The Umbrella Academy season 3 picks up seconds after the final episode of season 2. After spending the sophomore series in 1960s Dallas, the Hargreeves family are thrown back into their childhood manor. Only, their time-travelling briefcase has helpfully dropped them off at an alternative reality where they never existed.
As we saw in the closing shots of season 2, their deceased father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), is alive, and The Sparrow Academy has replaced them. The season-opening informs the audience that Sir Reginald adopted a new set of mysterious superpowered children in October 1989. These children have better powers, have better control over them, and can work better as a team.
Any trauma from season 2 is pushed aside to handle this new threat. The Sparrow Academy, including the previously deceased Umbrella Academy member Ben, aren’t too keen on their new visitors. A large chunk of the opening episode is dedicated to the battle between alternate reality siblings. It’s a good chance to quickly learn about a collection of new characters and their new powers. Don’t get too excited; these big action set pieces are few and far between.
The Umbrella Academy’s arrival in this new reality causes a time paradox, creating a destructive entity that begins wreaking havoc across the universe (again). Through some jaunty vintage-style PSAs, we learn about the grandfather paradox. If you kill your grandfather, how could you have ever existed to be able to kill your grandfather? It’s this level of timey-wimey space conundrum The Umbrella Academy is dealing with. The time paradox is an early highlight of an unbalanced series. This is the type of show The Umbrella Academy used and should still be.
The third series repeats plots from other seasons; there are only so many times they can deal with an apocalypse. The Kugelblitz, season 3’s doomsday event, is the main antagonist, but the Sparrow Academy have moments to show their anti-hero capabilities. Way and Bá’s comics feature a line-up of intelligent and layered villains; one of these could have given the third season a much-needed layer. The lack of physical threat is a problem, primarily when so many of their powers are based on physicality.
The Sparrow Academy is criminally underused, especially after expectations were raised at the end of season 2. They are more ambitious and efficient as a group of superheroes, not holding the same hang-ups and family issues as the Umbrellas. They are perhaps too ruthless as a group, constantly battling to be the leader. The contrast between the family-orientated Hargreeves and the power-crazy Sparrows could have been fun to explore. Sadly this new batch of superheroes has been woefully underused. The hints of dialogue where we learn that they were made to sell toys, not to bond as siblings, highlight a more interesting backstory.
Ben (Justin H. Min) and Sloane (Genesis Rodriguez) are the only two of this new batch of heroes we get to learn anything about. We receive no information about their back story, no context or idea about who they are beneath their hero costumes. Jayme (Cassie David), Alphonso (Jake Epstein), and Marcus (Justin Cornwell) are barely mentioned, just a few flashbacks in early episodes to fill in the blanks. The lack of backstory about these people means it’s hard to care about their present-day plotlines.
Many subplots and side characters feel laboured. Specific plot points are dragged out with no pay-off. Lila Pitts (Ritu Arya) appears to bring soap opera drama and continue her relationship with Diego. Their relationship and the dialogue accompanying it frequently dips into cringe-worthy and often feels like narrative filler.
The third season also explores Luther (Tom Hopper), who isn’t the romantic hero, the writers think he is, and Allison’s (Emmy Raver-Lampman) relationship. At times it feels forced and unproductive to the current plot, moving us backwards, not forwards. Other ridiculous Luther-related stories are later explained, but it’s unsure if the pay-off was worth the journey.
Viktor’s (Elliot Page) transition mirrors Page’s off-screen one, with showrunner Blackman sensitively handling Viktor’s coming out as a transgender plot. It illuminates the importance of LBGTQ+ representation and acceptance in the industry. It may feel a little out of character, but it highlights something so much more important than a TV show plot device. Ultimately, the writers don’t know what to do with Viktor as a character. The character growth of the first two seasons seems to have been washed away, an irritating and borderline insulting choice. Page, as an actor, has more to give than this script.
The one new character who is a welcome addition to the third season is Reginald. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Reginald go on a fantastic side-adventure, learning more about Klaus’ powers and connecting in a way he couldn’t with his reality’s father. This generationally and ideologically opposed pair is a joy to watch, assisted by Sheehan’s zany performance; it’s clear that the actor is having the best time playing this drug-addled hippie. In these scenes, fans will also see glimpses of the irreverent show they fell in love with.
The Umbrella Academy is mainly running out of source material, which is becoming a Game of Thrones-shaped problem. The next volume of the Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá comic book series has yet to be published, meaning the show has overtaken the source material. The show has started to forge its own path, creating its own character arcs and experimenting with this already experimental story. The opinion and reaction of fans will be critical this season. Showrunner Steve Blackman has planned two more seasons, and there is so much to expand on this world that perhaps opportunities were missed in season 3.
The third season of The Umbrella Academy has many ups and downs, but it will be highly enjoyable for fans of the characters and the general tone. While it retains the mind-bending time-jump horror of the source material, it struggles with handling so many characters. The season also struggles to balance the zany comedy with the big themes of time paradoxes, family feuding and the end of the world. This season could have greatly improved with a tighter script and the ditching of some old narrative callbacks.
This entry does get better as it goes on, getting bigger and darker; however, the lack of exploration will hugely disappoint fans of the mythology and the infinite switchboard. Even the soundtrack lacks creativity this season, opting for more cliché and tonally appropriate songs compared to the left-field choices of previous seasons.
Thankfully, some key fan questions will be answered, but not even the dance routines, shocking horror and snarky comments will retain interest. With unevenly written characters, missed opportunities and frustrating plot repeats, this entry is unlikely to be anyone’s favourite.
The Umbrella Academy begins streaming on Netflix on June 22
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy