BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME
FB@ The Comic Blog
I finally got around to watching the latest season of Umbrella Academy, and this may be the most lazily executed Netflix show since Iron Fist, which is saying something for a streaming service built around Stranger Things.
With so many high-profile movies and shows hitting theaters and streaming between June and July, it’s easy for the third season of Umbrella Academy to get overlooked. There’s been Obi-Wan, Ms. Marvel, The Boys, Stranger Things 4, and Thor: Love and Thunder premieres tomorrow. Umbrella Academy has flown under the radar, and it didn’t give audiences much incentive to put season three atop their to-do lists.
It’s not uncommon for critics and audiences to completely disagree on opinions. Generally, the critics judge movies and shows much more harshly than casual viewers, but UAS3 has been a different story. Currently, the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score has the latest season enjoying a 90% critical rating with 37 out of 41 critics giving it the thumbs up. Fans didn’t see things in the same positive light as the audience score sits at a dismal 58%.
If you scrape away all the unnecessary excess, UA’s main plot is up to the same standards as its previous installments. The mysteries of the Sparrow Academy and the Hotel Obsidian and how Reggie Hargreeves connected the two was engaging. Boil it down to just the essentials of that story, and this is probably a six-episode season. Short? Yes, but much more effective and impactful.
In the end, this was a lackluster season that is guilty of lazy writing.
WHAT WE WANTED VS. WHAT WE GOT
What we wanted: more Klaus and Five hijinks. What we got: too much Luther and Sloane.
The standout characters continue to be Five and Klaus. From the first episode of season one, these have been the best characters in the show. Whether it's Five’s surly demeanor stemming from the fact that he is a 58-year-old man trapped in what is supposed to be a 13-year-old body (although actor Aidan Gallagher is looking more his real age of 19) or Klaus’ sarcastic hippie persona, they are the real stars of the show. The best parts of the past two seasons were the episodes that focused primarily on either of them, and season three needed more of just that. Instead, we got a lot of weak storylines that built to the big moments.
THE OL’ SHOEHORN
Nothing takes an audience out of a show quite like plotlines and characters shoehorned into a script. With so many characters in Umbrella Academy, the showrunners attempt to give all the protagonists their own subplots to help flesh them out. They weren’t all enthralling, but they would typically tie together and were entertaining. Season three missed that mark.
From a viewer’s standpoint, it comes across as if once the season was completed, the corporate executives decided it needed another four or five episodes. Many series have been guilty of this. The Book of Boba Fett immediately comes to mind. After all, that was a show whose title character went missing for multiple episodes, which very much seemed like shoehorning Din Djarin into the mix. BOBF isn’t alone. Lost, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and many others can be accused of shoehorning, so at least UA is in good company.
Despite an engaging main plot, the add-ons had no depth and were more or less filler, and it dragged down the entire show. Luther and Sloane’s forced romance that had zero build to all the wedding shenanigans. Diego and Lila’s delinquent “son,” who was beginning to grow on me before he was Thanosed away and hardly mentioned again. Soon thereafter, we learn that Lila had put someone else’s kid in danger to test Diego’s father potential. Besides the child endangerment, deceit, and absolutely horrible decision making, Diego and Lila profess their love for each other and look forward to the bun baking in the oven.
It doesn’t stop there. Harlan was a nice addition from the previous season, and that was a loose end that needed tying. It’s the way he was added to the story only to have his powers taken away much too quickly and easily before he’s killed offscreen is a travesty. Let’s not even bother complaining about how the Sparrows became heroes without anyone exploring their Orwellian control over Dallas. At one point, Marcus referred to the citizens as sheep, but let’s forget all that because suddenly everyone’s friends.
The biggest shoehorning sin has to be Viktor’s transition. Art imitates life, and Viktor followed a similar path as actor Elliott Page, who transitioned from Ellen to Elliott. In turn, Vanya became Viktor. That would have been an interesting story to expand on, one that needed an entire season’s worth of plot to fully explore. Instead, we get a handful of forced scenes. While everyone is at the Hotel Obsidian, Vanya abruptly leaves, gets a haircut, and returns to introduce Viktor. There’s five minutes of the family giving their approval, and we’re back to the scene that was originally in the script. The closest we get to the Vanya-Viktor transition being addressed again is a brief conversation between Allison and him. After that, it’s on with the show as if he’s been Viktor their entire lives.
Therein lies the problem with season three. The writing is lazy with too many rushed subplots, and everything is too plot convenient. It’s enough to make the Duffer Brothers shake their heads, and they’ve mastered the art of lazy, forced writing. And when I say everything is plot convenient, I literally mean EVERYTHING. Harlan just happens to be at the hotel the moment the Sparrows attack, and pretty much anything involving Five.
The reactions are less believable than Luther’s muscle suit, and several characters take 180-degree turns from how they’ve been characterized, such as Allison’s edgy demeanor and Ben being upset about not getting invited to Luther’s bachelor party. At one point, Allison almost rapes Luther by using her mind-control power, which didn’t fit her character and made her unlikable.
The best characters are ones that seem genuine, and much of that comes from a writer treating them as real people. Whether or not it’s seen in the story, each character has a history prior to being introduced to the audience. That history affects their choices, interactions, and reactions to events. From a writer’s perspective, UAS3 treats its characters like action figures, putting them in cool or funny poses, taking a picture, and moving on to the next sitcom-inspired moment.
Maybe UAS3 wasn’t all that it could have been, but the show’s popularity will keep comic collectors on the hunt. Here are a few to get you started with an eye on the possibilities of UAS4.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE FREE COMIC BOOK DAY (2007)
The first time readers met the Umbrella Academy was in the six-issue limited series Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite. Published in 2007, the FCBD issue mostly flew under the collecting radar. Once the first season of the Netflix show premiered, it was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. That has made this the top buying priority for all the UA collectors. With season three having dropped, it should create renewed interest for the team’s first appearance.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY #1 (2007)
After the UA FCBD hit comic shops in April, September saw the first official issue of the Apocalypse Suite limited series. If you are collecting UA comics, this one is required. Since this isn’t the show’s debut, it should keep prices from getting to their previous levels.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY #3 (2007)
With Hotel Obsidian being introduced in Season Three and the codeword “oblivion” being key to the plot, it could be pointing toward Hotel Oblivion in season four. In essence, the hotel is actually a prison created by the Monocle. Existing in a pocket dimension, Oblivion is where the UA’s deadliest enemies are locked away. After the UA themselves are sent to the hotel, the prisoners break free. Way to go, discount X-Men.
We don’t see the actual Hotel in the comics until the 2019 series, but Apocalypse Suite #3 was the first mention of its existence.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY: HOTEL OBLIVION #1 (2019)
This is a UA key in the making. Although Scientific Man isn’t expressly mentioned in the show’s third season, the implications are present. My guess is that he is secretly the older man who we repeatedly see quietly watching the Umbrellas in Hotel Obsidian.
In the comics, Scientific Man is basically the warden of the interdimensional prison, Hotel Oblivion. Similar to Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, Scientific Man is a godlike being who was once mortal. Once the prisoners escape from Oblivion, he is tasked with reeling them back in, and that includes the Umbrella Academy. Will we see that take place in UA? I wouldn’t bet against it.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY: HOTEL OBLIVION #7 (2019)
At the conclusion of season two, the big reveal was the UA’s alternate timeline version, the Sparrow Academy. Without giving away too much about the second season, we quickly learn that Hargreeves’ second team is more brutal and ruthless than the UA. Reginald blames it all on the UA siblings, saying that he was so disappointed with meeting them in the 1960s that he changed course and adopted a different children for the second incarnation.
So far, the comics haven’t explored the Sparrows aside from their initial appearances in Hotel Oblivion #7. At this point, the two versions seem fairly different. The comics showed the Sparrows living in a secluded part of Norway. In the Netflix series, they are closer to the X-Men if created by George Orwell. Dallas treats them like celebrities, but it would seem they have the entire metropolitan area under their command. Banners and signs remind citizens they are being watched. Whether or not that will be factored into the comics remains to be seen, but it is an interesting concept for the show with Hargreeves’ superpowered children using their powers to protect and rule Dallas.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.