When I heard of The Umbrella Academy from a few friends, I asked them why there was a show about umbrellas being raised at an academy from baby umbrellas to adult umbrellas. I was greeted with an extremely fair glare, complimented with targeted profanity at my ‘intelligence’ and an explanation about a well-rounded Netflix original that will soon take over your life if it hasn’t already. Just for clarification, no, this show isn’t about umbrellas at all.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
We are thrown into the world of the Hargreeves family (if you could even call them a family) and their abnormal date, time and circumstance of birth. I couldn’t imagine being a twin; having to share the spotlight with my sister is hard enough, but imagine having the exact same birthday as 43 other children across the world as well as your birth being simultaneous. Seven of these miracle children were adopted by the strange and eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves, with six of these children developing abnormal powers which they would harness under the superhero team guise of The Umbrella Academy.
The children are given numbers in order of their usefulness to Hargreeves but they are eventually named by their nanny robot mother (yes, like the one from the Jetsons but a lot more badass). We have Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Number Five (his only name), Ben and Vanya. While putting six of his children to work fighting crime, Reginald keeps Vanya apart from her siblings’ activities, as she seemingly has no powers of her own.
While having the basic plot construction and frame of a superhero centric story, it is what happens in the background context that leaves me with a deeply ingrained fascination with the Hargreeves family and their history of isolation, narcissism and childhood trauma. Within this family all the children, except for Vanya, were expected to fight crime and train their extraordinary powers; since birth Vanya was raised as the only ordinary child and was reminded of this feat at every opportunity her brothers and sister could. It is a good old public sphere of children bullying the different one (ironically being normal is different here) which leads to years of emotional trauma. We are set up to witness Vanya’s eventual breaking down and demise through the catalyst of Harold Jenkins and his own gripes with not loving his very ordinary self, which contorts Vanya into becoming a monster-like version of Jenkins as her family shuts her out once more. Once she had found her aspect of belonging, she is again shut out which destroys her mentally and becomes the fearful White Violin, the most powerful child of The Umbrella Academy.
The series takes an interesting concept whereby these frayed bonds that the Hargreeves children share are immediately tested by suspicion as a looming knife to cut these relationships and separate the siblings more so than when they were children. As Vanya’s siblings lock her away for being different and realise the destructive nature of her powers, we see a juxtaposition of these characters ironically not realising they are locking her away for what they provoked her with the most; being extraordinary and different. With Vanya now belonging to their family in a different way other than blood, they are unsure how to react, so they lock her in a room that she was put in as a child, resurfacing the childhood trauma of loneliness and isolation that we as human beings fear. Never put Vanya in a corner or she’ll play the violin and destroy the whole bloody world I guess which is the destructive nature of isolation that we all fear.
Another extremely intriguing and deep character arc involves the misfit, drug addicted, cross dressing, adroginist brother, Klaus, who can bring upon the dead, which would truly be enough to fuck anyone up at the least. An adverse effect of his necromancer-like power is his need to oppress these demons and voices which plague his mind by turning to substance abuse. The Umbrella Academy delves deep into this form of last resort for individuals who cannot face what is right in front of them and makes an argument as to why someone may resort to this route in their lives.
Throughout the series, Klaus battles this addiction. He travels back in the past to the Vietnam war where he becomes enlisted as an American soldier and meets a man who understands him, forming a somewhat rushed connection that ends all too soon. His partner dying in front of his eyes sobers him up but brings on raging PTSD which in culmination with his horrifying power destroys his mental state until his dead brother Ben snaps him out of it (literally with a punch) which awakens Klaus’ true power of which he can only control while sober. Of course, temptation also played a large role here where Klaus’ biggest supporter Ben assisted his process in becoming aware of his situation and caring for his family taking over the thoughts of the dead. There are many parallels from this world that we can take into our own lives when we see one of our loved ones or friends in this predicament of addiction and substance abuse, whereby we can assist in their transition and rehabilitation more than we believe. This series truly is a testament to tackling these issues in an extraordinary way where is it is always apparent that everyone (even the extraordinary) are affected by monsters under our bed, skeletons in the closet, and ghosts of the past.
The Umbrella Academy truly is a slow paced bumpy ride, however, the character development and progression of this dysfunctional family truly is a spectacle to behold. Along with their unique abilities, I am extremely excited to see where this story is taken. I heard a rumour that there would be a season two and I’m way too excited to sit around. I might ask Number Five if he could take me to the future so I can watch it!