The following contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy season 2.
There’s so much to enjoy in The Umbrella Academy’s second season. The story is compelling, the character work is strong, and the music cues are incredibly on point. Season 2 effortlessly builds on many of the strengths of its predecessor, while placing its characters in new and intriguing situations. The dynamics between the Hargreeves children are richer and more complex than ever before, and the 1960s-era setting is just a ton of fun.
Season 2’s demonstrated ability to course correct for the better is precisely what makes its decision to double down one of the series’ worst character choices so frustrating. Two seasons in, The Umbrella Academy still has no idea what to do with Vanya, the most powerful Hargreeves child, whose long-simmering rage and pain almost destroyed the world…twice. Much of the series’ first season was more than willing to plumb the depths of Vanya’s emotional trauma, showing us in fairly explicit detail all the ways she had been abused, lied to, and generally rejected by those closest to her. But its second seems to have little to no interest in showing us how – or even if – the character is capable of truly healing.
At the end of season 1, the Hargreeves siblings go back in time to try and avert the apocalypse, ostensibly by helping Vanya heal and confronting the fact that they were as instrumental in her world-ending psychotic break as their dead father was. The show acknowledges the family’s complicity in Vanya’s fall – only Allison even vaguely objects to locking Vanya in a padded room after finding out about her powers, and that’s because she remembers being used to take away her sister’s agency herself when they were young. The rest of the siblings react just as they always have, choosing to isolate Vanya rather than attempt to deal with her problems head-on.
Therefore, the promise of addressing their failure with her in the series second season felt like a natural next step in Vanya’s story. But, instead, The Umbrella Academy itself chooses to ignore her pain in season 2, much the same way her siblings once did.
Instead of facing Vanya’s past and truly dealing with her messy relationships with all her siblings, season 2 treats her trauma like an afterthought. The pain and loneliness that defined her life up to this point are erased by a convenient, clunky bout of amnesia – she’s hit by a car almost as soon as she arrives in 1963 – a twist which largely frees her from the responsibility of the decisions she made last season.
Vanya is never asked to look too closely at her previous choices – from writing a tell-all novel about her family secrets or slicing her sister’s throat – or to acknowledge the rage that drove her for so long. Even when she eventually learns several key facts about the life she doesn’t remember, including her attacks on her sister and her previous – now dead, by her hand – boyfriend, the show generally chooses to play the moment for laughs rather than growth. Klaus even drunkenly shushes Allison when the subject comes up at one point.
This is especially frustrating since season 2 initially hints that Vanya will cause another apocalypse because she doesn’t know who she is or understand what she’s capable of – basically because once again the siblings have shirked their duty of care toward her. This isn’t a problem that can – or should – be fixed by Luther’s quick attempt at an apology early in the season or the ten-minute conversation with the dead brother she barely knew at its end. It’s an issue that deserves to be faced head-on by the entire Umbrella Academy. That is ostensibly what the terms of their trip back in time were in the first place, after all.
Yes, there’s a certain joy to be found in Vanya’s season 2 storyline. Released from the constraints of who she’s always been and unburdened of the many lies her family told her throughout her life, her character feels freer and more genuine than ever before. Though her romantic subplot once again seems as though it’s happening on a totally different series for half the season, at least her connection with Sissy is based on something real. There’s perhaps an argument to be made that maybe this do-over is precisely what Vanya needed, to at least know that she was capable of being a different person than the rage-filled monster her father created.
But by erasing her choices without ever truly facing them, The Umbrella Academy denies Vanya the chance to truly grow in the same ways her siblings did this season. Throughout season 2, we’ve gotten to see Luther, Allison, and even Klaus decide the sort of people they want to be, outside of the influence of their family history. Vanya, to an extent, does that as well, building new connections of her own with Sissy and Harlan. But, because she doesn’t truly remember the family she once had, these decisions don’t carry quite the same weight for her. For Luther, whose life was almost solely defined by the Umbrella Academy up until this point, his decision to be a regular guy who pays bills and eats barbecue means something. Vanya’s…not so much.
By the time Vanya’s memories are forced back into her via electroshock torture the season’s almost over and the Hargreeves are dealing with another potential disaster that has taken precedence over healing the first one. Vanya has her old memories back alongside a slew of happier new ones, and everyone’s sort of forgiven one another, and it’s all fine. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. After all, dysfunctional sibling dynamics are what this show is best at.
But viewers deserve the chance to see Vanya face – and conquer – her demons on her terms, not just handwave them away with a convenient narrative excuse. Whether that means genuinely apologizing to Allison and the other family members she’s wronged, expressing remorse about Pogo’s death, or just spending some quality time talking out their murder pasts with Number Five – the other Hargreeves family misfit with a messy history of his own – The Umbrella Academy needs to allow Vanya the space to address the woman she once was while deciding the sort of hero she’ll become.