The Umbrella Academy season 3 review: A riotous return
The offbeat superhero-pocalypse series returns in style.
When Netflix first announced it was adapting Dark Horse Comics’ The Umbrella Academy, fans were uneasy. Could it really capture the unique tone of the series from writer Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá?
But after two brilliantly bizarre seasons, the Academy is showing no signs of wear and tear – if anything, it doubles down on the weirdness for season 3. It’s a welcome return for the Umbrellas after the surprising cliffhanger at the end of season 2, picking up right after the gang think they’ve fixed the timeline, until they return home.
They find that they’ve only made things worse, and they don’t exist in this world. Instead, they’re faced with their resurrected father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) and a new class of heroes: The Sparrow Academy… Oh dear.
Unsurprisingly, the huge divide between the Umbrellas and the Sparrows is the focus of the season, mainly because of how different they all are. While the Umbrellas are a rag-tag gang of misfits, the Sparrows are a well-oiled team – they’re everything our heroes could’ve been if Ben (Justin H Min) hadn’t died when he was younger, splintering the group.
It’s a riot to watch the two sets of heroes clash in a truly inventive manner which highlights just how powerful these newcomers are. The show could easily just use them as foils for the Umbrellas, but thankfully the story fleshes the Sparrows out with their own arcs.
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It’s particularly great to see Justin H Min get more of the spotlight as the Sparrows' version of Ben Hargreeves, after spending two seasons as a ghost that only Klaus can see. To say more about the other team would ruin what makes them great, but it's safe to say that audiences are in for a treat with them – they’re wonderfully odd.
With the Sparrows in their old home, the Umbrellas have to find somewhere else to hang their hats while they grapple with a new apocalyptic event: a swirling mass of world-eating energy called a Kugelblitz. They make their base at the Hotel Obsidian, a wonderfully idiosyncratic location full of bizarre guests and secrets hidden within its walls.
It’s here that season 3 really flourishes, because the real heart of the story comes from the characters just being allowed to live a bit. Yes they’re trying to stop the Kugelblitz, but there’s magic in the quieter moments, whether that's an unlikely love story, odd conversations pondering the possibilities of alternate timelines, or Viktor (Elliot Page) coming out as transgender to his family.
It’s refreshing to see Viktor’s story treated with enough grace and focus, because this is a pivotal moment for both the actor and the character – but the show knows not to exploit it either. The writers don’t turn his story into a season-long struggle, nor is it up for debate among his siblings – he just is who he is, and they instantly accept that.
The Umbrella Academy has always had a solid dramatic story under the science-fiction comic book nature of it all, but everything is turned up a notch for season 3: action, drama, and dazzling plot twists. Don’t worry though – all of it is carefully plotted so that it doesn’t ruin the emotional core about a family struggling to stick together through adversity. Sure, their adversity is multiple apocalypses and alternate timelines, but still – it’s a captivating family drama nonetheless.
In fact, the alternate timeline only elevates how the Umbrellas try to reckon with their lives in the wake of all the apocalypses they’ve faced over the years. They yearn to make amends with people they’ve hurt, while also looking for closure in other difficult relationships. Anything more specific? Well, let’s face it – we’re talking about you, Reginald.
Yes, the Umbrella/Sparrow Academy founder has a huge role this season, and much of his involvement sees the heroes deal with their respective issues surrounding their shoddy adoptive father. Although this version of Reginald isn’t the one who emotionally abused them all, they still use the opportunity to deal with their daddy issues.
In fact, Sir Reginald's role actually leads to some of the best scenes in the season, including a strange dynamic with Klaus Hargreeves (Robert Sheehan), who gets to bond with his father in a surprisingly wholesome fashion (the former Misfits star is the best he’s ever been).
It isn’t a completely slick season, as it sags around the mid-point where some of the spoilery elements of the plot haven’t come into play yet. Generally speaking, these characters are interesting enough that the audience can just have fun hanging out with them, but it does lose its way every so often.
Still, once The Umbrella Academy dives into the meat-and-bones of the Kugelblitz (and beyond), it kicks things into overdrive with a stunning cosmic conclusion.
The Umbrella Academy season 3 streams on Netflix from Wednesday 22nd June. Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
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