Entertainment

Netflix's 'Umbrella Academy' Braves a Second Apocalypse in Its Punched-Up Season 2

Emmy Raver-Lampman, who plays Allison, and showrunner Steve Blackman on the new challenges the Hargeeves face in Season 2.

umbrella academy season 2
Netflix

Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy ended with the apocalypse, leaving our heroes in the lurch, so to speak. So then, how are they supposed to get past the end-of-the-world? Time travel is a good start, and with the help of a little jump back to the 1960s, the second season of the series bounces back with a fresh tone, quicker pace, and a fair share of heart to go with it.

In the closing minutes of the Season 1 finale, Number Five uses his power to time jump the Hargreeves family out of harm's way. The problem is, he hadn't quite perfected this one specific skill and the result lands everyone scattered between the years 1960 and 1963. It's an unfortunate hiccup, to be sure, but that little faux pas proves to be a genius move on the show's part as Diego (David Castañeda), Five (Aiden Gallagher), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Vanya (Ellen Page), and Luther (Tom Hopper) are all faced with themselves and forced to build new lives, unsure if they'll ever reunite or get back to their time. 

Splitting each character up exposes some refreshing layers to each and every one of them, giving Umbrella Academy a fair share of emotional nuance. It's a nice change of pace from last season's dreary family drama and clunky pacing. To add some urgency, there's yet another apocalypse on the horizon, a group of psycho assassins are hot on their tail, and they're all living in that period of time where America's perceived greatness was muddied with racial intolerance and the growing need for marginalized communities to stand up and fight back.

As a person of color, Allison landing in 1960s Jim Crow America is a powerful detail that not only reminds viewers how far we've come in our fight for equality -- but it also nails home the disappointing fact that even six decades of progress hasn't moved the needle far enough. Add in the fact that Allison's mind control superpower (known as "rumoring people") is very specific to her voice, and that in this era, her voice holds no power, and you've got a really profound dynamic worth digging into.

"Allison is just immediately confronted with the fact that she has been plopped down in the middle of the segregated south and she is a Black woman," Emmy Raver-Lampman told Thrillist during the show's press tour. "She doesn't have a voice. She doesn't have her family. She doesn't have her powers because she doesn't have a voice. And she's kind of in a fight-or-flight panic mode of just like, 'I need to find a community and I need to get to safety and get to a place where I can have time to heal and kind of grapple with what's happening.'"

If Allison can't speak up, then she obviously can't really rumor anyone, which, for her story arc here, becomes a catalyst for some deep self-discovery that has Allison immersing herself in the civil rights movement, falling in love, and setting up a comfortable new life for herself. In the process, she learns she's much more than just this one special ability.

umbrella academy season 2
Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) in Season 2 of 'The Umbrella Academy' | Netflix

"[She] kind of reassesses her life without the confines of where they came from and the confines of her history, her family, her fame, her money, her failed marriage, and their father, who was incredibly abusive and exploited them for their gifts," Raver-Lampman continued. "So I think this season, we're definitely seeing a very raw Allison who's deciding to take this as an opportunity to start over. I think she's learning how to find the strength in her voice that has nothing to do with her super power."

As with most successful time travel stories, there are rules that go with this trip: Don't do anything that will upset the timeline because who knows what the world will look like when you eventually return to the present? (Heck, there's a whole weird organization known as The Commision to make sure this does not happen.) But if "taking a trip back to Dallas, Texas in 1963" sounds familiar, it's because that story detail was mulled over in Quantum Leap's two-part "Lee Harvey Oswald" episode event and, of course, in Stephen King's 11/22/63. The latter is a story about time travel that finds a school teacher time traveling with the goal of stopping the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And, this Umbrella Academy story, which hit bookshelves before King's novel made its official debut, retreads that familiar territory.

Here, we find Diego accepting the unspoken mission of saving the president from being assassinated. And, because it hasn't happened yet, our action hero ends up taking a trip over the cuckoo's nest and gets himself locked up in a mental hospital. But thanks to an oddball love connection with the thoroughly unpredictable Lila (Ritu Arya), he stays on task -- albeit, without much of a solid plan -- and is continually pursued by the cops, The Commission, and most notably, a trio of bleached blonde bloodthirsty maniacs known simply as "The Swedes."

But what would happen if Diego saved the president? How would that change the future, aka their present? And more-over, what would happen if any of our heroes bumped into themselves in this time jump? Well, it happens to Five -- the curmudgeonly old man stuck in a child's body who, whether he likes it or not, is the necessary glue that holds the whole family together. Aiden Gallagher's scenes are some of the most intense and hilarious of the season (there are a few fun nods to Stephen King's The Shining sprinkled in, for good measure). The kid's ability to channel his older self, while also diving head first into some delightfully potty-mouthed violence, is a key ingredient into what makes these episodes so compelling.

umbrella academy season 2
Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), and Vanya (Ellen Page) | Netflix

Meanwhile, Five's drive to save humanity has a consistent sense of intense urgency; Klaus's turn as an accidental cult leader is a colorful facade masking his own internal grief and addiction issues; Luther's move to use his gorilla strength to bust heads as Jack Ruby's strong-armed prize fighter is mired in a depressing, yet somehow still amusing, tone rather fitting of the big mopey guy. (Seriously, someone needs a gorilla-sized hug.)

And then, there's Vanya. When the youngest Hargreeves sister is dropped into the '60s, she gets hit by a car and loses her memory, forgetting her identity and the violence she brought upon her family and the world in Season 1. Her story here is one of gentle self discovery that ends up bringing her a satisfying sense of retribution when all is said and done. The bond that grows between her and Sissy (Marin Ireland), the woman who helped her after her accident, is romantic icing on the cake and gives Umbrella Academy the most organic love story the show has seen to date. As lovely as it is to watch, though, Vanya's journey still acts as a reminder that the divisive hatred and fear of the era still very much lives on today. 

"[It was a time where] they could go to prison for being gay," showrunner Steve Blackman said. "There were a lot of those stakes. Clearly, we have not come far enough, as evidenced by how there are so many salient similarities [between] the issues from 1963 to now."

With the all of the show's many spinning plates -- the diabolical Swedes, the return of The Handler (Kate Walsh), JFK's assassination, and, of course, this new apocalypse -- it'd be easy for things to feel way too cluttered here. But somehow, all these pieces fall into place, making Umbrella Academy super fun to watch. So fun, in fact, that after the 10-episode run was over, we were champing at the bit for more -- which was something we cannot say after finishing the last season. "We wanted to tell a story of hope," Blackman added, "that this family is evolving and trying to make a better world."

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Aaron Pruner is a contributor to Thrillist. He's on Twitter @aaronflux.