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

The Umbrella Academy finale goes full X-Men, for better or worse

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy /emfinale goes full emX-Men/em, for better or worse
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

The best episodes of The Umbrella Academy tend to feature the Hargreeves saying “yes and” rather than “no but.” It’s not that there should never be conflict between the members of the Umbrella Academy, it’s just that their conflicts tend to be much more interesting when they’re working towards the same general goal rather than randomly walking away to pursue their own aims.

Advertisement

The beginning of “The End Of Something” offers a brief fakeout towards that latter frustrating storytelling trope, as Vanya’s siblings turn down her request to help her save Harlan. Thankfully, it only takes a moment to change their minds. After Klaus breaks the seal, the whole crew is soon crammed into Vanya’s car like a family on vacation. It turns out nothing brings siblings together like being accused of being a radical terrorist network who helped assassinate the president. As Diego puts it, “Might as well do some good before we die horribly.”

Advertisement

In retrospect, the central throughline of season two was about bringing the Hargreeves together as a functional team, and specifically getting them to a place where they could accept Vanya as an equal. They finally fulfill Sir Reginald’s dream of working together to save the world, but they do so by moving beyond his humiliation tactics and militant ways. Instead, they forge a new path as a loving, supportive group whose differences make them stronger. “The End Of Something” gives each Hargreeves a cool moment to show off their unique abilities. And, fittingly, their final battle involves reaching out to two superpowered people who reflect elements of themselves—Harlan is like the scared children they used to be and Lila is like the pissed off loners they were last season.

Yet while I can appreciate this finale for its thematic aims and surface level pleasures, there’s something about it that just doesn’t fully click for me. After the season-long obsession with the JFK assassination, the standoff at Sissy’s farm reminded me of one of those X-Men movies that ends with an epic but somewhat hollow battle in a nondescript location. (The all-black costuming certainly doesn’t hurt that parallel.) And The Umbrella Academy doubles down on the X-Men connection with the reveal that Lila has a Rogue-like ability to mimic any power she comes into contact with. It turns out she is one of the other 36 superpowered babies Sir Reginald didn’t adopt.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy /emfinale goes full emX-Men/em, for better or worse
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix

Yet even though I’d previously speculated that might be the case (and even though we pretty blatantly saw Lila teleporting during her fight with Five in “Valhalla”), the reveal somehow still feels random. And that’s mostly down to how this season has used its runtime. Given that this finale ultimately centers on Diego reaching out to Lila as a kindred spirit, why not devote more time to their relationship in the episodes leading up to it? Why have Lila spend so much of the latter half of the season with the Handler, who’s ultimately revealed to be a pretty one-note villain before she’s unceremoniously killed off?

Advertisement

Ritu Arya and David Castañeda are so good—and so good together—that the show almost gets away with it. (Castañeda is my MVP of the season.) But so much of what happens in this finale could’ve been built to more effectively. That goes for Vanya and Harlan’s underdeveloped connection as well. Since Harlan’s been used more as an extension of Sissy than a character in his own right, there’s little specificity to the way Vanya reaches out to him here, even though he’s purposefully positioned as a foil for her own traumatic relationship to her powers.

Character quibbles aside, there’s no denying “The End Of Something” is an exhilarating watch. The Handler calling in an army of agents is a great “oh shit!” moment, as is Vanya’s ability to take them all down with a single blast. This finale also deserves points for the gutsy move of brutally gunning down all its main characters—even if Five’s Galaxy Quest-style mini time jump has felt inevitable ever since Sir Reginald mentioned the idea in “A Light Supper.” Also clever is the way the last remaining Swede murders the Handler, accepts a truce with the Hargreeves, and then finds a new family with Klaus’ cult—seamlessly weaving together a whole bunch of the season’s disparate threads.

Advertisement

Unfortunately, while season two has generally been pretty good about putting the Hargreeves on equal narrative footing, that’s really not the case here. The team dynamic is delightful, but Allison, Luther, and especially Klaus are left with relatively little to do. (It feels like losing Ben should be a much bigger deal for him than it is.) And the only 1960s throughline that gets any substantial focus is Vanya and Sissy.

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy /emfinale goes full emX-Men/em, for better or worse
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
Advertisement

Sissy ultimately decides not to travel to the future with a flying telekinetic superhero, which is fair but also a little disappointing. Still, kudos to Ellen Page and Marin Ireland for selling Vanya and Sissy’s goodbye as well as they do. Like Ritu Arya, Ireland has been a wonderful addition to the series, and I’m hoping her time on The Umbrella Academy might not be up yet. Her openness to one day reuniting with Vanya and that shot of Harlan’s telekinetic abilities certainly leave some doors open for the future if the show wants them.

Sissy also articulates the big thesis of the season: Her time with Vanya may be over but it’s changed her for the better, which is similar to what Allison tells Ray in her goodbye note. Though the Hargreeves leave 1960s Dallas without drastically changing American history (Allison warns Ray that things are going to get worse before they get better), what happened there still matters on a character level. The siblings are very different than they were when they first arrived, both as individuals and as a team.

Advertisement

And in a great final twist, it turns out the Hargreeves’ time in the 1960s matters on a plot level too. They return to 2019 to find that their meddling has created an alternate timeline in which Sir Reginald adopted a different set of superpowered children and raised them to be “The Sparrow Academy.” The biggest twist of all is that I needn’t have worried about Justin H. Min losing a job. He’s here as an emo version of Ben, which opens up all sorts of intriguing threads for season three.

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy /emfinale goes full emX-Men/em, for better or worse
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
Advertisement

Though The Umbrella Academy’s second season has been overall much stronger than the first, in many ways it followed an inverse trajectory. Season one started messy but grew into something more compelling by the end, while season two started strong only to struggle in its back half. (My favorite moment of the entire season is still the “Right Back Where We Started From” montage from the premiere.) Still, for its character development alone, this season has been a triumph. That brief, silent shot of Diego and Vanya sitting on a porch carries more emotional weight than any extended sibling scene from season one.

Most importantly, this season has proven that The Umbrella Academy is willing to lean into what works and adjust what doesn’t. That’s a great skill for a TV show to have, especially one with an appeal that lies more in its vibe than its storytelling. I ended last season liking but not loving the Hargreeves. After season two, however, I’m fully ready to follow these sexy pieces of trash wherever their bonkers journey leads next.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • It doesn’t really matter since they end up in an alternate timeline anyway, but I’m confused why the Hargreeves felt safe to return to 2019. Undoing that year’s apocalypse was part of the Handler’s “jazz” offer, which they didn’t end up taking. Or are we meant to assume Herb offered them a similar deal?
  • Relatedly, I’d totally watch a spinoff series about Diego and Herb’s friendship.
  • The Grace 1.0 thread never really went anywhere, huh? Maybe it’s set up for season three.
  • It feels notable that the toy Harlan is spinning with his powers is a little wooden bird that looks an awful lot like a sparrow. (He and Sissy are also entering New Mexico at the time too. Will they somehow wind up at that aforementioned Roswell crash site?)
  • I can’t believe how casually this episode reveals that Diego’s trajectory-altering powers can be used to divert hundreds of bullets at once. How has that never come up before?!? His powers have always seemed so lame!
  • Luther and Allison’s CPR moment offers a little nod to their romance, but it definitely feels like the writers are waiting to read the room on whether viewers want their love story to return or not.
  • Dave joins the Marines here, but I think he was in the Army in the original timeline, right? Does that mean he’ll survive the war and live to romance Klaus as a 75-year-old? I nominate Tom Selleck to play him.
  • Thanks so much for following along with these reviews! If you’d like to chat more about The Umbrella Academy, you can find me on Twitter.
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