In the third season of The Umbrella Academy, the Hargreeves siblings must team up to save the world from certain doom. Sound familiar? It should, because that is also the summary of seasons 1 and 2 of The Umbrella Academy.
But that’s not necessarily a bug. Sometimes, resetting plots and settings ad infinitum can be frustrating — and certainly there are moments in this season of The Umbrella Academy that feel like something that’s happened before. At the same time, showrunner Steve Blackman introduces a lot of new plots, new characters, and new settings to complicate it all, some directly from the comics, some loosely inspired by them, and some just for fun. It is a lot to take in, both jarringly different and startlingly the same. But in the end it all comes back to the Hargreeves siblings and the unhappy cycle of their own making. How much you enjoy this season depends on how much you enjoy stories about people suffering because they keep making the wrong decisions over and over again, even in the face of potential annihilation.
[Ed. note: This review contains some mild setup spoilers for the third season of The Umbrella Academy.]
This season kicks off with the Hargreeves siblings finally back in 2019 — except, due to their shenanigans in 1963, it’s a different version of 2019 than they know. The biggest difference is that Reginald Hargreeves did not adopt them as children. Instead, he picked seven different superpowered children born on October 1, 1989. They’re now an elite team of crime fighters known as the Sparrow Academy.
At first, most of the Umbrella Academy seems resigned to accept their new fate in this strange timeline, but they soon realize that their presence in this alternate reality seems to have triggered a new apocalypse on the horizon. Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Five (Aidan Gallagher), and Viktor (Elliot Page) must work together with a whole new set of dysfunctional Hargreeves siblings to put a stop to the end of the world.
At its core, The Umbrella Academy is a tragedy — the seven siblings trapped in their patterns, unable to break free of them due to their own fundamental flaws. The set dressing might change, but it’s still the Hargreeves siblings dealing with their own trauma and making terrible choices. For those wanting the Hargreeves siblings to finally learn, grow, and succeed at stopping the apocalypse, the bad news is that this season will feel long, drawn-out, and like it’s echoing many of the same arguments and disagreements.
It doesn’t help that the pacing of this season feels a little strange, with the last three episodes especially disjointed, almost as if they’re from a completely separate season entirely. The bigger mysteries revealed in the later episodes could do with more buildup initially, but then again, there is so much groundwork to lay with the new timeline, the new characters, and everyone’s shifting motives. Last season benefited from the audience already being familiar enough with the characters that tossing them into a new setting ended up nicely developing them — because, yes, of course Klaus started a cult and Allison is at the forefront of the civil rights movement and Diego got tossed into a psychiatric hospital.
This time around, some plot elements get more attention than others, and it certainly feels massively uneven. The main driving force for the last three episodes, particularly, doesn’t get much buildup till it suddenly becomes the most important thing in the universe. Meanwhile, other important threads from previous seasons are quickly tied up and laid to rest without much resulting fanfare. While these plot elements end up being unbalanced, the Hargreeves family still takes center stage.
So with a whole new cast of characters this season and more lore (not to mention a whole new 50 years or so affected by the Umbrellas’ 1963 antics), there’s a whole lot of moving parts. But for those invested in dysfunctional family members that are both each other’s saving grace and ultimate downfall, the addition of a family unit who just might be more powerful (and certainly better at the whole teamwork thing) provides a fun contrast for the Umbrella Hargreeves to play against.
The thread that unifies all three seasons of The Umbrella Academy is the Hargreeves siblings and all their fuckery. In the first season, everyone was at each other’s throats more or less; in the second, after being scattered across different points of the 1960s, they ended up finding comfort and joy in their reunions. This season is a bit of both — after messing up yet again, tensions are high, and the presence of another (seemingly better) family also exacerbates it all. Still, since they’re the only people who can relate, they find some sense of solidarity in one another as the end of the world looms (again).
There are some moments that could go deeper. Allison and Diego — the only two siblings who are people of color — confiding in each other about being trapped in the 1960s, for instance, could lend itself to some deeper interrogation, instead of just being an excuse for Allison to harden. But while the characters perpetually bicker, it’s different from the frosty animosity in season 1. We’ve seen them get along this time, and we know that deep down they do love each other — it’s just after a lifetime of being pit against one another and subjected to brutal training routines, they’re still processing all that trauma. And that means that even if they want to fix things, they still make the same mistakes and fall into the same patterns. It can be frustrating, but it makes sense. The Hargreeves siblings might grow as individuals, but they’re ultimately trapped in a prison of their own design, shackled to one another and dragged down by whoever their weakest link may be.
While the Sparrows initially are a lot of characters all at once, they eventually fit nicely into the established dynamics. It helps that the two families have a shared point: Ben, who in the Umbrella Academy universe was a sweet boy who died tragically (and whose ghost stuck around with Klaus in previous seasons); in the Sparrow Academy, he’s the cutthroat, cocky Number Two of the family. The Sparrows provide an interesting contrast to the Umbrellas, a family that seems like it gets along on the surface, but in reality can’t stand each other. Toss in Diego’s unhinged kinda-ex, Lila (Ritu Arya), who catapults herself right into the mix of things, as well as this timeline’s version of the Hargreeves patriarch, and this season is almost at carrying capacity for just how many characters and dynamics it can juggle. But once it all meshes together, with individual groups budding off, it becomes quite fun.
This season of The Umbrella Academy is a lot. It is so much. And yet, it’s also the same as it’s always been. There may be new characters and new places and a new world-ending catastrophe on the horizon, but at the end of the day, it is a show about a group of siblings who love each other more than anything while also being incredibly terrible to one another, because they know exactly how to break each other down.
When it comes to that, The Umbrella Academy always delivers. The reason the world keeps ending is because the Hargreeves siblings keep fucking up. This is the third time it’s happened and as the show continues to be successful, it’s likely they will fail way more than they succeed. It is frustrating, but deliciously so. And for those that find themselves drawn to the cyclical nature of repeating tragedies and familial love as both a source of strength and an ultimate weakness, The Umbrella Academy continues to be as intoxicating to viewers as the Hargreeves family is to themselves.
The third season of The Umbrella Academy hits Netflix on June 22.