When we last left the Umbrella Academy they were time traveling into the past to stop the apocalypse and that’s right where we rejoin them in Season 2, for the most part. Our dysfunctional family successfully makes it to the past but unfortunately they have all landed at slightly different times and are forced to start new lives for themselves in 1960’s Dallas, until Five arrives to tell them they have ten days to stop yet another apocalypse of course, because that’s what Five does, he drinks coffee and he stops apocalypses, and he’s all out of coffee.
For the most part Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy is a triumph. The main cast members feel more like fully fleshed out people and their relationships with one another are explored in a much more compelling way than in Season 1. You actually feel like these are people who were raised together, with shared traumas and experiences, but also love one another, an emotion that felt somewhat lacking in the show before. A surprising break-out star of the season is the relationship between Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), two characters I couldn’t say for sure even spoke to each other last season. But this time around they are the ones who most feel like actual siblings that are excited to reunite, reconnect and support each other.
This new season also brings with it a cleaner plot than Season 1, with a more cohesive narrative that ties together all the characters in a more satisfying way, with the exception being perhaps in the last episode.
But what the show has gained in character development and storytelling, they have lost in artistic style and technical spectacle. Gone are the dance sequences that pull away to reveal a dollhouse style shot of six people dancing in rooms alone, there are no fights that live up to the thrill of Five’s coffee house slaughter in Season 1, and there are no moments of shock and horror like the reveal of the ghosts haunting Klaus. In short, the show just looks like a show. It doesn’t look bad, if I had to guess I’d say the season had the same budget as it did before, it just isn’t trying to do anything as technically cool or stylish as it has previously. I sincerely miss the more artistic cinematography, it was a highlight of Season 1 for me, but if its loss means better storytelling and more in-depth character relationships then I’m happy to show it the door. I’ll take a more enjoyable story over a slightly prettier camera shot any day of the week.
There is so much to like in this story after all. The stand-out arc easily belongs to Allison who finds herself entrenched in the 1960’s civil rights movement and planning peaceful protests that are constantly escalated by police violence. It’s a storyline so relevant to today it’s shocking it was written over a year ago. Her story beautifully highlights the combination of her frustration and determination to persevere in the fight for equality. It’s so good you sometimes wish this show wasn’t about superheroes at all but just her, the women at her salon (who moved me to tears at one point in their defense of a mute Allison), and her husband Ray (Yusuf Gatewood).
Which brings us to the next vast improvement from Season 1, Allison and Luther’s relationship, or lack thereof. If, like me, you weren’t a fan of the Allison/Luther sibling romance in Season 1, well, let’s just say you’ll like Season 2 a lot more and leave it at that.
In fact the romance of this season succeeds in pretty much every aspect.
Klaus, as usual, turns out to be much more complicated than he first appears and manages to be the most entertaining and heart-wrenching part of the show.
Without getting into spoilers, I’ll also commend Season 2 for continuing to expand its LGBTQ+ representation this year. This season dropping just a few weeks after The Old Guard has really highlighted just how ahead of the curve Netflix is in terms of superhero representation.
As for the rest of the cast, Five is still being played to perfection by Aidan Gallagher, a young man far too talented for his own good. Diego (David Castañeda) gets some lovely growth this season as he transforms into a true hero. Ben (Justin Min) unfortunately remains under-utilized overall, though he at least gets some truly memorable scenes this year. Vanya’s emotions are no longer being dulled by pills which means Ellen Page actually gets to act this season and knocks it out of the park. And Luther (Tom Hopper) is kind of just there? Honestly, I’m not sure they knew what to do with him this year and basically just made him tag along with Diego and Five on their journeys.
Mixed in with all the drama of the season is also a nice sprinkle of comedy, usually coming before or after incredibly dark moments. Much like it was in Season 1 the show manages to retain its impossible tone of mixing the incredibly dark with the hilariously funny, without seeming disingenuous. While watching The Umbrella Academy you can be shocked with grief in one moment and laughing hysterically the next without missing a beat. It’s a hard line to walk but the show is a lot like real life in that way, and maybe that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
Season 2 of the Umbrella Academy airs on Netflix on July 31, 2020