two, whereas Vanya has grown from being shy and diminutive to being a confident, capable heroine. As the team’s most powerful member and the character voted most likely to rip Reginald Hargreeves limb from limb, it makes sense to establish her as the opposition to him and his rival Academy.
So what did you think of The Umbrella Academy season two, and what do you expect will happen next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was, no questions asked, an exhilarating and entertaining ten hours of twists, turns and time travel. But the second season, which picks up mere moments after the season one finale and finds the seven members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family split up throughout the 1960’s, takes the series to a whole new high: The Umbrella Academy elevates all the best elements of the first season, arriving at a delicate yet necessary balance between goofy, comic-booky fun and epic, emotional drama, while simultaneously working to revise or improve parts of the story that were heavily criticized, such as pacing issues and certain problematic character beats (ahem, romanticized incest).
When the season opened (turns out, the clip released by Netflix a few days ago and advertised as the first scene isn’t quite the first), I enjoyed a raw moment of catharsis because it felt so wonderful to be back, spending more time with these characters – each and every one of whom, with the obvious exception of Luther (Tom Hopper), is truly delightful. They’re each so unique, so independent, and so beautifully messed up. Their family dynamic is what makes the series click. And they thrive both on their own and as a team – which stands in contrast to season one, where many of their individual subplots felt meandering or aimless compared to the few and far between team-up moments. In season two, each member of the Umbrella Academy is going after their destiny with purpose and determination, making them each more compelling and significantly more dangerous, as their agendas clash repeatedly.
Once again kicking off the events of the season, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) is, in my opinion, the most fascinating of our seven antiheroes: having successfully teleported the Umbrella Academy out of reach of the apocalypse at the end of season one, Five quickly realizes, with a little help from Hazel (Cameron Britton), that the end of the world is going to follow the Academy wherever or whenever they go. This time, it’s not Vanya Hargreeves with the white violin in the theater – it’s an impending Soviet invasion sparked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Much like in season one, Five takes the initiative – hunting for clues across the timeline, doing his best to find his family and unite them, and colliding violently with the bureaucratic Commission – but this time around, he seems more personally invested in the fate of the world, and we watch as his frigid facade begins to crack under pressure and he has to resort to more uncharacteristic methods: for instance, hand-to-hand combat. We finally get to see the once-legendary killer in action, and his fight scenes (and there are several!) are well worth the wait.
Second to Five but not far behind him is Vanya (Elliot Page), who has had a massive character overhaul since the season one finale. It’s hard to say too much without risking spoilers, but Vanya isn’t quite the same person she was when she blew up the moon and destroyed the world with her supersonic abilities. In fact, she’s actually kind of…happier? If I had to criticize, I’d even say she’s a bit too calm about everything that happened. That being said, while her portrayal in this season starts out a bit weak, by the finale she’s fully come into her own and is rocking a new personality and some cool new powers that I definitely can’t talk about. What’s not a spoiler is that Elliot Page gets to dance again this season, and Vanya actually has moves! Still a little awkward, but a definite improvement from the…disjointed shoulder shuffle.
Speaking of dancing, we have to go off-topic for a moment and talk about the soundtrack. I have my suspicions that it won’t be as instantly iconic as season one’s, which gave the series a reputation for setting all sorts of scenes to absolutely random yet brilliant songs, but there’s still a lot of hits. A lot. I want to highlight Daniela Andrade’s “Crazy” and Boney M.’s “Sunny”, which plays over an unforgettable Klaus (Robert Sheehan) scene.
Back on topic, just like that. Klaus and his ghostly companion Ben (Justin H. Min) arrive in the decade before any of their siblings and have the most time to ease seamlessly into the 60’s. Klaus, predictably, gets entangled with a cult and somehow becomes their leader and nonsensical prophet, a duty with many perks which he later regrets as the cult starts following him obsessively around Dallas. But the zaniest Umbrella Academy member isn’t just there for comedic relief and drug-fueled, psychedelic hijinks; he also nails every dramatic character beat he gets. Ben does too, but all of Ben’s best scenes count as spoilers.
Then there’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), whose relationship with Vanya was arguably the thematic core of season one. She’s just as much in the spotlight here, leading an entire Black community into the civil rights campaign alongside her new husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood), who is thankfully not her brother – no matter how many times Allison might claim that she and Luther aren’t “technically” related, I’m with Klaus on this one: once you have to use the word “technically”, there’s already a problem. But Allison’s biggest issue isn’t her brother anymore: it’s her superpower, which she has to refrain from using, even when it would be so easy to use it to get whatever she wants, from free clothes to equality to vengeance.
Surprisingly, I have to say Luther was my next favorite, but that says more about how little I liked Diego (David Castañeda) this season than it does about any radical improvements from the Umbrella Academy’s emotionally stunted strongman. If there is one highlight in the character’s portrayal, it’s that he’s mostly comedic relief now. And I’m happy to report that the series doesn’t try to excuse or apologize for the fact that he subjected his own sister to permanently damaging physical, mental and emotional abuse: he gets called out several times for his part in causing the apocalypse. I think I may have just enjoyed seeing him get constantly beaten down, walked all over and blatantly ignored whenever he tried to roll out the usual spiel about being the Number One and the leader of the family. Is that mean? I love to hate him: that’s better than just hating him, right?
As for Diego, well, the truly unattractive new hairstyle isn’t the only problem with his character. One of my favorites from season one, he slowly but inevitably sank to the bottom of my list over the course of season two, thanks to being the only character still saddled with a self-inflicted hero complex. What makes Diego tolerable is that whenever he’s onscreen, he’s usually accompanied by his love interest, the enigmatic Lila (Ritu Arya), a fellow patient at the mental hospital where he’s been imprisoned. Lila’s role is crucial to the season and the series going forward, but again those pesky spoilers get in the way of us talking about any of that.
Amongst the rest of the supporting cast, the standouts are Marin Ireland as Sissy – a charming Texan farmwoman who has dreams of making a great escape from her married life – and Colm Feore, who reprises the role of Sir Reginald Hargreeves: but as a younger, even more nefarious version of the character. Viewers won’t learn everything about his history from this season, but they will get some tantalizing glimpses of who he really is, and what his plans for the Umbrella Academy were all along.
This season might seem to initially lack a strong presence from the villains, since the guy from the trailers with the fishbowl head is only in a couple of scenes and the trio of Swedes are mostly annoying obstacles rather than fully developed characters (though if you didn’t enjoy the Swedish rendition of Adele’s “Hello” on the soundtrack, I don’t know what to say to you), but that changes once another character comes on the scene. And the villains show up in full force for the finale, so don’t worry.
The Umbrella Academy season two leaves off with a definite hook for a third season – and since I imagine that this season will be eaten up by audiences, I think we’re going to get that third season as soon as possible. This started out as one of those series’ that I liked but felt a little embarrassed for liking so much: now, I don’t have any hesitation about saying that The Umbrella Academy is a masterpiece. It’s got the cool visuals and the thrilling action you want from a superhero story, but it’s got a lot more than that: it’s got heart, soul, and wit in equal measures, all tied up in one perfect package. That package also comes with a killer soundtrack, meme-worthy humor (Klaus’ parable of the scorpion and the frog being my favorite example), and a whole lot of weirdness – what’s not to love?
Last time we saw the seven misfit super(anti)heroes who make up the Umbrella Academy, they had narrowly escaped the fiery cataclysm that resulted when several chunks of moon shrapnel crashed into the Earth, obliterating the planet and wiping out the rest of the human race. Now they’re back, having traveled through time and space to Dallas in 1963, where (surprise, surprise) they’re once again facing an imminent apocalypse, this time somehow linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But to make matters even worse, the entire team has been split up.
The first trailer for the upcoming second season gives us a good rundown of what’s going on and where our protagonists have ended up: necromancer and drug addict Klaus (Robert Sheehan), unsurprisingly, has landed himself in a psychedelic cult; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has become a lawyer specializing in civil rights, and I can already envision plenty of scenarios in which she uses her mind-control powers to win cases; Luther (Tom Hopper), the team’s muscle-bound strongman, is working as a boxer; Diego (David Castañeda), the guy with all the knives, is stuck in a mental hospital with a new character who appears to be his love interest; Vanya (Elliot Page), the seemingly harmless violinist who caused the apocalypse with her ability to control sound waves, appears to be looking for normalcy in rural Texas, because that makes sense; Ben (Justin Min), the ghost of a former Umbrella Academy member, appears to have broken free from Klaus and is now just sort of chilling; and Five (Aidan Gallagher), time-traveling teenage know-it-all that he is, is trying to round them up all in order to hopefully prevent yet another end of the world scenario.
The trailer promises that the dysfunctional family will be burdened with just as much emotional baggage as they were in the first season – that might seem like an unusual selling-point, but it’s one of the key elements that made the show so wildly popular in the first place. However, there’s another secret weapon that The Umbrella Academy has, and that’s its roster of bizarre yet terrifying villains – and thankfully season two is already setting up a number of those: Swedish vacuum-cleaner salesmen who double as ninja assassins and a Commission bureaucrat with a fishbowl for a head? Count me in! We also get a brief glimpse of season one’s reluctant killer Hazel (Cameron Britton), now reformed and significantly older, helping Five on his mission, which is pretty sweet.
Once again, the CGI budget for the Netflix series looks incredible, and it seems like we’ll be treated to a bunch of epic action scenes utilizing each of the Hargreeves siblings’ superpowers in clever ways. Intentionally or not, however, the focus seems to have shifted away from the characters with special effects-heavy powers like Klaus and Vanya, and more towards Allison and Diego, both of whom, while undeniably very dangerous and effective, don’t require a whole bunch of CGI for every fight sequence. In fact, it’s now become a running joke that Allison tries to use her powers as little as possible. But we’ll see: I have no doubt that, despite not being featured very prominently in the trailer, Vanya will still be accidentally wreaking havoc everywhere she goes.
And of course, even as the family drama moves into new territory, the Hargreeves’ can’t ever escape from the looming shadow of their abusive father-figure, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who appears at the end of the trailer as a somewhat younger gentleman. From the context of the scene, it appears that the Umbrella Academy will have to seek him out for help, possibly (hopefully) so he can finally give them some answers about where they came from, why they have powers, and why he was so obsessed with the moon.
So what do you think of the first Umbrella Academy trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
I feel absurdly late to this party – the first Tales of the City series came out in 1993, and even this 2019 modernized reboot debuted weeks ago: but because it’s still Pride Month and I only just got around to watching the show, I’m going to trust my instincts, just as Anna Madrigal would say, and try to live by the “better late than never” mantra.
Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD! If, like me, you haven’t watched Tales of the City yet (stop judging me), then beware! Back away! Avert your eyes!
And for those of you who finished the series ages ago, come on in! Let’s take a leisurely stroll up to 28 Barbary Lane and discuss what happened in a season full of twists, turns, surprises and shocking secrets. And, near the end of our little conversation here, allow me to explain why I think there should be a sequel.
Firstly, let’s talk in-depth about our main leads, specifically Shawna Hawkins (Elliot Page), Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) and Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett). All of them had some great moments, and some genuinely cringeworthy ones, but only Brian and Mary Ann got to fill out a complete character arc, in my opinion, and that’s why they’re my favorites of the show’s leads – excluding Anna, we’ll get to her later. Brian was honestly my least-favorite after the first episode, where he proved himself to be a hypocritical and jealous lowlife who still held a grudge against his ex-wife Mary Ann, after she left San Francisco twenty years prior to start a business. I could even have understood his point of view, had he not been as aggressive as he was, and so over-zealously protective of his and Mary Ann’s daughter, Shawna. Mary Ann, on the other hand, was sympathetic but incredibly irritating; naive, exuberant, ever optimistic (even when the wheels snapped off her luggage carrier), and perpetually unable to sympathize or even understand anyone else’s opinions. The two characters have romantic tension, but their meeting leads to constant bickering and relentless melodrama – which is only exacerbated when Mary Ann discovers that Shawna doesn’t know she’s adopted. One thing leads to another, and before you know it Brian and Mary Ann are back together. That would have been lame and annoying had not the writers and actors done such a good job of portraying the changes in their characters: somehow, by the last few episodes, I found myself waiting for Brian to make jokes rather than start fights (and make jokes he did, providing some of the best comic relief).
Michael Tolliver, the more-than-slightly stereotypical “gay best friend”, takes up a lot of screentime but does basically nothing to move the plot forward, making his story something of a chore to get through. The episodes around the midpoint of the show try especially hard to focus on him for no reason whatsoever, probably only because the last part of the show barely even touches on his subplot. The series’ focus was far too wide in scope, as I mentioned in my non-spoiler review: with two main plots already going on, the subplots generally suffered from a lack of purpose. Tolliver was the most notable example since his story, unlike that of Jake and Margot (more on them later), didn’t even really touch on any of the show’s themes.
Then we come to Shawna. Shawna is undeniably meant to be the series’ heroine, its protagonist, our eyes into this new and beautiful world of LGBTQ+ culture – she doesn’t fit the bill, unfortunately. While Ellen Page is a good actress, her subdued, low-energy approach to the character only served to make Shawna unlikable and, frankly, boring. There were rare moments of levity, usually when Shawna had brief, frantic reunions with her mother, and the two would team up to do something bizarre and hilarious. And then Shawna would randomly turn on her mother, storm off, and descend into a brooding mope. This problem only became worse when Claire Duncan (Zosia Mamet) entered the picture and the two started dating – why these two actresses felt it was necessary to make what should have been the show’s central relationship into slow, angsty staring contests, I have no idea. Every time Shawna and Claire ran into each other, all semblance of energy and liveliness drained away from their already pretty lifeless characters: they would stare at each other, mumble, shuffle around with their hands in their pockets, and then Claire would say something that was clearly meant to be philosophical in an artsy way, but only came off as absurd.
Which is why Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) became very quickly the heroine of the show, at least for me. She starts off as the centerpiece of the entire story: the other characters might hate each other, but they all love her. The main leads all live at her apartment complex, 28 Barbary Lane. They all come together to celebrate her 90th birthday, which causes the chaos and confusion that follows. She’s not exactly an active character, but then none of the leads are, except in their own subplots – Anna seems even passive at first, when she is blackmailed into selling Barbary Lane: an action which has major ramifications on the plot, sending the others into a frenzy to find new housing. When we learn the truth of Anna’s past, and how she took money stolen from the LGBTQ+ community and used it to pay for surgery, a house, her entire existence – even there, she’s the passive character, as the money was all but forced on her by her distraught partner, Tommy. As a transgender woman in the 1960s, Anna survived only by isolating herself from the people who needed her most, refusing to speak up and take action against violence and oppression. Her entire story is built on her passivity – and she’s not proud of it. She is shamed and consumed with guilt: her arc is all about finding forgiveness, and she is finally allowed that peace when the LGBTQ+ community of San Francisco rallies to save Barbary Lane from demolition in the most heartwarming and powerful scene of the series. Anna passes away in her sleep not long after that: “Anna didn’t believe in coincidence,” Mary Ann says after her death, “so neither shall we.” The emotional sentiment is also used to explain how this diverse, dissimilar cast of characters all ended up under Anna’s protection.
The diverse supporting cast are, without a doubt, the highlight of the entire show. The most relevant are Jake (Garcia) and Margot Park (May Hong), a young couple who live at Barbary Lane and deal with serious issues when the show begins – Jake was a lesbian woman who transitioned into a man, and is now realizing he is gay: Margot was Jake’s girlfriend before he transitioned but is still a lesbian, and doesn’t love Jake in his new body. Eventually, even though both Jake and Margot get forgotten for a good long while in the middle of the show, their storyline is sorted out: they break up peacefully, Margot finds a new girlfriend in DeDe Day (Barbara Garrick), and Jake decides to hold off on being in a relationship. The friendship between these two characters after they split is much more powerful than their romantic bond ever was, and it gives me hope that they’ll both be all right. Other highlights are Mateo (Dickie Hearts), DeDe’s exasperated butler; Ida (Caldwell Tidicue), the nightclub owner who shows up to help save Barbary Lane in the final episode; transgender actresses Jen Richards and Daniela Vega as a young Anna Madrigal and her nemesis Ysela, respectively; and Michelle Buteau as Brian’s sports-loving best friend Wrenita. These diverse characters have to work overtime to sell the premise and theme of the entire show, and each of them does it and, in the aforementioned instances, bring a little extra to the table too.
The show does have an issue with its plot, specifically towards the end when all the family-drama about Shawna’s parents and Michael’s relationship suddenly just goes away, allowing us to finally focus on the real story about Anna’s past and the person currently blackmailing and manipulating her: what started as a feel-good story about coming home to San Francisco takes an abrupt turn when Mary Ann and Shawna have to don disguises to follow a suspicious man, who turns out to be completely harmless and in fact helps the family on their hunt to find the real culprit: suspicion falls on Ysela, who’s still around and helping the homeless, but she proves innocent as well. Only after a bunch of misdirects involving a lot of random art do we finally reach the shocking conclusion that Claire Duncan, Shawna’s boring girlfriend, is actually the one behind all this. The grand finale, when Claire is wrestled into some pink feather-boa handcuffs after trying to demolish Barbary Lane and capture the event on film for her documentary about hypocrisy is…conflicting, to be sure. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun, especially when Claire makes the mistake of telling the LGBTQ+ protesters that she’ll just edit them out of the footage, which provokes a chant of “We will not be erased!”. On the other hand, she’s like, what, a twenty-something year old living on the streets, and she somehow managed to convince an entire construction crew to help her demolish a building – and her motivation is…what, exactly? I also have to admit that, even though I loathed her character, I didn’t like the fact that she had to go back to her parents in the end, since they pretty obviously despised her with a passion. It’ll only lead to more trouble, is my guess.
Which leads us to our final topic: is there anything in the future for Tales of the City? Well, at the moment, no – with Anna Madrigal gone, the show has lost its most important character, and Barbary Lane has lost the one thing that really held all its occupants together. Without her, there’s not really a story to be told about Barbary Lane: but that doesn’t exclude other topics from being explored. Jake’s unresolved story, Michael and Ben’s on-and-off relationship, Shawna’s adventures beyond San Francisco, Claire’s future, DeDe’s butler, Twintertainment – there’s some stuff there that could be used to craft some pretty interesting stories, or even just a comedic miniseries or two. Garcia has already said he’d up for a spinoff about Jake and Margot.
What do you think? Would you like to see more Tales of the City, or do you think this is the definitive final chapter? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
As Pride Month draws to a close, you have just enough time still to binge-watch Netflix’s modernized reboot of the 1993 soap opera Tales of the City, which is in turn based off the 1978 novel by Armistead Maupin. But even if you don’t know the original series (I didn’t), this show somehow manages to perfectly convey the feeling of coming home – to the house on the hill at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. That’s especially due to cast, social commentary and atmosphere, all of which intertwine in an almost intoxicating blend of nostalgia.
The cast includes series regulars Laura Linney and Paul Gross, along with the show’s main attraction, Olympia Dukakis, reprising her groundbreaking role as Anna Madrigal, the beloved elderly transgender landlady of Barbary Lane – this time around, she comes loaded with a dark backstory and a few scandalous secrets, not unlike the diverse group of characters, young and old, who live in her apartment complex. There’s Shawna (Elliot Page), supposedly the show’s protagonist, but whose story tends to get lost among all the intersecting threads and character arcs – or maybe it’s just because every time Shawna shares the screen with her girlfriend Claire Duncan (Zosia Mamet), the energy and vitality of the show grinds to a halt, while the two stare blankly at each other and mumble. Paul Gross returns as Shawna’s adoptive father, Brian Hawkins, while Linney is once again the naive, wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton – but unlike in other iterations of the show, Barbary Lane is only temporarily seen from Mary Ann’s POV. Instead, the focus has wisely been shifted on the real, down-to-earth residents of San Francisco: interracial gay couple Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett) and Ben Marshall (Charlie Barnett); Asian-American twins and Instagram influencers Ani and Jonathan Winter (Ashley Park and Christopher Larkin); Hispanic transgender/genderqueer nurse Jake Rodriguez (Garcia) and his lesbian girlfriend Margot Park (May Hong); and especially Black cross-dressing nightclub owner Ida Best (Caldwell Tidicue), who has one absolutely awesome scene in Episode 9, donning a silver wig and high heels while leading a troop of Rainbow Warriors into battle against injustice. It’s really not that surprising that Elliot Page gets swallowed up by this rich, diverse cast – his performance is good, but far too low-energy to make him stand out in the crowds of witty drag queens, nursing home troublemakers, and nasty dinner guests.
These people are the products of a brilliant, flamboyant, free-spirited society in the streets of San Francisco: not only its beautiful vistas, sunsets, parks, high-rises or even its oases like Barbary Lane, but also its darker, grittier side. This is made especially clear in Episode 8, an extended flashback to Anna Madrigal’s early life in the city soon after her transition: here, Madrigal attempts to navigate her dangerous new existence as a transgender woman in 1966, and finds herself having to do anything possible to survive. Her “house on the hill” wasn’t built by goodwill and fortune-cookie wisdom alone, as it turns out. The show has an interesting, thoughtful commentary on the history and progression of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement, from Anna’s flashback to one intensely awkward conversation about the privileges of gay men who survived the AIDS crisis. Characters like Ysela (Daniela Vega) and the everyday struggles we see briefly through her eyes as she protects the city’s homeless, show us that no matter how far we’ve come, we have to keep going. And Anna, when she is interviewed, sums it up best when she explains that the city hasn’t changed very much at all since the 1960s – people still make mistakes, and they still have to deal with the consequences and try to make things better.
This commentary would make for one pretty grim show if it weren’t for the fact that Tales of the City actually has a really hard time balancing its two main narratives – the show tries as best as it can to give equal screentime to the family-drama and the LGBT crime thriller that make up its plot: considering that both of these stories literally operate out of the same house, this should have been much more seamless than it ended up being. But if I have one complaint about the show, it would be that – not only is the story lopsided, it can’t even figure out which way it wants to…lop (is lop a word? What is a lopside?) at any given time: one of the most bizarre examples is when a humorous but suspenseful car-chase abruptly turns into a mother/daughter quarrel. Throughout the middle of the show, there are interminable arguments about relationships, parenting, interactive art, etc, etc, and the show begins to get lost – along with many of its characters, who either randomly disappear around the midpoint, or just wander around in the background to give the illusion that they’re doing something relevant as the family-drama plot increasingly narrows in on Mary Ann, Brian and Shawna, while also trying to spare just enough time on Michael and Ben to still give a gay viewpoint on the story.
And then, in the last three episodes of the show, the family-drama stuff basically gets thrown out the window, in place of the crime story – which, honestly, is much more interesting. The finale neatly wraps up that storyline, in a weirdly cartoonish but still entertaining fashion – literally, in fact. Many of the storylines explored in the family-drama plot, however, are left open to interpretation.
Which brings me to a sentiment I expressed early today in an Instagram post, where I said that I need more Tales of the Citycontent. There is ample opportunity for spinoffs and sequels about these characters: I think this show maybe bit off more than it could chew, but a smaller-scale, more intimate series about one of the show’s supporting cast could be very satisfying – for goodness sake, I’d be willing to watch an entire show about DeDe Day’s butler!
I don’t know if I’ll write a Spoiler Review for this show, but there is definitely a lot to talk about regarding the series – so leave your thoughts in the comments below!