[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy Season 2.]
We need to talk about Ben Hargreeves’ arc in The Umbrella Academy Season 2. The Netflix series adapted from the Gerard Way–Gabriel Bá Dark Horse Comics series is back for another chapter, and while there is more than plenty to discuss about the events of Season 2, we need to dedicate some space to the character of Ben (Justin H. Min) and his very heavy and impactful final moments in the penultimate Season 2 episode, “743.” After a season spent once again living in the shadow of Klaus (Robert Sheehan), with occasional bouts of assuming a physical form through possessing his brother’s body, Ben emerged — on his own — as one of the big heroes of Season 2.
So, let’s dig into Ben’s actual death, his last words to Klaus, and what his reappearance at the end of Season 2 means for the future of The Umbrella Academy.
What Happens to Ben in “743”?
Ben achieves some unusual new milestones over the course of his Season 2 arc. In addition to successfully possessing Klaus’ body for a brief spell to enjoy the pleasures of taking on a corporeal presence, Ben also manages to go inside the mind of his sister, Vanya. Ben is able to do this when he and Klaus, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), and Diego (David Castaneda) go down to the FBI building at the edge of Dealey Plaza to rescue Vanya (Ellen Page), who is being held there on suspicion she is a Soviet spy. When the potent combination of a truth serum and electrocution device activates Vanya’s powers and simultaneously knocks her unconscious, Ben is able to get to her when the other siblings cannot and possess her body in a similar manner to Klaus.
Rather than take over Vanya’s body and move it around in the real world as he did with Klaus, Ben instead goes deep into Vanya’s mind to find her and bring her back into herself. He finds Vanya, curled up and afraid inside of the mental manifestation of her white violin, hiding from the truth about who she is, what’s been done to her, and what she has done in the past. Ben and Vanya go on to have a heart-to-heart.
Ben implores Vanya to keep fighting, acknowledging she has every right to be angry about their father treating her like a bomb and keeping her drugged (an extremely fucked thing to do) her entire life to prevent her from fulfilling her true potential. Ben reminds her of one important thing, too, when he tells Vanya, “You’re not a monster. You’re my sister.” As the two stand-up, Ben begins to disintegrate as a result of being inside Vanya’s mind. Although it was good and right and necessary for Ben to reach out to Vanya to help her feel less alone and make peace with the past, his journey into a place he as a ghost has no place to exist immediately has an effect on him. Ben’s actions help stop Vanya from causing the apocalyptic event we see at the beginning of Season 2, making him even more important to this season’s events than we may have realized.
Why Is Ben Finally Passing On After 17 Years of Ghost Life?
As Ben’s physical form (whatever that might mean when it comes to also existing within someone’s mind) disintegrates, he acknowledges it’s partly down to Vanya’s powers. But reassures her, saying, “I died 17 years ago. All the rest of this, these years with Klaus, it’s all be gravy. At least this time I get to say goodbye.”
Ben makes one final request of Vanya: To be hugged as he goes. This is the first time Ben has been touched by another person since his death, making his good-bye with Vanya even more poignant. When Min spoke with Collider’s Christina Radish about this scene in particular, he touched on how emotional it was to film, revealing,
“When I shot that final scene with Ellen Page and Vanya in Episode 9, I actually thought that was my final scene on the show. It was quite an emotional scene because Ben is saying goodbye to his family, but Justin, as the actor, I felt like I was saying goodbye to the show, as well, and my actual crew family that I’ve grown to love and care for, for the past six months, and even some of our continuing crew members, for the last two years.”
Essentially, The Umbrella Academy is trying to tell us Ben is finally able to pass on in part because he was able to get through to at least one of his siblings (Klaus has always been combative in taking Ben’s advice.) and in part because Vanya’s destructive side is tearing at the fabric of his very existence. It’s a bittersweet ending for Ghost Ben, but one which has to happen in order to get Vanya to the stable place she needs to be for the final battle at the end of Season 2.
Why Is Ben’s Message For Klaus Important?
The Season 2 finale of The Umbrella Academy opens with Ben’s funeral in 2006: We learn Ben died in an accident during an Umbrella Academy mission, and the fractures in every Umbrella Academy relationship begin to show themselves during this funeral scene as every teenaged Hargreeves family member snaps at each other before storming off. The last one left is Klaus, who takes a moment to process near Ben’s casket and attempts to use his powers. Suddenly, it’s revealed Ben is with Klaus. Able to connect with the dead, Klaus helps Ben adjust to his new life as a ghost (at least, that’s what Klaus believes at the time).
Ben’s departure with Vanya sees him leaving a message for Klaus, which Vanya dutifully passes along in Episode 10. She tells Klaus, “He wanted me to tell you that he was too scared to go to the light. It wasn’t you that made him stay,” which causes Klaus to reply in astonishment, “All these years and I thought it was my fault that he didn’t take his ticket to heaven.”
Ben’s message for Klaus hits hard because it’s the one good-bye that needed to happen, but it would have been the same if it had happened directly. Ben has been the one person keeping Klaus tied to the world of the living for 17 years, the one who has been a moral compass, a confidant, a good friend, and brother. Klaus also likely believes he summoned Ben with his powers the day of the funeral, so there must have been some fraternal feeling of responsibility in looking out for Ben all these years. Through Klaus, Ben has been able to find some acceptance of his death while still being able to see his brothers and sisters grow up into the superheroes they are today. Seeing the world and living this adventure through Klaus’ eyes has almost been like a final hurrah for Ben as he mourns his circumstance and gathers the strength to tackle his next big adventure alone.
Will Ben Return For Season 3?
In the shocking cliffhanger Season 2 ending, it is revealed a new team, The Sparrow Academy, exists in what appears to be an alternate timeline. Not only this, but Ben — well, a new Ben — is alive in this timeline and he appears to be the leader of this new superhero group. The season ends with this news, leaving us to wonder what will happen in Season 3 and how Sparrow Academy Ben will play into the action.
We may not know much about Sparrow Academy Ben’s specific arc, but if Season 3 happens, Min will return as the Sparrow Academy version of Ben. (At time of publication, The Umbrella Academy still has not been renewed.) During Christina Radish of Collider’s chat with Min about Ben’s arc in Season 2, the actor made time to touch on the reveal of Sparrow Academy Ben and his excitement about coming back.
“We’d received the draft of Episode 10, at that point, when I shot that scene with Ellen, but the last three pages had been omitted, so none of us knew. And then, a few weeks after that, um, I got a ping on my phone, for a top secret email from Steve Blackman, who had just emailed the seven Hargreeves children and said, ‘Here’s the last scene. Hope you enjoy it.’ I remember it vividly. It feels like yesterday. It was 8:48pm in my Toronto apartment, and I read it and just started screaming at the top of my lungs in there. I was completely shocked and flabbergasted and gobsmacked and overjoyed, to be allowed to come back and be a part of this show, especially if we get renewed for another season.”
Min also alluded to the fact that Sparrow Academy Ben will be entirely different from Ghost Ben, especially in regard to his role within the alternate timeline superhero team. This new Ben will look and operate in a different headspace to Ghost Ben and, most importantly, will be a living, breathing human being people will have to listen to. According to Min,
“My character is not in the comic books, at all, so I had free reign to build Ghost Ben from the ground up, and do whatever I wanted to with him. And then, here we are, at the end of Season 2, and I literally get to do it, all over again, with another character who’s brand new and that I get to build, from the ground up. How many times does an actor get to play two completely different characters, on the same show? Even from his appearance to the scar on his face to his hair, we wanted Sparrow Academy Ben to feel completely different from Ghost Ben. I even grew out what I could of my incredible mustache, so he could seem a bit rougher. We had about 20 iterations of that hair that we were experimenting with. We just really wanted to make it messier and longer, and there’s even a couple of blue streaks. In that lighting, I don’t think you can really see it, but hopefully, you’ll be able to see that better, in a next season. I’m so excited.”
And there you have it. Season 2 officially put an end to Ghost Ben, but a new Ben is on the way, and he will be a force to be reckoned with as the leader of the Sparrow Academy team. (Take that, Luther!). We may not know what the future holds for The Umbrella Academy, but we do know that the chances are very good Ben will not be out of the picture if a new season ends up happening.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.