The Umbrella Academy Season 2 Goes Back to the Past

The Umbrella Academy embraces time travel in earnest in its groovy second season. Den of Geek heads behind the scenes to learn the secrets of "Dallas."

The Umbrella Academy Season 2
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis | Netflix

The world is running out of ‘60s clothing. 

The Umbrella Academy costume designer Christopher Hargadon shares this news as he walks through a warehouse containing capri pants, floral-print dresses, and a large muscle suit costume with the $29.99 price tag still attached. It turns out that no textile lasts forever. 

“I know some people have started tearing up upholstery just to get the designs,” Hargadon says. 

The 1960s have never really felt that far away for pop culture. Countless movies, TV shows, and comic books have returned to the dramatically fertile ground of the turbulent decade so often that it still feels inexorably tied to the present. But time marches on—buttons fall off of shirts, tie-dye patterns fade, and moths feast on fabric. Soon enough, all the tangible sartorial ties to the ‘60s will be gone. Before they are, however, Netflix’s premier superhero series is set on putting them to good use.

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The Umbrella Academy finished its charmingly weird first season with a temporal cliffhanger. As super-powered (adopted) siblings Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Five (Aidan Gallagher), Ben (Justin Min), and Vanya (Ellen Page) Hargreeves prepared to teleport away from the moon-based apocalypse they wrought, it was unclear where… or when their jump would take them. As the costume department at Cinespace Film Studios in Toronto makes clear: the show had a very specific timeframe in mind for the Hargreeves. 

“I really loved the time period of the early ’60s,” showrunner Steve Blackman says. “There were incredible things going on in the country. And the assassination of Kennedy is just rife with conspiracy theories. So that’s why I decided to narrow it down to that window.”

Yes, you read that right. The Kennedy assassination, Dealey Plaza, and the grassy knoll are all prominently involved in the second season of a major Netflix superhero property. As Blackman describes, the Hargreeves arrive in Dallas this season in the early ‘60s but each is dumped out of the time stream in a different year. Klaus and Ben arrive as early as February 11, 1960, Five in November of 1963, and the rest fall in-between. That’s how The Umbrella Academy must brave both time and Dallas itself to find one another before a certain motorcade in the winter of 1963 brings on…another apocalypse. 

The Umbrella Academy season 2 is loosely based on “Dallas,” the second volume of the original comic book series from Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. Just like “Dallas,” the second season of the show is funnier, bolder, and stranger than the first. Each member of the titular team, One through Seven, is happy to explain why. 

Number One – Luther is No Longer a Spaceboy

As Luther was fond of telling just about anyone willing (or unwilling) to listen in The Umbrella Academy season 1: “Dad sent me to the moon!” In ‘60s Dallas, he finds himself the same distance from the moon but metaphorically lightyears away from where he used to be. The hirsute, superpowered lug gets a job as a driver for a powerful Texan and puts those ape-arms to good use as an underground bare-knuckle brawler. Despite the violence (or perhaps because of it), Number One may never have been happier. 

“I think it’s quite interesting because Luther’s on his own path to begin with. I don’t think he’s as bothered about the Academy and having to be a leader anymore. He just has to learn to live in the real world,” Hopper says. 

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Of course, traveling to the ‘60s means that the dead man who metaphorically haunted Luther and his siblings for all of season 1 is not currently dead. 

“He’s still dealing with the daddy issues he had from season 1,” Hopper says. “And bear in mind that his dad is around somewhere in the sixties. So there’s an element of him wanting to connect with his dad to have words with him.”

Given that the death of Reginald Hargreeves was the inciting moment for much of the action in The Umbrella Academy season 1, “Reggie” (Colm Feore) appeared sparingly. In season 2, however, the enigmatic industrialist is in the prime of his life and is 26 years away from learning about the mysterious, simultaneous birth of 43 super-powered children. 

Reginald continues to loom large over the Hargreeves kids, and according to Hopper, that dysfunctional family tissue is what makes the show work. 

“What I love about The Umbrella Academy, and the reason why I signed on to the project in the first place, is that I read these scripts thinking, ‘I’m not reading a superhero script, I’m reading a family drama.’ That’s at the core of this show. And that’s why I find it so much more interesting than actually than a lot of other superhero TV shows.”

Number Two – Diego and Lila

Of all The Umbrella Academy members, perhaps no one gets a more fantastic ‘60s glow-up than the sullen knife-thrower Diego. While season 1 found  Reginald’s Number Two with a crew-cut vibe, Diego of season 2 gets to let his hair down a bit… literally.

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“Well, he’s never really felt like he fit in, so it’s not so much out of his comfort zone to be in a different era,” Castañeda says. “In the first one, he’s kind of trying to stay away from the Umbrella Academy. In the second one, he’s almost trying to bring them all together.”

Joining Diego in that mission to reunite his brothers and sisters is one of the season’s several new characters. Ritu Arya portrays Lila, a young woman who Diego meets in a mental hospital and then can never quite seem to shake afterwards. Diego and Lila frequently interact in the way that Diego seems to prefer to interact with everyone: through fighting. 

“Oh, man. She’s a badass,” Castañeda says of both Lila and the actress playing her.

Aryu’s character has no analog from the comic series but she quickly proves to be an invaluable part of the show’s universe and potentially an important piece of its lore. If nothing else, she certainly helps contribute to season 2’s increased investment in physicality. This batch of episodes ups the ante in terms of action. Castañeda even took some time in-between seasons to travel to Thailand and pick up a little Muay Thai so that he could be a more active participant in the season’s many fight scenes. 

Still, despite the intensified focus on fistfights, Castañeda has an unusual comparison to make for season 2. 

“I binged 10 seasons of Friends in five months this year. You can look at each character in Friends and they’re so relatable to the characters in any successful TV show. You can write it, but can you put the pieces together with the right people and actors to come in and bring those relationships? Based on the first season and what we’re doing now in season two, that formula of ‘there’s love underneath all of this chaos’, I think it sells.”

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Number Three – Allison and the Civil Rights Struggle

The Umbrella Academy season 1 came with a refreshing commitment to diversity. Though the comic book team is all-white (which is almost a statistical impossibility given the premise that 43 babies were spontaneously and randomly born around the world), the Umbrella children in the show come from many different backgrounds. 

The Hargreeves’ racial and cultural identities play a major role in season 2. For one thing, it means that the family’s sole Black member, Allison, now finds herself separated from her siblings in Texas at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This presents an opportunity for Allison that actress Emmy Raver-Lampman doesn’t take lightly. 

“We find Allison in kind of a tricky pickle,” Raver-Lampman says. “She arrives alone and in an era and in a place that’s really dangerous for a woman that looks the way that she does. I think she’s having to quite literally fight for her life in many ways.”

Allison Hargreeves has arguably the most potent power of all her siblings. The things she says tend to come true. By simply opening a sentence with “I heard a rumor,” Allison can manipulate reality to a stunning degree. Her brother Five has described her powers as God-like on more than one occasion. Still, Allison is famously reticent to use the full extent of that power. And the intense social situation she finds herself in may make that reticence a little more frustrating for viewers. Still, Raver-Lampman sees the logic behind Allison’s fear.

“(Her power) has always backfired maybe not immediately, but in the long game. She sees them as more of a curse than a blessing. How she’s using them or if she’s using them or when she wants to use them is a part of her process this season is. Am I going to try to just be Allison or am I going to be this superhero version of Allison?” 

Number Four – The Cult of Klaus

There is some absurdist humor inherent to The Umbrella Academy. One of the main characters is essentially a gorilla-person after all. But while the show premiered on the same day as its spiritual cousin Doom Patrol last year, it’s hard to argue that Doom Patrol didn’t defeat it in the “outright madness” column.

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That dynamic may change in season 2. As for why, look no further than Klaus’s arc. Yes, as the promotional material has suggested, Klaus is indeed a cult leader in this show’s version of the ‘60s. It’s undoubtedly a joy to see Number Four in flowing robes and Manson-esque hair. For actor Robert Sheehan, however, there’s a logic to Klaus’s journey beyond mere novelty. 

“We were like, ‘how do we make him keep changing?’ He’s this kind of amorphous creature,” Sheehan says. “We did talk about the idea of starting a cult because so often you have a suspicion that at the top of a cult is somebody who’s letting on like they have answers, wisdom, knowledge, and they can see beyond the veil, but in fact they’re playing a role just like the worshipers are.”

Klaus is in an unusual position among his family as, apart from Five, he is the only one to have time traveled back to the ‘60s previously. That sort of thing (along with a lifetime of drug abuse) can make a guy pretty confident… confident enough to start a cult. 

Number Five

One interesting development of The Umbrella Academy’s trip back through time is that Number Five is now not the only seasoned time traveler in his family. In fact, Five spends the least amount of time in the early ‘60s as any of his siblings, with the timestream booting him out in late 1963. Still, it’s not like he doesn’t have enough experience with the decade already given that season 1 reveals he was the time-travelling assassin originally charged with killing Kennedy, something he opted not to do. 

“I don’t really think there’s too much of an adjustment on Five’s part in terms of being in the sixties,” Aidan Gallagher says. “Everyone’s been here for a long time, so they’ve had time to evolve, but for Five, it’s just been like a few weeks. He’s still in the schoolboy shorts.”

Even in those schoolboy threads, however, Five remains a threat to any of his family’s potential enemies. The Umbrella Academy comes up against Commission interference this season, this time led by a crew of silent pale-haired killers known as The Swedes. As such, Gallagher once again gets to paint Five’s cherubic visage with blood from time to time. 

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“There are a lot more fight scenes this season… a lot cooler fight scenes. I think the best summary for what season two is and how that affects all the actors is that it’s the same show, but a lot bigger.”

Number Six – Ben, The Deathly Time-Traveler

The Umbrella Academy is the kind of show that leads to some truly unique questions. A necessary question for season 2 is “wait… can ghosts travel through time?” It’s a tricky metaphysical concept that even Ben actor Justin Min can’t quite wrap his head around. 

“Very good question. I’m confused most of the time I’m here,” Min says.

Rest assured, Ben makes the trip back to 1960 with Klaus and the pair get to continue their living and the dead buddy comedy routine. 

Ben was undoubtedly a breakout character from The Umbrella Academy season 1, which was unexpected given that his character doesn’t appear in the flesh (or the ectoplasm) in the original comic series. Blackman and the writers decided to put Klaus’s ability to commune with the dead to good narrative use and include the Hargreeves’s fallen brother as a more consistent character. 

Though Ben remains in his black “ghost hoodie” and doesn’t get to partake in the same colorful ‘60s stylings as his siblings, he nevertheless gets an expanded role this season. And for that, Min credits The Umbrella Academy fandom. 

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“My role last season was quite secondary and to see the fans rally behind the character was more than I could have ever hoped and imagined. I think it’s one of the main reasons why I was able to be propelled into this season with a little more agency because I think they felt like that’s what the fans wanted.”

As a gift to those same fans, Min also offers up one hell of an endorsement of this season’s finale. 

“I screamed for a very long time after I read the final scene. It was nothing like I ever expected or imagined. And I say that in the best possible way. It tops what happened at the end of season one, because I don’t think anyone will expect what happens at the end of the season.”

Number Seven – Vanya  Finds Herself

Speaking of endings: What’s in store for The Umbrella Academy’s resident world-ender this year?

Vanya (with an unhelpful assist from Luther) was the source of the apocalypse in season 1, so thankfully the only way to go from there is up. Vanya loses her memories on arrival in Dallas (it’s not as lame as it sounds) and is taken in by Sissy (Marin Ireland) and her son Harlan. 

“I think she finds a nice sense of peace and solace,” Page says of her character “Because we ended a season where so much came to the surface for her, Vanya is definitely much more comfortable in her skin. She’s more confident. It’s freed her in so many ways.”

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Page occupies an interesting position on The Umbrella Academy. Though Number Seven in Reginald Hargreeves’s heart, the well-known actress is number one on the callsheet. And in the second season of this endearingly goofy comic book adaptation, she seems more assured within the world, successfully lobbying the costume department for Vanya to dress “more masc,” and staying positive during a particularly tough scene. “You’ve been tortured before clearly,” someone on set notes as they adjust the restraints on a chair holding Vanya down. Page is also more comfortable shouldering the responsibilities of the show’s most explosive character.  

“The power is fun and exciting, especially in terms of how it manifests and some stunts and stuff this year. Playing someone whose power is connected to their emotions, and what happens if we aren’t being mindful of them, I think that’s what’s so exciting. Also: being able to fuck people up. That’s fun.”

“Fun” is the operative world for The Umbrella Academy season 2. The hard work of world and character-building is mostly out of the way. And while the Hargreeves family and the actors who play them find themselves in a new environment, at least they have each other this time… eventually.

Per Umbrella Academy lore, on October 1, 1989, 43 women around the world suddenly gave birth to extraordinary individuals. Reginald Hargreeves found seven of them and through sheer force of his odious will made them into a team. On October 1, 2019, The Umbrella Academy team took a moment after a hard day’s work of filming to commemorate their “birthday” with a cake.

Of course, being a member of The Umbrella Academy comes with its own occupational hazards. As Emmy Raver-Lampman explains, sometimes even a special occasion is preceded by an explosive incident involving fruit all over your priceless ‘60s clothes.

“We all got covered in pineapple and then it was our birthday.”