Chances are, if you’re watching Umbrella Academy Season 2, then you’ve finished Season 1 and you already know what you’re in for. Netflix’s surreal family drama slash sci-fi superhero action thriller planted its flag in the ground last year with a charming and fresh 10-episode debut that took the comic book source material by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba and made it into something totally new. It was exciting and weird and populated with characters that felt just familiar enough to love at first sight. Now, they’re all returning for a new adventure–or, well, a sort-of new adventure.
The set up for Season 2 will sound familiar. In a slap-dash attempt to avoid the apocalypse, the dysfunctional Hargreeves family–seven adopted super-powered siblings–wound up time traveling back to the 1960s. This may have mitigated the problem of the world ending back in the modern era–or at least put that problem on hold for the time being–but naturally, hopping back to the past just caused more issues than it solved. Specifically, their meddling set off a chain of events that led to a new, completely different apocalypse that they now have to try and avoid.
On the surface, it may seem like an easy way to repeat everything about Season 1 with a period piece setting–but thankfully, Umbrella Academy deftly maneuvers around falling into any sort of routine by actually allowing its characters to grow and change. The situation may be a familiar one, but the Hargreeves siblings are no longer the people they were back when they tried to save the world the first time. It wouldn’t be totally accurate to say that Umbrella Academy is ever “grounded”–one of the lesser antagonists this season is a sentient goldfish who smokes cigarettes by sucking up smoke-filled air bubbles in his tank–but the characters themselves feel authentic and flawed (maybe even a little too flawed at times–but we’ll get to that in a second).
Their new temporal circumstances have forced the Hargreeves siblings to adapt. Luthor (Tom Hopper) has found work for himself as an underground boxer where he mostly throws fights and gets himself punched in the face. Diego (David Castañeda) has, regrettably, found himself locked up in a mental institution. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and by extension his ghost brother Ben (Justin H.), have started a cult. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has become a civil rights activist. Vanya (Ellen Page) is stricken with amnesia and has settled in as a nanny in a farmhouse. Five (Aidan Gallagher), who is no stranger to time-traveling insanity, is once again forced to be the one responsible for informing his brothers and sisters of the oncoming apocalypse.
Each Hargreeves sibling’s new lot in life feels earned and logical, considering the trajectories of their individual arcs back in Season 1. The unfortunate side of that, however, is just how long it keeps the seven of them apart. Umbrella Academy is strongest when it allows the entire family to act as an ensemble and Season 2 spends the bulk of its time early on just trying to get them all in the same room with one another. The effect can be a bit frustrating, especially when the more stubborn members of the bunch really dig their heels in and refuse to play nice with others over and over again. It’s easy to tell that there was real consideration given to making sure each of the siblings had their own unique story, which is certainly well intentioned, but the reality is that a ten-episode season fitting seven individual plotlines in with any degree of balance is an impossible task.
Thankfully, by the time they do wind up all coming together toward the back half of the season, it’s immensely satisfying. For all you’ll probably want to reach through the screen and throttle one or two of them for their horrible decision making (I’m looking at you, Klaus, and also you, Diego–two names that will surprise no one after their respective Season 1 ordeals), watching the team congeal into a well-oiled machine is a blast.
In addition to (slowly but surely) getting the band back together, Umbrella Academy Season 2 added a handful of new faces with two major standouts amongst them: Lila (Ritu Arya) and Sissy (Marin Ireland). The two women represent the extremes of Umbrella Academy’s emotional and tonal range, with Lila crashing into the Hargreeves’ siblings lives with all the grace and subtlety of a hand grenade and Sissy acting as a quiet, deeply intimate foil for Vanya in her new life down on the range. To explain too much about either would edge into spoiler territory, but trust us when we say you’ll want to keep an eye on both of them.
All told, Umbrella Academy Season 2 manages to thread the needle in a way fans will appreciate. It’s enough of the same to feel comfortable and familiar while bringing enough of the new to the table to remain exciting and engaging. It may take its time getting off the ground and struggle with some early pacing issues, but at the end of the day its massive heart and lovable characters will sell you on even the clumsy pieces. After all, what is Umbrella Academy if not a love letter to the slightly (or, in some cases, extremely) dysfunctional?