Photo: CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX
It’s been nearly two years since The Umbrella Academy ended its second season on a cheeky cliffhanger. When our heroes returned to the present — triumphant after they’d saved the world in Dallas circa 1963 — they discovered that the timeline itself had been altered to remove pretty much everything about life as they knew it.
In this alternate future, the Umbrella Academy never existed. Instead, Reginald Hargreeves adopted a different gaggle of superpowered kids and called them Sparrow Academy. It wasn’t exactly clear what all of this meant — the show hadn’t actually cast the Sparrows yet, so everybody but Ben appeared in shadow —but whatever they saw, it was bad enough to make several members of the Umbrella Academy say, “shit.”
How do you pay off a cliffhanger like that? The season-three premiere has our answer: efficiently, if not elegantly. The show begins with an info dump introducing us to the six new Sparrows (alongside Ben, who we already know). Like the Umbrellas, they’re an eclectic bunch, with powers ranging from predictable (Marcus is very strong!) to offbeat (Jayme has magic spit that makes people hallucinate!) to, uh, very offbeat (Christopher is a floating green cube)!
Speaking of Jayme’s weird power: After a spit-induced fantasy that doubles as Umbrella Academy’s latest excuse to get the whole cast to dance to a catchy pop song — it’s “Footloose” this time — an actual fight breaks out. And while the Umbrellas put up a decent fight, they’re no match for the Sparrows. When the dust settles, our heroes run away to lick their wounds, leaving their very useful time-travel briefcase behind.
After that very frenetic opening brawl, it’s at this moment — 21 minutes into the premiere! — that the show’s title finally comes up. After a kickoff that lengthy and action-packed, the show, like its characters, needs a breather. So the remainder of the episode settles into another one of Umbrella Academy’s most comfortable wheelhouses: a cheerfully shaggy extended hangout session for the six Hargreeves children, heavy on banter and light on plot. With nowhere to go, it’s Klaus who suggests that the Umbrellas take shelter at the Hotel Obsidian — a once-luxurious, currently decrepit hotel where the amenities include “sleeping on bunk beds” and “peeing out of windows.”
This is an ideal location for characters like Five and Diego to argue about what they should do next and for Allison and Vanya to swap memories and sympathies about the lovers they left behind in 1963. But as fun as it is to watch this family bicker, the Sparrows still pose a threat. Marcus saw enough to know that the Umbrellas could break his team’s monopoly on superheroic antics, and he’d rather shut the new guys down before word gets out.
It’s Vanya, with characteristic pragmatism, that negotiates a détente. When Marcus comes in with threats, Vanya offers a calm but firm reply: “I don’t think you’re better than me, Marcus. I ended the world twice. And you? You’re just meat in spandex.”
Who could argue? Certainly not Marcus, who saw Vanya take out most of his siblings with a single energy burst early in the episode and recognizes that the flickering lightbulbs are a casual threat. For now, at least, open warfare doesn’t serve anybody, which is good news for anyone who wants to know more about the Sparrows than their superpowers (and good news for Netflix’s stunt budget because that opening fight looked expensive).
But there’s another, less obvious threat that could prove fatal to both the Umbrellas and the Sparrows. In the basement of the Hargreeves mansion, a strange, pulsing blob of red energy — described by Grace, the robot who serves as the gang’s surrogate mother, as a “message from God” — is gaining power. As the episode ends, the blob sends a shockwave across the city, apparently obliterating both Marcus and one very cute dog at the Hotel Obsidian. After all, what would a new season of The Umbrella Academy be without another apocalyptic threat?
• Meanwhile, in a standalone story, a guy named Lester Pocket puts a bunch of cassette tapes in a briefcase and rides a bus. (I assume this will pay off at some point, but it would be really funny if it didn’t.)
• In children lost: Allison seems bafflingly optimistic about it, but there’s no way her daughter exists in this timeline, right? If I’m understanding the way time paradoxes work in Umbrella Academy, Allison wasn’t even around to give birth to her.
• In children found: Whoa, it turns out Lila was pregnant with Diego’s baby and now, through the magic of time travel, has an adolescent son. Assuming we can trust that Lila isn’t lying about this — which, to be fair, we probably can’t. Either way, she leaves the kid with Diego and bounces again. Good luck with that sullen 12-year-old!
• That was Adam Godley narrating the opening scene, so Pogo must be kicking around somewhere in this timeline.
• There’s an obvious spark between Luther and Sloane, which feels like a welcome sign that Umbrella Academy is finally abandoning the Luther-Allison sibling love story for good.
• It’s worth noting that the name “Hotel Obsidian” is very, very similar to the third major arc of the Umbrella Academy comics, Hotel Oblivion.
• It could be a coincidence, but I’m guessing that Chet, the Hotel Obsidian clerk, is named in homage to the bellhop played by Steve Buscemi in the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink, who works at a similarly rundown hotel.
• A complete list of the people Klaus alleges has stayed at the Hotel Obsidian: Roosevelt, Gandhi, Stalin, Gorbachev, Castro, King Olaf of Norway, one of the Kim Jongs, Tito, Dalai Lama, Elvis, and, allegedly, two Kardashians. (Your guess as to which two is as good as mine.)
• Music in this episode: “Sometimes” by Gerry Cinnamon, during the Sparrow Academy montage; “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins, during Diego’s extending fantasy in which everybody cut footloose; “No More Heroes” by the Stranglers, during the actual fight between the Umbrellas and the Sparrows; and, eerily, Grace humming “This Little Light of Mine” as she admires the weird light in the basement.