The second season of popular TV shows, like sophomore albums, have plenty to live up to. Expectations are raised, character evolution becomes a prerequisite, and payoffs from previous seasonal plot threads are demanded by passionate fans.
The success of The Umbrella Academy season 1 – with 45 million viewers in its first month – increased the stakes ahead of its second season. Netflix’s adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s dark comedy superhero series needed to build on that success while also staying true to its comic roots.
With its blend of original ideas, graphic novel-sourced material, and the freedom afforded from its acclaimed first outing, The Umbrella Academy Season 2 continues to put the 'fun' in 'dysfunctional' (sorry).
Season 2 picks up straight after Season 1. The Hargreeves family have survived the apocalypse that they inadvertently created, but the time-travelling plan concocted by Five (Aidan Gallagher) hasn’t gone to plan. The siblings arrive in Dallas, Texas, but at different points between 1960 and 1963.
Five, naturally, arrives last – and in the middle of another doomsday event no less. The Soviet Union has invaded the United States for reasons unknown and, despite The Umbrella Academy’s best efforts, the Soviets launch a barrage of nukes that ends life as we know it.
Luckily, Five is rescued by former Commission agent Hazel (Cameron Britton), who transports him 10 days into the past to prevent this apocalypse from happening. Alone and pursued by the Swedes, a trio of Commission assassins tasked with taking out the Hargreeves siblings, Five must locate his family and restore the timeline to its original state.
Doing so won’t be easy. The others are scattered across Dallas, and season 2’s time jumping exploits has put them in unique scenarios. Luther (Tom Hopper) works as a bodyguard for a local gangster, Diego (David Castenada) is locked up in a psychiatric hospital for trying to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he can assassinate JFK, and Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is a spiritual cult leader who continues to be humorously plagued by the group’s deceased brother Ben (Justin Min).
As for the ladies, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is happily married and involved in the local civil rights movement, while Vanya (Ellen Page) lives with a farm-dwelling family as she tries to overcome the amnesia she suffered during season 1’s finale.
Breaking up the family may seem jarring at first, but it works well. Separating the siblings allows for the introduction of supporting characters that, for the most part, shine alongside the core cast. Diego’s and Vanya’s interactions with newcomers Lila (Ritu Arya) and Sissy (Marin Ireland), in particular, ooze chemistry, while Allison’s marriage to Ray (Yusuf Gatewood) is equal parts endearing and challenging. Each relationship plays a role in acting as the show’s heart, and providing dramatic story beats, amid the overarching world-ending plot thread, and test our would-be heroes in their new alien world.
While it’s intriguing to see the Hargreeves family spend time apart, season 2’s best moments come when they’re together. The family’s dysfunctionality is on full view in these scenes, whether it’s as a full group or in twos or threes, and they supply plenty of hilarious moments as the group mock and chastise each other.
One particular sequence, halfway through season 2, brings the laughs in spades, and shows how comfortable the core cast has become with riffing off one another. Even when they are separated, though, the jokes continue. Hopper revels in Luther’s newfound humorous side as he experiences life outside of the academy for an extended period of time, and any scene involving Klaus and Ben continues to be a hoot.
Like season 1, music plays a prominent role in the second season. From songs released in the swinging 60s, to covers of popular 21st century tunes, season 2 comes equipped with a soundtrack that will dominate fans’ Spotify playlists for some time. Each song fits neatly into the sequence it’s playing over and, yes, there is another dance sequence akin to season 1’s most iconic moment.
Fans of the graphic novels will be delighted with the comic book references too. Season 1 may have been light on nods to its source material, but the second season brings the comic’s weirder side – we’re looking at you, A.J – to the table. They work without being too invasive, and act as a fun Easter egg trail for those in the know.
It isn’t all fun and games for the Hargreeves family. World-ending events aside, season 2 has its share of poignant and heartbreaking character moments, while revelations about their father Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) continue to provide them with more questions than answers. The siblings are still people with their own problems and insecurities, and grounding them with these issues, despite their extraordinary abilities, means the show continues to resonate on an emotional level.
Racial discrimination, police brutality, and LGBT rights are rightly explored too. It’s a shame that such topically relevant subjects get pushed to the margins as the series edges towards its doomsday-focused climax, but it would have been a greater injustice for the show to gloss over them entirely, especially given its time period setting and location.
As for the action sequences, there’s good and bad. The close quarters combat is impressive and tighter than season 1, but the superpower aspect falls short. True, the siblings’ powers mean that battles become one=sided unless there’s an army of foes to fight off but, one or two scenes aside, they’re never truly tested. It would be a welcome change to see The Umbrella Academy go up against some superpowered villains in a possible third season, and give the showrunners the chance to retire its impending apocalyptic threat plot device.
The Umbrella Academy season 2 – aside from some basic story threads – diverges from the source material, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In becoming its own entity, it particularly expands on the plot from the Dallas graphic novel to deliver a grounded, more confident second series that’s full of comedic, dramatic and superheroic story beats.
The Umbrella Academy Season 2 does a stellar job of building upon its predecessor, and should enthrall comic fans and viewers in equal measure. Fingers crossed a third season is in the works.
The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is out on Netflix on July 31.