“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 – A Story That Feels Whole With Great Potential Stories to Tell

The Umbrella Academy' Season 2 Arrives As A Low-Key Monster Hit ...

   Season 2 of “The Umbrella Academy” solves a lot of issues I had with Season 1. For one this story feels complete and isn’t a cliffhanger ending. There are still more stories that they can tell and should tell but this ending feels complete as far as the arcs are characters the characters have gone through. This season also explores the deeper themes of trauma through the lens of the 1960s and through it our characters grow and change. This is a fantastic season that captures the spirit of the comic while clearly exploring how it has given it’s own interpretation to the characters and world. Suffice to say, before I get into spoilers…I highly recommend this season. This season is easily better than Season 1.

“The Umbrella Academy Show” was created by Steve Blackman, developed by Jeremy Slater and based off the comics of the same name by Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way.

The story picks up with members of the Umbrella Academy being deposited in different times in the 1960s. When Five arrives in 1963 to find his siblings fighting Soviet Soldiers as Nuclear War occurs. He is rescued by Hazel who tells him he has to go back and time and stop his siblings from causing “Doomsday” again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – I love the world of the comics and the show. You have time travel, politics, super heroes and character drama. There is everything that is needed for a great story.

The Soundtrack – Jeff Russo and Perrine Vergile have once again crafted a beautiful and amazing score. I’ve gone back and listened to this soundtrack multiple times since finishing the season. It is on par with Season 1 easily.

Character Relationships – The characters and their relationship are what work best about this show and that continues on in Season 2. I’ll be covering my favorite or the best relationships this season here. Luther didn’t make it though he was still a compelling character and Lila and her “adopted” mother didn’t make it either even though they were compelling just not on the same level of the relationships listed below.

Lila and Diego – Lila and Diego have one of the most interesting relationships this season. They are trapped in the asylum together and come to care for each other even as Diego wants to be alone and be a hero and Lila is an agent of the commission and daughter of the Handler. They both have trust issues but by the end they realize they were born at the same time when her powers are revealed (she can replicate other’s powers back at them). I’m curious to see where her future leads as she escapes the Umbrella Academy at the end.

The Politics of the Commission – One of the arcs of this season is that of the politics within the Commission. AJ Carmichael (a goldfish with a human body) demotes the Handler leading her to manipulate the Swedes to manipulate Five to take out the Board of Directors and AJ Carmichael. She succeeds in taking over but it doesn’t last as the Umbrella Academy defeats her and the final Swede who had originally been sent by the commission to kill the Umbrella Academy kills her. After Herb is leader of the Commission and the Umbrella Academy finally has a good relationship with the Commission from what we see.

Vanya’s Self-Discovery – Vanya’s arc this season is her discovering herself and sexuality when she is taken in after being hit by a car and losing her memory. From here she falls in love with the mom who she is nannying for and her standing for them leads to Sissy (the mom) standing up to her abusive husband. The FBI captures Vanya at one point which triggers the “Doomsday” even when Vanya explodes but the event is stopped by Diego, Allison, Klaus and Ben when Ben helps her accept her abilities and that she does deserve to live. She takes what she learns and saved Sissy’s kid Harlan from his power that she had that transferred to him. In the end she leaves them to return to the present and her own time but is more whole in the love she shared with them both and the final acceptance of her powers.

Ben and Klaus – Ben and Klaus are wonderful in this. Ben is the one helping Klaus be responsible and to grow while Ben just wants to experience life again and not pass on. By the end Klaus has come into his own and taken responsibility for the lie and the cult he created and Ben after experiencing life when he possess Klaus is finally able to find the peace and acceptance he needs to move on. It is a beautiful story and Justin H. Min and Robert Sheehan are fantastic.

Allison and Raymond and the Civil Rights Movement – Allison has my favorite arc this season besides Ben’s and Five’s arc. In her arc she opens up about her powers and is active in her agency and changing the world as she and her husband Raymond fight for equality and equity in Dallas, Texas. We see her go from fear to hope and find confidence in the powers she had given up on as she uses them for good. It is extremely well done and Emmy Raver-Lampman and Yusuf Gatewood are fantastic.

Five and Reginald Hargreeves – Five is the leader of the group this time around and the one trying to stop the apocalypse and get them back to their present. His arc is facing his mistakes and from his conversation with his Father Reginald he realizes that he keeps thinking so big and ends up thinking in small time travel jumps which ends up saving the day. It is in the tiny jump that The Handler and the Commission are stopped and the final of the Swedes is made peace with.

The Death and After Life of Ben Hargreeves – This season gives Ben the exploration he deserved in Season 1. We see him stand up to Klaus and eventually possess Klaus with Klaus’s consent and experience what it is like to live again. His final act is to save Vanya from going nuclear with her powers again and admitting that the only reason he stuck around for so long is because he was afraid to die. It is a powerful arc and Justin H. Min does an amazing job.

The Realities of Oppression and Abuse – Like Season 1 this series does not shy away from the realities of trauma and abuse. This season takes it to the societal level as we see the reality of the abuse African-Americans faced at sit-ins the 60s and still face from Police and the United States now. We see this through Raymond, Allison and the members of the barbershop and the people of Dallas’s eyes. These stories are as powerful now as they were then and just as relevant.

The Cons:

Doomsday with Vanya Again? – After the pilot I despised that we were once again returning to “Doomsday.” I get it was a way to up the stakes and give a ticking clock (like last season) but the Umbrella Academy being at risk was true even true even without that ticking clock. I honestly don’t think it was needed this season. The drama we got outside of this clock was enough and the same character beats probably would and could have happened.

This was a great season that built on everything that worked about last season and not repeating the problem of last season with character arcs still up in the air with a cliffhanger ending. Here there are new stories to tell and exploring the consequences of this season but so far I’m seeing nothing that will give us a repeat of “Doomsday.” I can’t wait to see the Sparrows and Umbrellas face-off and see how Ben is both now dead and alive? I’m really curious to see how next season is handled. This season was great and there are so many more stories to tell. If you enjoyed last season, chances are you will love this one too.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 Near perfect. My biggest issue is really the repeating of “Doomsday” with it being tied to Vanya as a driving factor in the story. Thankfully it gets away from this by the last episodes.

Carnivale Finale – Season 2, Episode 12 – “New Canaan” – The Final Battle

Carnivale New Canaan

So ends “Carnivale,” and what a fascinating journey it has been. So, how does the final hold up and bringing all the pieces together? A lot of major threads get pulled together and major arcs brought to an end…while others are left open. It is that even though the show was canceled, you can tell Knauf, the creator wanted to do more. I do hope he can someday so in comics so that it can get the complete wrap up he had in mind.

The finale was written by Daniel Knauf with the original story by Tracy Torme. The episode was directed by Scott Winant.

The episode begins with the carnival being hosted at New Canaan, “For the Children.” As Samson visits with his entourage to invite Justin to ride the Ferris-Wheel. This is all part of the plan that he and Jonesy work out with Ben so that Ben can use his healing powers to suck the life from Justin and keep him trapped on the Wheel. Sofie catches Justin without his shirt on and realizes who he and his taken to the room that her mother was held in as Justin arrives at the carnival and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Carnival in New Canaan – This is brilliant. We got to see some of this when Justin and Iris look out the window and Iris knows she has Justin trapped in obligation and when her and Samson are negotiating in the episode before. This carries over as the Ferris-Wheel traps Justin as Ben seeps his life to heal the injured members of New Canaan. It is fantastic and the magic of the carnival and religion are really well done here…the red sky just adds the effect of it all and the darkness that comes later.

Jonesy – Jonesy is changed and is truly a good guy looking out for others. We see him keep the Ferris-Wheel going after the healing start and is only stopped after Stroud punches him and Justin uses his power to stop the Wheel. Sadly he doesn’t survive the episode as darkness has inhabited Sofie and after he rescues her she shoots him in cold blood. His loss actually means something, season 1 I cared nothing for this character.

Samson – Samson is great as the manipulator and puts everything into play so that Ben won’t have to risk his life like past Avatars like Jesus did. From making certain Justin will come by holding back tickets after Iris’s fear of heights comes out, to his pep talk with Ben, “The hardest part is living.” I think Ben gets that because he goes along with the carnival’s plan and embraces their love of him for healing Jonesy. Samson is there through it all and ends with making Ben Management by putting him on Management’s bed. As they leave New Canaan you see him ready for the next adventure. He also gives Rita Sue the money from New Canaan to pay off the debts they owe because Samson looks out for family. I loved the scene and it showed that through it all he was looking out for Rita, Stumpy and Libby.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Crowe goes full bad in this and we see the darkness Avatar in him made manifest when he lashes out at being used to heal others. This leads to him killing members of his congregation, his adopted father Norman and injuring Ben before he is killed. He is a good threat and when he’s in the cornfield (the dream Ben had from season 1) you get the tension and fear as this is someone who has killed and in this state…lives for killing. Surprisingly even here he doesn’t kill Iris though, showing something remains of his humanity. His death is left ambiguous though as we see Sofie performing a healing on him as the carnival leaves and the plants die the same way the plants died when Ben first healed the little girl’s legs.

Rita Sue, Libby and Stumpy – We see sadness and resolution here as they tell her to believe Jonesy will come back even as they know he’s dead. It is a sad scene since you see that they have always cared about him. Their debts are paid off now but they lost a new member of their family. In a way New Canaan is Babylon.

Ben Hawkins – Finds that he is family in the carnival and they do what they can to support him to take Justin down. We see how this has changed him too as he puts beating Justin as the priority over finding Sofie. He’s thinking more like Management and wants to do what he can to win no matter what, how he is different though is he listens to Samson. He doesn’t have to risk his life to win because the carnival is hear to help. The moment between them is priceless and you get why they make him Management at the end and carry him off like a savior. His arc is complete and he’s become the leader and no longer the man alone.

The Cons: Sofie – Sofie being possessed by darkness is never explained…as is her role as the Omega. Why did she bring back or try to bring back Justin at the end after knowing he raped her mother? Why didn’t she rejoin the carnival? What did her mother’s ghost haunting her mean?

Professor Lodz – He tells us Sofie is the Omega and he tells Lila next time he’ll be seen in the flesh in a past episode but that never goes anywhere. What’s Lodz’s deal? What was his motivation? What was his connection to Scudder and Management?

The mythology wasn’t fully explained and Lodz and Sofie were never used to their full potential (or Lila or Ruthie for that matter) but this episode does a solid. Nearly everyone plays a role to help Ben take down Justin and it is beautifully executed. Barring the questions and plot holes (which are a problem I have with the series, not just this episode). This episode was great and one of my favorites. I’ll do a look back at the show later with how I think it worked and didn’t…but until then, this is a great finale and well worth watching.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

 

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 6 – “Road to Damascus” – When the Masks are Off

Carnivale Road to Damascus

“The Road to Damascus” is a decision episode. Big events happen that change things and show us the truth of characters and character relationships. We see past relationships too in regards to Samson and the complex relationships between different carnivals.

The episode was written by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin and directed by Tucker Gates.

We meet folks from the Daily Brothers Show who had their tents burned down by Stroud though they believe it was the owners for the insurance money, Pastor Justin Crowe holds a confessional for the guilty party of the church burning, Ben needs to make a choice to move forward, Sofie has to decide to leave and the Dreyfus family arc finally goes somewhere. These are the stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Pastor Justin Crowe – Justin stands by his sister even after all that happened but only after she had come clean in her guilt and confessed. He helped her grow and it showed he hadn’t completely lost his humanity given he saw Dolan as tool from the beginning.

Dolan – Dolan takes the fall for Iris, and it’s implied Justin’s powers made him do it. He tries to hold her accountable but there is nothing he can do. He was a great character though and even though he was sleezy at times his good heart came through. I wonder if this will be the last we see of him.

Sofie – We see Sofie’s joy in her relationship with Ben and when she dances in the rain, which happens after her and Ben have sex. Sadly Samson’s prediction comes true, at least for now as Ben leaves to find Scudder and try and beat Stroud to him. The last we see of her is her leaving the carnival behind and watching it leave.

Ben – Ben is embracing his destiny and actually forming a life. We see his joy and connection with Sofie over their horrible childhood and parents and her and him happy as they share a moment together in which after it rains. We also see Samson acting as a mentor and it’s after he talks to Samson that he goes ahead to try and beat Stroud to Scudder.

Samson – Samson had a relationship with the woman in charge of the other carnival. They were married for 9 years as he tells Ben but they work something out where she gets a cut of profits and he keeps her husband on board. We see him caring for the other carnies and his glimpsing of the big picture.

Okay: Ruthie/Lodz and Lila – One of the last scene is of Ruthie possessed by Lodz asking Lila where the boy is, just as she’s moving on. I would have preferred a spirit of Lodz given how great the actor is and I worry this will destroy what little development Ruthie’s received.

Dreyfus Drama – Stumpy’s a liar and no one is surprised. He blames Jonesy for destroying his family when Stumpy did that and feels powerless as Jonesy has slept with his wife and is building a relationship with Libby his daughter. I hate Stumpy. Rita’s okay and Libby is awesome.

This episode had a lot happen and made things move forward in a big way. What remains to be seen is if the new elements will go anywhere. Does Ruthie exist as a character? What is Justin’s big plan? Will Ben reach Scudder before Stroud? What will become of Sofie? These are the biggest questions beyond the mythology that I hope we get answers to before the end.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Another solidly great episode.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The River” – Discovery of Power

Carnivale The River

“The River” is the episode where other characters become aware of Ben’s power and Justin Crowe discovers his own as we get his backstory and the reason behind why he lived with his sister. It’s a great episode in regards to how it explores the magic and some of the characters.

The episode was written by Toni Graphia and directed by Alison Maclean.

The episode begins with Ben learning of Ruthie’s connection to Scudder when Lila and Lodz attempt to manipulate him to action. This leads to him fighting and injuring her son Gabriel. Elsewhere Justin Crowe contemplates suicide on a bridge and has a flashback in the river as we get their backstory from Dolan interviewing Iris as a version of their past takes place when Justin sees himself following through with a suicide. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Crowe’s Vision of the Past – Crowe has a vision of jumping into the river and washing up and meeting himself and his sister Iris when they were children. It is there his younger self kills him as he killed the man who tried to hurt them and he realizes his power. After he chooses not to jump and gives his sister a call that she has known about it all along.

Dolan – Dolan’s radio program is fascinating, as well as how we learn from his kindness and openness with Iris and that her and Justin were Russian immigrants who died in a train crash and could only count on each other. It’s a brutal story but reveals why they are so isolated from everyone and their bond. Dolan’s openness is a nice contrast to this.

Iris – Iris telling their story and speaking Russian are some of the more powerful parts of the episode. She calls Justin by his name he had before he was Justin and we see her shock when she realizes Justin knows the truth.

Ben – Still resisting his power (come on now, we want answers!) but he heals Ruthie’s son after they fight and respects Ruthie’s space since her relationship with Scudder was none of his business. Lodz and Lila still have power over Ben and the ability to get under his skin.

Professor Lodz – Lodz cruelty comes out in this episode as we see him beat Lila when she reveals the healing of Dustin to him and he realizes he missed it. It was here that my distrust of him grew much more. How much does he want to help Ben or just help himself?

The Cons: Lag – There are certain moments where the story lags or feels choppy. For this reason I can’t rate it as highly as the episodes that came prior.

Justin is the most compelling part of the narrative at this point. He is finding things out and being active in the search to understand himself, versus Ben who is doing everything to resist that discovery. The carnival is great and I’m curious when they are going to meet  Justin and what will come out of it given the shared dreams between characters. The episode lags in some places but the Justin part of the story is very strong.

Final Score: 9 / 10.

Carnivale Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Milfay” – Of Good, Evil and Outsiders

Carnivale      If you’ve been reading the blog for a while now you’ve probably found that I do love shows or movies that incorporate mythology into them, and do it well. Be it Heaven, Hell and the Apocalypse in shows like “Supernatural” and “Sleepy Holow” (and this show), or shows that play off Greek and Christian Mythologies like “Battlestar Galactica.” For me these myths have the potential to teach us about ourselves, as any good story can. It was discussing this with my Grandfather when he suggested this show, and he got me hooked.

I’ll be reviewing episodes of “Carnival” sporadically, but I do plan on going through the entire season since the show itself isn’t that long. The show was created by Daniel Knauf who served as Producer along with Ronald Moore (one of my favorite directors and producers) and Howard Klein. Daniel Knauf wrote the first episode while Rodrigo Garcia directed.

The premise begins with the mythology of the show as one of the Carnies, a Dwarf named Samson who has power says,

“Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called Man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness, and great armies would clash by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was, until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.”

From here the story unfolds following an ex-con named Ben Hawkins who is haunted by dreams of being hunted by a tattooed man. He awakes and we are in the time of the Great Depression as he is watching his mother die as she is scared of him. From here the story unfolds as two people from the Carnival stand up for him leaving him with the dilemma of recognizing his power and to join or not join the Carnival, fully leaving his past behind to start again.

Here is the assessment of the pilot:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The Cinematography is fantastic! The scenes that catch the desperation are beautiful as the dust shows how desolate Ben and other characters feel. We also see some spectacular visions that are done to give us glimpses into the minds of the characters.

The Writing – From Samson (Michael J. Anderson of “Twin Peaks” fame) being the co-manager and guy who isn’t fully trustworthy but has good intentions, to Ben’s mysterious past and the mysterious present of Pastor Justin Crowe. The elements of supernatural pervade the themes and the dreams while never fully integrating themselves except for a scene where Pastor Crowe makes a woman throw up money after she stole and Ben resurrects a kitten and makes a little girl walk again.

The Music – The music is amazing! It keeps the mysterious feel and strange of what makes the Carnival and the Carnival while keeping religious themes in it too the way “Battlestar Galactica” did. Wendy Molvoin and Lisa Coleman were perfect composers for the theme and music.

The Characters – All the characters who have scene get great exploration that shows them to be more complex than they first appear to be. This is an ensemble show even though Ben and Justin are the primary drivers of the story.

Samson – I really like Michael J. Anderson, his being co-manager with the mysterious Management makes for an interesting situation as he is the one who is practical but also can be cruel and kind. He offers himself as a mentor figure to Ben but is rejected. I’m curious to see what his relationship to Management is like, as well as the rest of the carnival.

Brother Justin Crowe – He is set up as the powerful and possible antagonist as it is left open if he made the lady who stole throw up quarters since she stole one…and he later has a vision outside an erotic dance bar of a red cross over it in neon after it snows and rains blood upon him…and we see Ben have a vision of him with black eyes jumping out. So he’s probably the well meaning antagonist when the story gets deeper in. Clancy Brown is great for this role.

Jonesy – Works the Ferris Wheel, has a kind heart towards children but is contrasted with his looking down on women. After Sofia is nearly raped in town he tells her she shouldn’t have gone out. She smacks him thankfully but internalizes what he says later. We do see him help a crippled girl ride the Ferris Wheel for free though and gives her and the boy she’s with an extra ticket.

Sofia – Sofia is the one who reminds Ben of his past by reading his guards, which reveal his past and the kitten he brought back to life that his mother killed and caused him to suppress his powers. She stands up for herself against Jonesey’s sexism and fights the rapists but is contrasted by her saying Jonesey was right to Ben showing the growth she still has to go through in regards to respecting herself. She lives with her mother who is in a coma and talks to her through her mind. They are an act at the Carnival. Clea Duvall was good for this role.

Lila – Is the bearded lady who has compassion for Ben. She is the most experienced of the Carnies as far as how comfortable she is in her face. I can’t wait to learn more about her character. Debra Christofferson plays the character.

Ben Hawkins – The primary character haunted by dreams and the protagonist of the series. We don’t know fully what put him in prison or why he is so guarded about his past but we know he can perform miracles as he resurrected a cat and made a girl walk again at the end of the pilot. I’m curious about this character even though the Carnies are at time more compelling. Nick Stahl was chosen for the role and it is a good fit at this point.

The Themes – Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, Wealthy and Poor, Privileged and Victimized, Corrupt and Good. These themes are captured really well and I expect they’ll be throughout given Samson’s opening speech.

Okay: Slow Start – The pilot is slow at times which is good for building tension and setting tone but I would have liked more drama between characters. It’s not bad but can’t put it as a pro either.

So far I really like this series and I was glad my Grandfather got me into it. I like how the Supernatural element is subtle unlike “Supernatural” or “Sleepy Hollow,” which are both shows I really like, but are both strongest when we are being teased by the mythology and discover it over time. This is what makes this show really great, besides the amazing producers, the fact it’s on HBO (giving it more flexibility in what it can do) and working the mythology into the ensemble cast and covering the fascinating era of the Great Depression. The choosing of a Carnival as the main area of drama with Crowe’s town on the other side of the story. It gives a  nice contrast of the poor and outcast versus the wealthy and privileged.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. A great start to the series.