This review contains some mild spoilers for the second season of The Umbrella Academy and some serious spoilers for the first season.
The second season of The Umbrella Academy is, first and foremost, a time travel story: this is immediately obvious from the season’s fantastic cold opening, as the six surviving members of the Hargreeves family find themselves dropping into the same Dallas alleyway, each one of them arriving at different moments across a three-year-timeline in the early 1960s.
From the cold opening, the first episode pivots to a really unforgettable title card, one that heavily evokes the memorable splash pages that announce the chapter title of each issue of The Umbrella Academy comic by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart, and Nate Piekos.
While the second season never veers all the way into the surreal world the source material inhabits (the comic includes a wrestling match with a giant squid, a vessel powered by the remains of King Amen-Kharej IV, and the Eifel Tower come to life – and that’s all in the first half dozen pages of the first issue), this season feels closer to The Umbrella Academy comic than the first one did.
If anything, the show’s sophomore season feels something like a remix of the comics, particularly Volume Two: Dallas. Character beats, plot elements, and many of Bá’s stunning and surreal images remain intact, but those pieces may be presented in a different location, light, or set to a different beat.
Some of the best moments of the second season are those that seem to be teleported directly out of the books – notably, Carmichael, the goldfish-in-a-jar-atop-a-human-body in charge of the Temps Aeternalis, the organization responsible for maintaining the timeline’s integrity (although it’s called the Commission on Netflix).
In other instances, the adaption has added more story in order to make a more cohesive television narrative.
Two of these additions are Vanya and Allison’s respective subplots. In the comic, both characters are sidelined during the second volume as they recover from injuries sustained in the first: Vanya is bedridden and afflicted with amnesia, and Allison is unable to speak, only able to communicate through a notepad. This works better on the page, where even the “speaking” characters only have written words, than on the screen; and anyway, we already got a glimpse of Allison with the notepad at the end of the first season, but her recovery takes place in the off-screen backstory between seasons.
In fact, the newly added journeys undertaken by Vanya and Allison both heavily evoke another story about time travel and the Kennedy assassination: Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Just like the protagonist of King’s novel, both Vanya and Allison each find themselves falling in love with a person who is from another time.
(King’s fingerprints can be found elsewhere in the second season of The Umbrella Academy, too. Constant readers should watch for a reference to The Shining – and I mean King’s Shining, not Kubrick’s.)
Allison’s subplot also includes a heavy dose of historical fiction: trapped in the 1960s, she has chosen to ensure that her voice is heard by taking part in the counter sit-ins that took place during this period of history (in an interview, Representative John Lewis recalled his experiences taking part in counter sit-ins). Naturally, this bit of historical fiction necessitates the appearance of the police, but the show makes the excellent decision not to present us with any “sympathetic” cop characters (Inspector Lupo remains absent from the Netflix adaption, and frankly, that’s fine).
Viewers should be aware that there are scenes that depict police brutality toward Black characters and unlawful imprisonment, which may be difficult for some audience members to watch, considering the current state of the world.
As Allison becomes involved in the civil rights movement, Vanya becomes entangled in a queer romance that’s significantly complicated by the conventions of the time travel genre, giving her a love story that runs thematically parallel to Klaus’s own romantic woes.
All this being said, it should be noted that in addition to tragic romance and historical fiction, there’s also plenty of humor throughout the season (particularly when the dynamics between Diego and Luther are tested, or Klaus and Ben get a chance to show off their slapstick chops). Plus, nearly every episode includes an action sequence set to a soundtrack filled with original recordings and covers of classic and new songs alike. And the cold openings – particularly the one at the top of episode seven – make it nearly impossible to turn off the episode if you’ve already allowed the beginning to autoplay.
According to Way’s afterword in Dallas, The Umbrella Academy has always been planned to include “eight or nine” volumes. While it’s unclear whether or not the Netflix series will continue to release a season per volume of the comic, the conclusion of the second season definitely makes it clear that the on-screen versions of the dysfunctional Hargreeves siblings still have plenty of stories yet to endure.
The Umbrella Academy season two will be available for streaming on Netflix on Friday, July 31st, 2020. It stars Elliot Page, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda, Tom Hopper, Aidan Gallagher, Robert Sheehan, Justin H. Min, and Colm Feore. Steve Blackman is executive producer and showrunner, while Keith Goldberg, Jeff F. King, and Mike Richardson are co-executive producers.