The Umbrella Academy‘s third season is a rousing success. That shouldn’t be shocking, considering how the second round pulled off the twist-filled blast vibe after introducing these beloved misfit superheroes. Yet I’ll admit that I harbored a tiny bit of worry. This had little to do with anything regarding anything that already transpired on the show, which already surmounted all of the possible things that could have gone wrong while bringing the graphic novels (by Gabriel Ba and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way) to your nearest streaming device. Rather, my trepidation sourced from the recent hot mess going on over at Netflix. Not the subscriber slump, the other one. Yup, that would be a not-great look from CEO Ted Sarandos, who botched his response when Dave Chappelle recently punched down (with a re-upped collection of trans jokes, which are nothing new for him) during his most recent standup comedy special, The Closer.
By now, you’re surely aware of that special, which led to Chappelle digging in his heels and then getting booed by high schoolers and called out by Billy Eichner in another Netflix special. And not too long beforehand, right as The Umbrella Academy began to fire up Season 3 production, Elliot Page came out as transgender. The show soon announced that Vanya Hargreeves would become Victor Hargreeves. The graphic novel-based show would rewrite the character accordingly for an incredible reason.
You can probably see where I’m going here, but my worry was for not. Elliot Page was vocal and supportive of those Netflix employees who expressed discomfort about the Chappelle fiasco, and I should have trusted that Elliot would not have signed onto any plan for Victor Hargreeves that wouldn’t have served the situation (and the trans community) in the most respectful way, and it feels fully organic in terms of story, too.
And that brings me to how this season — which goes to *many* other places with deep exploration of *many* other Hargreeves siblings, including the brand spanking new Sparrow Academy ruffians — never forgets what made this show a resounding hit in the first place. And I’m not talking about how this season immediately (less than 10 minutes in) launches into the batsh*t crazy mode (with an amped-up ensemble) that fans have grown accustomed to seeing. That’s great, but I’m referring to how this show’s appeal really has little to do with any superhero-ing feats. I mean, there’s nothing new to insane ability or strength or shooting laser beams or whatever. Any movie or show can do that and has done it countless times, and I like a good
Evil Dead Marvel movie as much as the next nerd, but The Umbrella Academy makes spectacle secondary to substance.
The emphasis is on depth of character, and more specifically, how they cope and (to varying degrees) grow more resilient toward how they were brought into this life. Bad Dad Reginald Hargreeves (those mad billionaires are not to be trusted, other than maybe Mark Cuban) had apparently adopted 7 out of the 43 children who were born on the same day in 1989 to mothers, who spontaneously went into childhood despite not already being pregnant. But are there more Hargreeves kids, somehow? Yes. Season 2 ended after a jaunt to the 1960s (the show wove in some contextually fitting civil rights discussions), and then with a few apocalypse-vanquishing efforts under their belt (and a real RIP to Ben), the group arrived home, where they hoped to breathe a sigh of relief. Except that home’s now occupied by the Sparrow Academy, made up of another group of siblings in a new timeline.
Let’s just say that there’s a lot of conflict. The new group is chilly, the old group is salty, and formerly sweet Ben somehow exists in this timeline while both alive and an a-hole. There’s a new, world-ending paradox in the works, which forces the O.G. siblings to band together with Crazy Lila after being booted out of their childhood home. Things grow violent, hearts are broken, and amid all of the chaos, the show actually shines most during quiet, understated conversations between characters and during reflective moments. There’s a lot going on with Victor that must be savored (a few times, at least), and it flows well because (from the very beginning of this show) this character already did a lot of legwork in processing trauma from a hard-to-process place.
As for the rest of the Hargreeves siblings proper? They’re all struggling to maneuver through this new reality, which includes hostile Sparrows who can (to be fair) beat the stuffing out of most of them. Diego, Five, and Luther bear a lot of the brunt, but Allison’s arguably having the rough journey this season (it’s a heartbreaking progression of what she’s already gone through as a Black female in the 1960s). Granted, the competition of “who has it worst” is a rough one because Klaus might be “over” the trauma of communing with dead people, but the frequently drug-addled, sexually fluid character’s formative years led to a yearning for fatherly acceptance, which leans even more heavily into tragicomedy this season. Robert Sheehan goes through the paces again. He’s comedically gifted, and I can only imagine how exhausted he is after each day of work.
A nice little bonus this season: Cazzie David (daughter of Larry) as a Sparrow with one heck of a disgusting power. There are a lot of new characters to keep up with, but she certainly makes the most of her limited screen time. And yup, it must be mentioned that there’s an absurd number of pieces moving around this season, so some sidelining is to be expected, but some O.G. siblings (like Five) get the shaft to devote more time to the Sparrows. They’re a wild bunch whose fight training prepared them for intense battle, and they benefit from an impossibly dreamed-up assortment of powers that make the “I heard a rumor” ability seem tame. Also, there’s a telekinetic, floating blue cube in the Sparrow group, all anthropomorphized, too. He’s nuts. This show is nuts.
If you’re a fan of this show, already expect for your heart to break and rebuild itself at least a few times over the course of this season, but you’ll enjoy having those strings pulled. If you haven’t yet climbed aboard the madness, then know that this show’s a cure for superhero (and villain) fatigue while scratching the same itch as The Boys but in a very different way. That Amazon show’s a roaring success at satirizing the superhero genre, and The Umbrella Academy is more of a cathartic meditation (albeit an action-and-humor-filled one) on the humanity behind the abilities. Somehow, both continue to get better each season, so put on your dancing shoes: you’ve got a Netflix date.
The Umbrella Academy returns on June 22.