Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Umbrella Academy offers a heist, a reunion, and a daring rescue—but is that enough?

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em offers a heist, a reunion, and a daring rescue—but is that enough?
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

“That’s the thing about the Commission, isn’t it? Some things just don’t make sense, until they do.”

Advertisement

The Handler’s words of wisdom to her daughter could double as The Umbrella Academy’s advice to its audience. This is the sort of over-the-top genre show where you just kind of have to have faith that it’s all building towards something purposeful because its various pieces seldom make complete sense in the moment. Sometimes that can be incredibly satisfying, like the reveal of Lila’s parentage (the red shoes should’ve been a dead give away). Sometimes, however, it’s just frustrating.

“The Majestic 12” bounces back and forth between those two extremes, moving the season-long story forward in riveting ways but also clunkily stalling for time elsewhere. Thanks to a swanky party at the Mexican consulate and a big superhero setpiece for Vanya, “The Majestic 12” is the sort of episode where it feels like a lot is happening while you’re watching it, although, looking back, I’m not sure a ton actually did. On the other hand, I suppose we don’t really come to The Umbrella Academy for plot, so maybe that’s less important here than it might be on another series.

Advertisement

The episode’s title comes from the secret committee of scientists, military men, and “deep state” agents who function as a sort of shadow government; one Kennedy wants to bring into the light. Sir Reginald is part of the group, and—desperate for a lead on the impending apocalypse—Five, Diego, and Lila pull a bit of a heist as they crash the consulate gala to get close to him. Unfortuantely, The Swedes blow up their spot before they can reach Sir Reginald or learn anything particularly meaningful about the Majestic 12, other than the fact that they’re involved with the upcoming Kennedy assassination.

Advertisement

In retrospect, it’s a bit of a runaround plot, although the shifting power dynamics between Diego and Lila are fun to watch (especially when they’re literalized in dance). And the scene where Diego meets the original non-robotic version of Grace is surprisingly moving as well. For now, however, we just have to hope that all this shadow government stuff is building towards something.

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em offers a heist, a reunion, and a daring rescue—but is that enough?
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
Advertisement

At this point, it’s probably worth pausing to remember that the opening of The Umbrella Academy’s first season finale casually revealed that Sir Reginald is an ancient space alien who left his home world to start a new life in turn-of-the-century America. If you’re fuzzy on that brief scene, it might be worth revisiting as I suspect it’s going to have a big impact on the season. Not only do the Majestic 12 mention something about Kennedy making inquiries into “Roswell and the other crash sights,” but the glowing lights Vanya uses to heal Harlan look a whole lot like the orbs of energy we see Sir Reginald release from a jar in that sequence.

Speaking of Vanya, she gets by far the episode’s most compelling storyline. Though I was initially frustrated to see her separated from her brothers so soon after joining them (Luther pushing her away just as he’s about to recount the events of season one is a particularly lame stall), she at least gets a great little superhero character drama to make up for it. The scene where Vanya uses her powers to lift a lake and save Harlan is both breathtakingly beautiful and quietly momentous; this is the first time we’ve ever seen her purposefully use her powers for good.

Advertisement

Elsewhere, Vanya’s blossoming romance with Sissy offers a different kind of exhilarating rush. Ellen Page and especially Marin Ireland are fantastic in their scenes together, and their first kiss offers all the surface level pleasures of a great comic book romance with something deeper as well. Without being too heavy handed about it, The Umbrella Academy is touching on complex ideas about patriarchy, motherhood, mental disability, and sexuality in the 1960s.

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em offers a heist, a reunion, and a daring rescue—but is that enough?
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
Advertisement

The rest of the episode is a mixed bag. The Umbrella Academy has a bad habit of underestimating how fun it is to just watch the Hargreeves hang out and talk through their problems. Klaus and Allison prove to be a delightful pairing at the start of this episode (his complete butchering of the scorpion and the frog fable is a hilarious TV cliché subversion). Yet rather than utilize them as a duo, the episode has them split up and head back to their individual 1960s stories.

Klaus’ second attempt at reaching out to Dave goes horribly awry, mostly because he hasn’t thought through his tactics at all. It’s exactly the sort of thing a sibling could help with (especially considering he’s got a ghostly one hanging around). Instead, Klaus’ failure becomes an excuse to have him relapse in a scene that’s oddly framed as a sort of fun “Klaus being Klaus” montage. Though The Umbrella Academy’s second season has done a good job not lazily retreading the beats of season one, the return of drunken Klaus is one place where I worry the show is revisiting a familiar storytelling well just because it thinks that’s what its audience wants.

Advertisement

Allison at least gets another family reunion this week. After Ray accuses her of being a government agent sent to spy on him (which is actually a super logical conclusion to draw based on the evidence he has), Allison runs into Luther at a local BBQ. They make an awkward peace over their thwarted romance, account for the whereabouts of all their siblings, and Allison finally learns about impending apocalypse. And yet, as with the Klaus/Allison reunion in the previous episode, the scene ends without any sense that Allison and Luther have made a longterm plan about where they go from here—even if that plan is just to try to see each other again before the world ends in seven days.

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em offers a heist, a reunion, and a daring rescue—but is that enough?
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
Advertisement

“No one gets to tell us how to deal with the end of the world,” Luther tells Allison. “Not even each other.” It’s a sweetly empathetic moment, but it’s also a sentiment The Umbrella Academy too often uses to cover up its inability to write consistent characterizations.

Still, as the Handler reminds Lila, perhaps there’s more at play than we yet realize. Indeed, Lila’s storyline is one place where The Umbrella Academy cleverly seeded clues without overplaying its hand. Back in “Right Back Where We Started” Lila noted that her mother taught her how to fight, but in “The Swedish Job” she explained that her parents were murdered in a home invasion when she was four. It turns out both of those statements are true: The Handler arranged the murder of her parents and then raised Lila as her own murderous daughter.

Advertisement

Giving the Handler a family of her own is a smart way to make her more of a three-dimensional character than she was last season. And Lila’s unusual upbringing is a clear parallel for that of the Umbrella Academy. In fact, given that she seems to be about the same age as the Hargreeves siblings, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lila is one of the other 36 magical babies that Sir Reginald wasn’t able to buy from their parents. Maybe the Commission made a habit of brutally collecting the remaining kids.

In addition to introducing new mysteries about Lila and Sir Reginald, “The Majestic 12” continues the (slow) process of bringing the Umbrella Academy back together. Forced out of their respective homes, Luther winds up at Five’s place while a drunken Klaus crashes on Allison’s sofa. Though it’s nice to see the Hargreeves under the same roofs again, for a show built around the idea that “the clock is ticking on doomsday,” it’d be cool if the characters could remember that sometimes.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • I’m glad The Umbrella Academy is letting Kate Walsh embrace her signature red hair color. I always found the blonde a little distracting.
  • I’ve been vaguely confused about Elliot’s living situation this whole time, but apparently his dad Mortimer was both a dentist and the owner of Morty’s TV shop (where Elliot worked). He then left the entire building to Elliot when he died.
  • For what it’s worth, Sir Reginald seems less into the idea of assassinating Kennedy than the rest of the Majestic 12.
  • I appreciate that Klaus mentions the one million Vietnamese who died in the Vietnam War, which isn’t always a stat you hear in American pop culture.
  • According to the Netflix subtitles, the message Five yells at Sir Reginald is in Ancient Greek, although it doesn’t translate what he says.
  • I would just like to state for the record that Five’s teleportation powers are incredibly cool, and it’s absolutely wild that Sir Reginald didn’t rank him higher among his siblings.
Advertisement

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter