I spent all of my Sunday binge-watching The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. As a longtime fan of My Chemical Romance, Robert Sheehan, Tom Hopper, and dysfunctional X-Men-style family drama, I was really excited to watch it. However, during my binge experience, two things irked me: (1) the Luther/Allison romance (which we can get into another time) and (2) the complete and total lack of communication between the siblings on important issues.
One of the most common tropes in comic books is characters keeping things from other people in order to “protect them,” or because “they can’t understand” and the similar excuses, which is something that gets harder and harder to do the further in we get. In The Umbrella Academy, the lines of communication between the siblings is splintered for many reasons: years of emotional manipulation and abuse by their dad, Vanya (Ellen Page) writing a tell-all book which exposed all their secrets, and the weird lack cellphones for a movie that takes place in 2019 and has several working payphones.
At the beginning of the season, it was something I expected and understood, with Five (Aidan Gallagher) returning from the future a bitter, cynical 58-year-old-man in the body of a thirteen-year-old on a single-minded mission to stop the end of days. He never tells anyone about it (beside Vanya, ironically) because “they wouldn’t understand,” except when they are told, it takes a few seconds, but they do understand.
I’ll never get why, when you are a superhero team with powers to bend reality, summon monsters, talk to the dead, and time warp, the words “that sounds crazy” ever come out of anyone’s mouth (looking at you, Team Flash). That’s also why everyone’s eye-rolling when Klaus (Robert Sheehan) said he was able to channel their deceased brother Ben (Justin H. Min) was so frustrating to watch.
Klaus’s power is talking to and channeling the dead. He spent most of his teen to adult life high, attempting to shut off his powers. Now, he’s sober and able to explore new abilities. It’s not rocket science when you are dealing with superpowered people.
Because the show is explicitly taking place in our time, the lack of cell phones is especially jarring during the “let’s find Vanya” part of the show. Watching Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) leave Vanya a voice message on a payphone was so jarring. You are a rich, famous celebrity in 2019, and you can’t just shoot a text?
I’m sure this was a creative choice, but getting rid of cell phones to allow those pre-mainstream technology plot contrivances to happen comes off more as lazy than as creative, especially when the show is clearly timestamped.
However, no one is worse at communication in the family than Luther (Tom Hopper), who maybe does every cliche “good guy, greater idiot” trope when he locks up his emotionally traumatized sister in a cage, despite everyone telling him that’s not a good idea, all because of his broken loyalty to a man who pretty much abandoned him on the moon. Tell me, were there no ebooks on the moon? Did he never read a single Greek myth while he was crushing on his sister that he’s had from birth (sorry, sorry, but it’s just so weird)? When just having a conversation could have stopped the end of the world, you know that you’ve messed up.
And yes, I promise you, I understand why there are these gaps in their communication, but as Allison says early on, they’re adults now. With their abilities and experiences, the incongruity they have when anything “strange” happens rings with the same false plot-device nature of a lot of superhero shows, and The Umbrella Academy is clearly smarter than that.
All that being said, it was such an enjoyable show, and I say that as someone who has zero knowledge of the source material. Do I wish there were more than two sisters? Yes. I also wish, as Mary Sue contributor Samantha Puc brought up in her piece, that there was a better exploration of the female characters, but watching the show I couldn’t help but think … this is the best live action adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga I’ve ever seen.
What did you guys think? Are you locking your sister in a cage if she has an emotional/supernatural breakdown?
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