Why ‘The Umbrella Academy’ Made Me Feel a Little Better About Our Own Apocalypse

     July 22, 2020

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[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy Season 1.]

In the Year of Our Lord 2020, we seem to have a lot of time on our hands. Time, like any commodity, is finite. It runs out for all of us. And right now, we’re restricted as to what we can and cannot safely do with the time we have left. If that makes you restless, you’re not alone. If that makes you despondent, you’re not alone. If that makes you insanely overwhelmingly bored, you are definitely not alone.

With all this time to spare and nowhere to go, one of the TV shows I decided to catch up on recently was Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, an adaptation of the comic of the same name from Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. I can’t remember exactly why I skipped it in the first place  (the show first debuted in 2018), but I was instantly hooked by the cinematic aesthetic, compelling story hook, and cadre of colorful characters. And then, as the show approached its apocalyptic storyline, I discovered something that’s in short supply in 2020: hope.

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Image via Netflix

The Umbrella Academy is basically a mash-up of a dysfunctional family story and a superhero team-up story, but what sets it apart is the individuality of its characters. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Vanya (Ellen Page), Luther (Tom Hopper), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Five (Aidan Gallgher), Diego (David Castañeda), and even Ben (Justin H. Min) are all adults suffering from childhood trauma inflicted on them by their adoptive, robotic father, but they’re all suffering in different ways. There’s a deep-rooted pain in each member of the Hargreeves family, but that pain cuts differently for each one – and thus each one has found a unique coping mechanism that is equally unhealthy.

The core of the first season’s story is trying to stop the apocalypse, with Five leading the charge in commanding fashion. But stopping the apocalypse isn’t possible until the Hargreeves family comes together. Not in a selfish way – they try that and it quickly fails. But with empathy and understanding for one another as individuals.

Time, of course, is a major theme of the series given Five’s abilities. The characters are on a ticking clock to save the world, and consistently run up against each other’s individual wants, needs, desires, jealousies, vices, and shortcomings. But they discover, sooner or later, that they’re stronger together. And that while their past trauma may continue to haunt them, they can move forward as one to be a force of good – for the world and for themselves.

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Image via Netflix

They learn it the hard way. They think Vanya’s the problem and the solution is to lock her in a deprivation chamber, without taking a moment to consider that maybe Vanya’s emotional outburst is a direct result of being mistreated and misunderstood. They try to act preemptively before taking even a moment to consider how Vanya feels or what she’s thinking. They lack the patience for empathy, but not necessarily love.

Indeed, in the show’s final moments the Hargreeves children are staring down a literal apocalypse as they learn that they caused it – their ambush on Vanya indirectly blew off a chunk of the moon, which comes crashing down to Earth. With no other choice, these seven dysfunctional siblings – imperfect yet heroic, shortsighted yet selfless – hold hands and hope. Hope that Five will be able to jump them to another time period. Hope that they can somehow fix this mistake they’ve made. Hope that they, in all their flawed glory, can save the world.

I couldn’t help but feel a little better about, you know, everything while I was watching The Umbrella Academy. Not only is the show just a tremendously joyful distraction from the stresses of the day, but it kind of perfectly mirrors the struggles we’re going through right now. As individuals, we’re messed up. We’ve all got our own problems and baggage and trauma, and it’s specific to each and every one of us. But so does everyone else. When we lift each other up – baggage and all – we can move forward as one. We may not always succeed, or succeed in the way we’d hoped, but at least we’re not alone.

Is the world terrifying right now? Absolutely. Has it been scary before? Of course. Humanity has a way of pulling together through even the darkest of times and forging ahead. Progress is made, slowly but surely. It’s messy and it’s hard, but when we come to understand one another as individuals and grasp onto hope – unending, naïve hope – that things can be better, that they should be better, sometimes shit actually gets done.

We can’t turn back the hands of the clock. The present is the present. But we can make choices today that affect tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and the next decade. And as this silly superhero show with a talking monkey and a full-on dance break to a Tiffany song reminded me, apocalypse is not inevitable. In empathy and action and understanding – in community – there is hope.

Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. You can follow him on Twitter @adamchitwood.

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Image via Netflix

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