There is an extremely disappointing downside to Umbrella Academy at the start of the campaign splitting all its characters: it is starting to feel like it is going to take a very, very long time to get them all back together again. The first season thrived on the odd-ball dynamic, and the inherent conflicts that bubbled to the surface every time this entire dysfunctional family was trapped in the same place.
Yet season two has chosen to break them all up again, and so far none of the individual stories are sufficiently convincing to stand alone for long. There is an explanation why “The Swedish Job” opens up to become a cult leader with a short, breathless montage chronicling Klaus’s long, globe-trotting rise: This content — though worth a laugh — is just not enough to hold an audience’s attention for more than a few minutes.
In this episode, you can feel the pressure in every story, which tends to be very busy without really doing anything to push the plot forward. Vanya fends off an attack from the Swedish assassins’ trio (and in that process rediscovers her own superpower). Klaus springs from jail allison husband Ray. Luther tries to reconnect with Allison and finds that she is married and spirals into an even depressive state. Finally Diego and Lila pair up.
“Swedish Job” features one story with a little bit of extra emotional punch. Klaus is tracking down his old friend David, who works in a nearby hardware store. You the recall David from the first season, when he and Klaus fell in love while serving together in Vietnam. David died, and Klaus came back in 2019, ravaged with sorrow and PTSD from a childhood that no one else will ever grasp.
And now, Klaus and David can be joined again, thanks to time travel — just how far does that go? The Hargreeves kids have adapted to life pretty well in Dallas. Yet this story arrives at one of time travel’s tragic difficulties: the overwhelming need to fix something that originally went wrong.
During the middle of a battle Klaus and David had fallen in love. Here, prior to the battle, Klaus assumes that he can dissuade David from enlisting and saving his life — even if there is a very real risk it will also mean it David never falls to him first.
Sadly, one of the peculiar things about constructing the second season of Umbrella Academy around a second disaster (eight days and counting!) is that it leaves several of these smaller, more intimate storylines moot. Honestly, it does not matter if Klaus is keeping David from enrolling if he is only going to die by nuclear bomb before going to Vietnam anyhow. Stopping the death of practically anyone in the world is a pretty major trump card, when you list preferences.
And then there is sit-in at the white-only diner for Allison and Ray. For a few weeks we have been leading up to this moment and it is genuinely hard to watch. The dinner bursts with anger, workers pouring salt and coffee on unarmed Black demonstrators who realize the police’s presence could mean their death.
Unfortunately, the episode also makes a very mistaken decision to cut in the fighting pit between the diner and Luther’s latest brawl. Luther, mourning that Allison has found true love with someone else, wants to go for a dive and begs his adversary to pummel him into numbness.
As a result, the cross-cutting between Allison ‘s stories and Luther’s has the effect of bringing together the very strong reality of a police officer beating a Black man to death — a national shame that America is actually struggling painfully with right now — with the ridiculous spectacle of a stressed superhero inviting anyone to forget him.
I was wondering how this traumatic subject would be tackled by a show as frothy as Umbrella Academy, and the execution is as flawed as I feared it could be. Genre tales will definitely dive into complex social and cultural problems. (See HBO’s Watchmen, for one.)
But just as much as I enjoy Umbrella Academy on a moment-by – moment basis, I do not think the series has the breadth or scope to tackle this specific story with the weight it both needs and deserves. It is saying that the “solution” is simply Allison using her superpower to stop the cop beating her husband to death, which is one way to steal the seriousness of an actual societal problem without having to do anything about it.
We will not get any answer at all on the plight of all the other Black Americans who are being targeted by the diner patrons and policemen because Umbrella Academy is not even interested in them as individuals. Basically, they are afterthought in a story that is really just about the growing tension between Allison and Ray, who is starting to understand that his wife harbors some pretty deep mysteries of her own.
The whole chaotic, half-baked sequence has made me think about just what the Umbrella Academy is trying to do in season two, and what it can really do. It is hard to fault the series for ambition — but eventually, I think Umbrella Academy might just be best suited for giddy escapism, rousing set pieces and nutty turns.
That is probably what we get when Lila hooks up with Diego at the end of the season, then sneaks off to a hotel and meets The Handler, who turns out to be … her mother! It appears as if the different members of the Umbrella Academy are not just the Swedish killers who are tracking down. And now that Lila has insinuated herself completely into Diego’s confidence, I think her subtler approach will yield some real fruit.