“Hell yeah, family meeting!” You took the words right out of my mouth, Diego. Halfway through season two someone finally suggests that maybe the Umbrella Academy should, you know, actually have a group discussion about the apocalypse that’s supposed to wipe out humanity in six days. While that probably would’ve been my first thought upon running into my long-lost siblings in the 1960s, the Hargreeves have always worked at their own pace. Truth be told, the family meeting of “Valhalla” doesn’t actually do much to advance the season-long plot. But just having the characters lay their cards on the table makes this the most propulsive, enjoyable hour since the premiere.
What makes “Valhalla” work is that it leans into the comedy side of The Umbrella Academy, which is when the show can get away with its erratic take on its central family. The meeting kicks off with Elliot bragging about his ambrosia salad and Diego complaining that the girl he likes doesn’t like him back. In fact, that’s a bigger concern for him than seeing Vanya for the first time since she used her “energy tentacles” to try to kill him. Later, the momentous shot of the Umbrella Academy finally reuniting under one roof is hilariously undercut by Klaus noting, “I know this is impossible… but did we all get sexier?”
Robert Sheehan excels at creating warm friendship chemistry with pretty much everyone he’s on screen with, which helps sell the sweetness of the Hargreeves sibling reunion. Five even thinks to ask if Ben is there, although Klaus for some reason lies and claims ghosts can’t time travel. (Despite upping Justin H. Min to a series regular, this season has used him surprisingly sparingly.) “Valhalla” also acknowledges the one plot point that’s been driving me crazy—the fact that no one thought to tell Klaus about the impending apocalypse. (Keep that disparaging look to yourself, Allison, this one’s on you!) Again, however, a little humor goes a long way. Klaus’ first concern is annoyance that he gave his followers the wrong apocalypse date: “Oh my god, my cult is gonna be so pissed, Five, I told them we had until 2019.”
Laying everything on the table also clarifies where this season is at with its rather nebulous doomsday plot. Something changes the timeline and it probably involves the Kennedy assassination, although Five can’t say for sure whether Sir Reginald and the Majestic 12 are involved. (Diego’s way more ready to lay the blame at his father’s grassy knoll-placed feet.) While Five wants to find Sir Reginald and Diego is ready to kill him, Vanya raises a far more likely option: Couldn’t it be the Umbrella Academy’s very existence in the past that messes up the timeline?
Again, comedy helps lampshade just how cavalier the Hargreeves have been about changing the past. Luther took a job with Jack Ruby, Diego tried to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, Allison got “very involved in local politics,” and Klaus started a cult. The fact that Vanya’s “nanny on a farm” storyline seems the most innocuous means it’s probably going to be the thing that’s actually the most important. (As Klaus notes, Vanya’s usually responsible for the apocalypse.) But just hearing the show acknowledge the reality it’s created goes a long way towards boosting my confidence that this is all building toward something purposeful.
Most importantly, “Valhalla” remembers how fun it can be when all seven Hargreeves are bouncing off one another. (Ben may be invisible, but his commentary is still on point.) While the Umbrella Academy’s upbringing was marked by trauma, it also created a unique sense of connection among them, which you can see as Diego and Luther argue about heroism or Allison, Vanya, and Klaus get drunk and vent about their relationship problems. (Klaus on Allison and Luther’s romance: “If you have to use the word ‘technically,’ you’re already in trouble.”)
“Valhalla” understands that for as messed up as the Umbrella Academy might be, there’s something charmingly aspirational about their bond as well. “This family’s amazing,” Vanya drunkenly shouts before she, Klaus, and Allison break into a Breakfast Club-inspired sock hop at Allison’s salon. The Umbrella Academy knows the value of a good dance sequence, and this one is a welcome addition to the canon.
Family is the big theme of the episode. “Valhalla” opens with an origin story for the unusual family unit of Reginald, Pogo, and Grace 1.0. The original Grace was a NASA scientist who trained Pogo to be an astronaut chimp. In a callback to Luther’s origin story, Reginald saves Pogo’s life by injecting him with his special serum. In much the same way the serum gave Luther his simian qualities, it seems to be the source of Pogo’s humanity as well.
Elsewhere, the Handler and Lila enjoy a family outing of their own. Like Diego, the Handler has gotten a slight character revamp that better plays to the strengths of the performer. Kate Walsh excels at portraying a meddling but well-meaning mid-century mom who dotes on her daughter yet demands quite a bit from her too. It turns out Lila and the Handler’s 1960s mission isn’t Commission sanctioned, and with Lila on the outs with the Hargreeves, the mother/daughter duo set out to meddle with The Swedes and make contact with Five.
Of course, The Swedes are a family unit of their own too. Their leader looks forlornly at an old family photo while his brothers struggle to take care of the cats (and cat hair) in their new living quarters. (That whole silent sequence is a work of comedic brilliance.) Given that one of the brothers winds up dead with Diego framed for the murder, I’m guessing The Swedes will be upping their game in the second half of the season. Right now, however, their loss perfectly toes the line between comedy and drama as the surviving brothers hold a Norse funeral set to a Swedish cover of Adele’s “Hello.”
“Valhalla” ends with a whole bunch of family-related sequences. Vanya asks Sissy to leave her toxic husband and run away with her. Klaus returns to face his “children.” And Allison decides to tell Ray the truth. The Umbrella Academy has always cared more about its characters than its plot, and this episode’s family reunion gives the Hargreeves the courage they need to push their respective arcs forward. Thanks to Sir Reginald’s dinner invite, it looks like the Umbrella Academy is in for another family reunion soon enough. Let’s hope that one is as enjoyable as this one was.
- Upon arriving in the 1960s, Luther’s first instinct was to seek out his future father for help. Unfortuantely, the younger Sir Reginald shoots down Luther’s story on the basis that he hates children too much to ever have any.
- Klaus isn’t wrong that Five and Delores just might be The Umbrella Academy’s healthiest long-term relationship.
- One piece of evidence it seems like the Hargreeves are blatantly missing: When Five landed on the day of the nuclear apocalypse, the newspaper headline was about JFK declaring war on the Reds. Surely that would imply the major timeline change is that President Kennedy survived his assassination attempt, right?
- Emmy Raver-Lampman looks amazing in Allison’s 1960s wardrobe.
- Lila seems to be freezing time or teleporting or something during her fight with Five. Is that standard Commission training?
- I haven’t had ambrosia salad since I was a kid, but I remember it being delicious.
- NASA really did send two trained chimps into space. Their names were Ham and Enos, and you can read about them here.