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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Umbrella Academy’s got 90 minutes to save the world

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em’s got 90 minutes to save the world
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
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The Umbrella Academy isn’t particularly great at plot. For instance, “Öga For Öga” is a pointless runaround story that ultimately doesn’t go anywhere other than to remind us just how many times The Umbrella Academy pulled this sort of thing last season. But one thing the show does handle well is tone. This series can be goofy, grim, and genuinely moving, sometimes all within the same scene. After two episodes that highlighted the fun, silly aspects of the show, “Öga For Öga” emphasizes the somber, gritty side of The Umbrella Academy. And that makes for an interesting, if not entirely purposeful, change of pace.

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Between the Board Meeting massacre and Allison’s battle against The Swedes, this is easily the most gruesome episode of the season, if not the series. But while Five’s axe-wielding assassination is aiming for fun in a Tarantino kind of way (the bloody slaughter is set to Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie”), The Umbrella Academy doesn’t entirely revel in its violence. When Five meets up with the Handler, it’s clear his perspective on murder has shifted. He doesn’t want to kill anymore. That was one last job to save his family and the world.

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The later scene with The Swedes is even more unnerving and not just because Allison stabs a man’s eye out with a vacuum cleaner attachment. Watching the Swedish leader strangle his brother to death is genuinely upsetting—a far cry from the fist-pumping payback for Elliot’s death that it could’ve been. The fact that the whole sequence is set to a Backstreet Boys song only further emphasizes the tricky tonal tightrope The Umbrella Academy can walk at its best.

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em’s got 90 minutes to save the world
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix

“Öga For Öga” delivers the most episodic plot of the season. After Five returns from the Board massacre, the Handler gives him a briefcase and 90 minutes to get his family back to 2019, which will stop the apocalypse(s) in the process. Given how much this season has invested in 1960s Dallas as a setting and the JFK assassination as a climax, it never really felt like the Hargreeves were going to successfully make it back to the future. That means “Öga For Öga” is the sort of episode you could describe as “filler,” although it’s entertaining enough that I don’t totally mean that as a dig. At the center of its story is the question of how the Hargreeves will spend their last few minutes in the 1960s, and that at least leads to interesting character drama for all of them.

Five, Luther, and Diego are the most onboard with the idea of leaving, especially once Diego learns that Lila was a Commission plant. Allison needs some convincing, however, mostly because she’s scared she could lose more than she gains if something goes wrong in the time jump. But with a pep talk from Luther (and a welcome mention of her daughter!) she agrees to make the journey. And she even makes peace with the fact that Ray turns down her offer to travel to the future with her. Rather than rumor his memory away, they agree to simply cherish the year they had together.

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Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em’s got 90 minutes to save the world
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix

Allison isn’t the only one to think of bringing her 1960s life to the future. In one of the episode’s most poignant moments, Vanya points out that Sissy and Harlan’s lives would be so much easier in 2019—where Sissy could live openly as a lesbian and Harlan’s mental disability would be far better understood. That point is driven home when Carl refers to Vanya’s relationship with his wife as a disease that has to be rooted out before it spreads. Even more horrifyingly, he threatens to institutionalize his own son in order to blackmail her into leaving.

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Vanya’s subplot continues to be the most emotionally rich character drama of the season. While her first season arc felt like a familiar riff on X-Men’s Dark Phoenix saga, I genuinely have no idea what her story is building to here, which makes it much more exciting to watch. And her newfound sense of confidence leads to surprising and compelling scenes like her standoff with Five.

Though Five and Vanya are wildly different people, they’re kindred spirits in some ways too. They’re the Hargreeves most directly responsible for the chaos of these past two seasons, and they’re also the ones who feel the most removed from the rest of their siblings—Five because of his age and Vanya because of her amnesia (and before that her seeming lack of powers). It’s intriguing to see them overtly positioned as foils, especially since there’s still a warmth between them as well.

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Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em’s got 90 minutes to save the world
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix

But Five and Vanya aren’t the only Hargreeves siblings experiencing a tense push-pull. In the episode’s silliest throughline, Klaus agrees to let Ben inhabit his body in order to spend some one-on-one time with Jill. That leads to a lovely sequence of the joy Ben feels at being corporeal again, although it’s a shame this season hasn’t done more to flesh out Ben as a character, which would’ve given Robert Sheehan something more specific to play while portraying him. Still, the intercutting between Sheehan and Justin H. Min is well done, as are the effects of Klaus trying to kick Ben out of his body. (It helps that Sheehan is a master of physical comedy too.)

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Best of all, Ben finally communicates with one of his non-Klaus siblings for once! The Ben/Diego reunion is incredibly sweet, and hopefully a sign that Ben is going to become a more full-fledged member of the series from now on. There’s still so much we have to learn about him (including how he died), but this episode confirms he’s dorky, inexperienced at love, and “responsible behind the wheel.” Improvisation clearly isn’t his strong suit, however. Ben leaves Klaus’ followers (who are delightfully revealed to be called “Destiny’s Children”) with Backstreet Boys lyrics that don’t quite have the same profundity as “Waterfalls.”

Illustration for article titled emThe Umbrella Academy/em’s got 90 minutes to save the world
Screenshot: The Umbrella Academy/Netflix
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Given the way its central storyline peters out, “Öga For Öga” arguably deserves a much harsher criticism than the one I’ve given it here. But I long ago learned that the best way to enjoy The Umbrella Academy is to put aside the idea that its plot matters as anything more than a loose framework for character vignettes. Grading on that curve, the pointless plotting of “Öga For Öga” at least forces the Hargreeves to take stock of their priorities. As Luther puts it, “We’re different than everyone else. We’re special. And good or bad, that means we don’t get to live normal lives.” They risk everything to save everything, which Allison sees as reckless and Luther sees as hopeful. We’ve got three more episodes to find out which of them is right.


Stray observations

  • The episode ends with two big cliffhangers: Lila kidnaps Diego and brings him to the Commission, while Vanya is knocked out by a state trooper as she, Sissy, and Harlan attempt to flee Dallas.
  • I thought Five blowing up the Commission’s briefcase stash last season was going to have lasting ramifications, but apparently they’ve restocked.
  • I often find the Commission exhausting, but its satire of corporate bureaucracy can be hilariously on point: “Grief counseling is available for those of you who need it, although the Commission will not be paying for this service as it is considered out of network by our insurance provider.”
  • Another great bit of comedy in this episode is the scene where Diego and Luther mistake The Swede’s “eye for an eye” message for a name and threaten a poor old woman over the phone. I particularly loved David Castañeda’s “Wrong number, have a lovely day.”
  • There’s a bittersweet moment where Allison has to explain to Ray that even though his ’60s activism has a massive impact, “The movement’s not finished, not even in 2019.”
  • Klaus: “I’m going through a lot right now.” Ben: “You’re always going through a lot.”
  • So has Klaus been pretending not to know who Jill is or does he simply not keep track of which of his followers he has threesomes with?
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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.

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