Review: Umbrella Academy season 3
With the finale confirming next season as its last, Online Features Editor Catherine Stone offers broad season sweep, praising and critiquing its Sparrow Academy expansion.
Warning: spoilers ahead
We return to the world of our favourite chaotic superhuman family for more wacky time hijinks. This show balances comic absurdity with high drama and moving emotional connections while managing to raise the stakes for an epic showdown – as the Hargreaves defend the world against yet another apocalypse.
The gang arrive back in the present day after their 1960s adventure but finds themselves in an alternate timeline where they don’t exist. There, they must face off against the sleek and powerful Sparrow Academy that occupies their place. They investigate the mystery of the mass killing of their mothers – an excuse for Five and Klaus to go on a dynamic duo road trip – and push each of their powers’ limits to fight the Grandfather Paradox and the resultant universe devouring Kugelblitz.
Refreshingly, season three breaks with the formulaic pattern of being hunted by Commission agents and Viktor losing control of his powers. After Five’s mass murder of the Commission’s Board of Directors with a fire axe, they are left alone without timeline help from the Infinite Switchboard or time travel suitcases. However, a reveal about the foundation of the shadowy organisation leaves the possibility of more Commission adventures in season four.
Refreshingly, season three breaks with the formulaic pattern of being hunted by Commission agents and Viktor losing control of his powers
The show retains its camp factor derived from its origins as a comic book series; the characteristic fight scenes set to pop jams are back, including a hallucinatory sequence of a choreographed Footloose dance-off between the Sparrows and Umbrellas, although these scenes become less frequent. There’s also a new setting – the mysterious Hotel Obsidian acts as a stage for Umbrella drama and dangerous secrets of the universe, a refuge as the known universe collapses in on itself and a door for an escape to a parallel one.
The siblings have built understanding as adults and can work together more or less effectively, moving on from their fragmented childhood rivalries that occupied a lot of seasons one and two, which is seen primarily in the quiet acceptance of the family to Viktor’s identity transition.
They are not, however, the well-oiled machine of the Sparrow Academy, which in this timeline became the crime-fighting hero team that Hargreaves envisaged, although beset by vicious infighting within a hierarchy. The sacrifice of ghost Ben in the season 2 finale meant losing Klaus and Ben’s entertaining dynamic. Still, the sharpened and ambitious Sparrow Ben we meet makes possible new relationships with all the siblings. However, with most Sparrows killed off to further the plot and avoid an overstated cast, their potential as developed foils to the Umbrellas seems all but wasted.
The emotional and drama balance of the different tumultuous relationships reaches its height in the wedding episode and extremes of love and hate surface. Angered and in pain at the loss of her husband and daughter, Allison abandons her role as the rational rock of her chaotic family, leaving everyone off balance while giving actor Emmy Raver-Lampman a chance to shine at bringing out her character’s ruthless streak.
With most Sparrows killed off to further the plot and avoid an overstated cast, their potential as developed foils to the Umbrellas seems all but wasted
Reginald Hargreaves is alive in this timeline and more insane and villainous than in previous seasons. He’s got an alien grand plan decade in the making and is determined to see it through––using his children from all timelines as chess pieces, including sacrificing them where necessary.
Five loses some of his intensity, initially insisting he is retired and done with apocalypses and time travel before eventually submitting to the apocalypse’s certainty. Meanwhile, Viktor makes peace with his immense power and the dark burden of that power he passed on to Harlan.
Wildcard Lila works through the life and loss of her adopted mother, The Handler, and what she wants in life: which, it turns out, is a family with Diego. Together they work through the challenge of co-parenting a disaster teenager while battling the Kugelblitz with the others. Once used alongside the Hargreaves, Lila’s imitation power results in incredible fight team-ups against the samurai warrior Guardians.
The show effectively switches things up by making most of the drama emotional, with Reginald––the piece’s manipulative villain––acting from within and the big bad faceless, in contrast to the enigmatic Handler or obsessive Leonard Peabody from previous seasons.
The finale contemplates how they will raise the stakes again, having broken and reset the universe, and how they, too, will manage without their powers in the final epic endgame of a season.