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The Umbrella Academy’s excellent third season is an apocalyptic transition of power

By the end of the second season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, the series had tackled two apocalypses and begun teasing out details on the small screen that hadn’t yet become canon in Dark Horse’s The Umbrella Academy comics from writer Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá. In its third season, Netflix’s show finally starts to answer many of the mysterious questions that have been weighing heavily on the Hargreeves siblings’ minds since we first met them and digs into the world-ending strangeness that seems to follow them no matter which reality or timeline they find themselves in.

With all of this year’s superhero stories about broken, beleaguered people fighting to save the world, it’s easy to write The Umbrella Academy off as just another comic book adaptation vying for your attention. But in its third season, The Umbrella Academy opens itself up to a slew of new possibilities with a fresh yet familiar story about found families figuring out what really matters to them in life.

In the final moments of The Umbrella Academy’s time-traveling second season, Sir Reginald Hargreeves’ (Colm Feore) first set of children found themselves transported back to a future in which they’d seemingly never become members of the Umbrella Academy. Though the building everyone knew as the Umbrella Academy’s headquarters still stood, a very much alive and corporeal Ben (Justin H. Min) informed Viktor (Elliot Page), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Five (Aidan Gallagher), and Klaus (Robert Sheehan) that they’d arrived at the base of the Sparrows, another family of costumed heroes raised by Hargreeves.

When The Umbrella Academy’s second season ended in 2020, Hollywood’s current fixation on comic book adaptations featuring multiverses and / or realities fractured by time travelers messing with history had only just begun. Back then, it wasn’t yet clear what the Sparrows sudden appearance would mean for the Hargreeves family, but in 2022, their arrival makes The Umbrella Academy feel much more prescient about audiences’ appetites for stories involving alternate superheroic timelines.

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Though it brings all of the Umbrellas great joy to see a variant of Ben who actually lives through his childhood, much of this season’s story focuses on how unnerved the original team is by their alternate counterparts and a still-living version of their father who genuinely loves his children.

By raising them with a comparatively more gentle hand, Hargreeves is able to establish superstrong Marcus (Justin Cornwell), telekinetic Sloane (Genesis Rodriguez), sentient cube Christopher, and the rest of the Sparrows as their world’s preeminent superhero team. Bird conjurer Fei (Britne Oldford), kinetic energy redirector Alphonso (Jake Epstein), and toxic brawler Jayme’s (Cazzie David) abilities don’t at first feel like they’d complement each other. But one fight against the Umbrellas is all it takes to establish that Hargreeves’ tutelage made the Sparrows the superior team if only for the fact that they never almost inadvertently destroyed the planet.

While The Umbrella Academy borrows a number of plot points from Way and Bá’s The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion, Netflix’s series is much more interested in digging deeper into its own continuity that showrunner Steve Blackman takes in surprising new directions. Easy as it’s been in the past for the Umbrellas to move on after living through incredible loss or averting the apocalypse, this season reintroduces them all as people still actively dealing with the pain of experiences they’ve recently been through. The Umbrellas’ first encounter with the Sparrows leaves them down bad and in desperate need of a place to lick their wounds.

What truly unsettles the original Hargreeves siblings, though, is a shared sense that their time in the past has turned them into different people who don’t quite feel the same way about each other as they used to. The Umbrella Academy dives into this idea with Allison and Viktor in particular, both of whom found love in Dallas, Texas, before obligations to the Umbrella Academy ripped them away from their new families.

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Rather than simply depicting Allison and Viktor as having gained finer control over their abilities, this season of The Umbrella Academy levels them both up as one way of illustrating how the Umbrellas’ balance of power shifts in the face of a crisis they’re not sure how to deal with. Netflix’s take on Allison has never been the outright reality manipulator that her counterpart in the comics is, but here, the loss of her husband Ray (Yusuf Gatewood) and daughter Claire (Coco Assad) puts her in a dark emotional space that gives rise to new, disturbing applications of her gifts.

After a lifetime of being looked at as the weakest member of the family, Viktor finally (and matter of factly) comes into his own as part of this season’s larger exploration of how transitions of power can bring out both the best and worst in people. More so than Viktor’s gender, it’s his newfound confidence in his own ability to lead and make decisions that gives his siblings pause and a renewed sense that things are changing in ways beyond their control.

That same sense is also what puts Ben and his fellow Sparrows on edge as they realize that they aren’t the only superpowered group in town anymore — something that poses a direct threat to their monopolistic grip on worldwide fame and fortune. Though Min and Sheehan have been a part of The Umbrella Academy since the very beginning, they, much like Page and Raver-Lampman, take on much larger roles this season and bring a wholly different energy to the show that reveals new depths to both characters and their powers.

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There’s still yet another convoluted plot about saving all of existence from annihilation. But it’s really just there to serve as the deadly backdrop for both sets of Hargreeveses as they clash with one another to their limits and find the strength to get up when they fall. Were The Umbrella Academy based on any other comic book, the show’s catching up to the source material the way season 3 does might be cause for concern about whether Netflix had any sense about where things might head in the future. But between its ever-deepening lore and the clever way it builds to a cliffhanger-like climax, Netflix’s Umbrella Academy is the best it’s been in a good, long while. It’s 10 episodes of television worth giving a watch.

The Umbrella Academy’s third season also stars Adam Godley and Javon Walton. The series hits Netflix on June 22nd.

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