First look review: The Umbrella Academy Season 3
Ivan Radford | On 23, Jun 2022
This spoiler-free review is based on the opening episodes of Season 3.
“My family are crazy,” says one of member of the Hargreeves clan to another in The Umbrella Academy Season 3. The really crazy part? They’re both from different Hargreeves families, as Netflix’s comic book series pits its super-powered siblings against another version of the super-powered siblings from a different timeline.
The very idea of another TV series or film centred around multiverses might well be enough to have some viewers turning off their screens, but The Umbrella Academy has had timey-wimey shenanigans baked into its own particular brand of chaos ever since its first season. Since then, what’s impressed is less the scale of its chrono-illogical storytelling and more the way that it’s managed to hone and refine its own tone to become something rare in today’s deluge of polydimensional entertainment: something that’s unmistakeably distinct. How many other shows manage to frame each season around a deadline to stop the end of the world as we know it while still exploring fresh emotional depths and moral dilemmas?
Season 3 begins with the Umbrella Academy – Luther (Tom Hopper), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Viktor (Elliot Page), Diego (David Castañeda) and Five (Aidan Gallagher) – arriving home after the epic showdown last season. Except they soon discover that they’re in a different version of their home, and in their place is the Sparrow Academy, a group of similarly born super-powered youngsters who were adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), after his original Umbrella-themed batch were a disappointment.
Their counterparts are a typically diverse bunch, from Marcus (Justin Cornwell), their confident and chiselled Number 1, and Number 6 Jayme (Cazzie David), who can spit hallucination-inducing venom, to Alphonso (Jake Epstein), the scarred Number 4 who can inflict his pain on others, Fei (Britney Oldford), the intimidating Number 3, who can manifest a murder of crows, and Sloane (Genesis Rodriguez), the timid Number 5 who can control gravity but is afraid to drift away to find herself. And, at the centre of them all, is Ben (Justin H Min), the Number 2 of the gang who – unlike the Umbrella Academy’s Ben – is still alive, plus has a mean streak to match the malevolent squid inside him.
The return of Ben, besides giving Justin H Min a welcome chance to reprise his role, is a sign of just how well The Umbrella Academy knows its own strengths: while there’s an immediate tension between the rival groups, there’s also a sense of genuine joy at the siblings seeing their departed brother once more, and that ability to juggle character beats with superhero action with ease has rarely been so apparent.
The end of the universe is, of course, on the cards once more, with a sinister ball of energy threatening to melt everything into dust on a molecular level, but Season 3’s relatively understated opening episodes serve as a soft reset not only in terms of situation but in terms of sensibility: the character work shines just at a point when the show’s signature quirkiness could have outstayed its welcome. And so, rather than introduce doppelgängers for the sheer novelty of it, Season 3 takes its set-up as a chance to unpick the tangled threads of each Academy member.
That’s particularly apparent with Page’s Viktor, whose transition from Vanya is beautifully handled in a heartfelt string of conversations between the siblings – Page’s speech involving a reflection in a shop window is hugely moving, and Emmy Raver-Lampman does excellent work in providing generous support, while also going through her own struggle with grief. Just when you think that Five has nowhere left to go, Aidan Gallagher has fun embracing the notion that he’s simply tired of all the time-travelling antics, while Klaus deals with the return of Ben and Diego has an unexpected subplot involving his relationship with Lila (the always-brilliant Ritu Arya) that’s entertaining as well as cute. And, amid all that, there’s still time for a sweet connection to blossom between Tom Hopper’s soft-centred Luther and Genesis Rodriguez’s Sloane, both of whom feel held back in some way.
Amid all the emotional complexity, though, Season 3 doesn’t spare on the excitement, with an opening set piece that sets the bar high, as the camera swoops through choreographed moves and hops between one-on-ones with the kind of energy that made Season 1’s early dance sequence so charming. The result is a surprisingly thoughtful exploration of dysfunctional families, the need for trust and our ability to hurt the ones we love, all crystallised by a drive to bring the family together rather than scatter them across different timelines. There’s a renewed sense of focus that feels as tightly knit as the ensemble dynamics at play, cementing The Umbrella Academy as a series that’s thrillingly confident in its own skin – and it’s all presented with the kind of knowing needle drops we’ve come to expect, both during big confrontations and the most private of embraces. What a special show this madcap ride has become.