The Umbrella Academy: Extra Ordinary

What an absolute kick to the feels this installment turned out to be. And ordinarily I don't gravitate much to that kind of terminology, but it's honestly the most uncluttered of ways I can think of to describe this episode's content.

'Extra Ordinary' puts two main conflicts front and center: the development of Vanya and Leonard's relationship, and the other siblings' discovery of Mom's supposed involvement in Sir Hargreeves' death. (There's also a brief headway with Hazel and Cha-Cha's pursuit of Five, but that serves more as a setup for the next episode.)

Starting with Mom, as it turns out, Luther's earlier suspicions that foul play was involved in Dad-of-the-Year's death seem to be correct. Surveillance feed from their dad's bedroom reveals that Mom not only stood by and let Sir Hargreeves die, but also is the one responsible for taking his signature monocle; an absence of the monocle when Luther had searched the mansion back in the pilot led him to suspect that the murder was personal. Just as Luther had jumped the gun in the pilot by suspecting Diego to be the culprit, he does so once again by suggesting that the artificial-intelligence behind Mom's pretty face be shut down. Luther has gotten a bad rap collectively by most of the fandom (a judgment I will revisit in future reviews) and it is decisions like this that tend to make me lean in that direction as well. In 'Run Boy Run', I found it admirable of Luther to immediately own up and admit it was wrong to suspect and accuse Diego of murder upon discovering he had an air-tight alibi, but here in 'Extra Ordinary', it just feels jarring of Luther (and Allison for that matter) to so quickly turn on the maternal figure, A.I. or not, that made such an impact on these seven siblings growing up. Once the other siblings become involved in this dilemma, the episode's tone suddenly felt like something out of Philip K. Dick, as it addressed the issue of how the siblings should perceive Mom's influence in each of their lives because, after all, her actions and affection are all born out of programming, Sir Hargreeves' programming no less.

All of Luther's hasty decisions at the very least feel like they are still the result of maintaining utter devotion to his father. The underlying reason for why he is so devoted remains to be seen. Diego, who in fact took the monocle from Mom to protect her from Luther, takes a stance in line with what I mentioned above, that Mom can't just be turned off like a kitchen appliance because she is capable of caring and feeling. I have to side with Diego myself on this, but then I admit I'm a little biased too because of the absolutely touching montage showing the methods Mom utilized in the past to inspire and motivate the children, Vanya included! I also enjoy the emerging edge of Klaus' personality as well; usually he gives the impression that he's a pushover because he doesn't object vocally to the other siblings' perception of him as the family 'black sheep', but I applaud him for calling Luther out here on the hypocrisy that Klaus' opinion only seems to matter when it's an issue Luther cares about.

In the heat of this dispute, it's also revealed that Allison lost custody of her daughter because she was caught using her powers on her. More specifically, she used "I heard a rumor..." in order to quell her daughter's crying outbursts, and she has regretted it ever since. This is quite the unique spin on the idea of superheroes or individuals with abilities having children of their own, and the ethical dilemma of whether it's justified to use their powers on them. Innately, this fits into Allison's upbringing as a child who was often spoiled and made to feel that she was advantaged because of her ability, and it also puts forth a chilling notion of just how many parents, if they were in her position and had her power, would have done the same.

The other development of this episode centers on Vanya and Leonard's progression from just teacher-and-student to possibly something more. As Vanya is quick to (rightfully) point out, it's a bit odd to her that she's only known Leonard for a few days, yet already she feels that he knows her better than anybody else around. He's even gone the lengths to carve a violinist figurine in her likeness and asserts that she actually inspires him! Now the antisocial cynic in me might throw red flags up at a fixation like this developing after only one prior meeting, but in the show's defense, I don't think it's trying to push Leonard's fixation on her as something to be seen as orthodox, rather, it's playing into Vanya's vulnerability as someone who wants, and has always wanted, a close friend. I wouldn't describe her as 'desperate', but Leonard's behavior around her is, for her, refreshing and welcoming.

This unraveling into Vanya's personality is what makes her character so vastly identifiable. Up to this point, we know that Vanya's relationship with her siblings growing up was not fruitful to say the least. But her isolation isn't just reserved to the academy. We're shown that after Vanya published her book, as it strangely turned out, not many people were interested in its contents. This came as a surprise to me at first; why wouldn't anybody want to read about the escapades of a group of super-powered teenagers? But I then realized perhaps it's because of the attachment of Vanya's name to the book. To put it bluntly, we're shown that nobody really is interested in who Vanya is, or what she has to say. She's not a household name, she doesn't really appeal to anyone. Her own musical rehearsal group even seems oblivious to her presence, with her conductor noting that he "hadn't noticed" she was late to practice. It's vexing to see a character go through ordeals like this because so many of us have likely felt that kind of experience, to want to make some sort of impact or have your voice heard, but somehow, you just feel like no one is really listening. So yes, as sudden as Leonard's interest in Vanya seems to be, she can't be blamed at all for entertaining the idea of growing fond of him herself.

The episode neatly climaxes into a pretty exhilarating and animated fight sequence between the siblings, and Hazel and Cha-Cha, who track Five to the mansion after the waitress from the coffee shop he visited points out that Five bore the tattoo of an umbrella. Simply put, I love fight sequences like this that not only incorporate a variety of powers and abilities, but also the characters using anything and everything in their surroundings as a possible weapon. Combine that with Klaus obliviously and hilariously moonwalking between rooms like a traditional Scooby-Doo chase sequence, and you have what I would call one of the season's more memorable moments.

In the end, Klaus ends up abducted by Hazel and Cha-Cha, Luther is revealed to be a shaggy, hulking brute underneath his multiple clothing layers, and it is actually Diego who makes the final call to turn Mom off. But it should be noted that it is only after he sees that she has taken no notice at all of the brutal and destructive battle on the mansion's ground floor. The pain and emotional turmoil upon Diego's face and him coming to terms with what must be done makes this decision feel more warranted from his perspective as opposed to Luther and Allison's decision to turn her off purely because of what a surveillance video showed them. It actually saddened me a little too seeing this character go so early on into the series, but because the actress Jordan Claire Robbins is included as part of the series' main cast, my guess is we'll still be seeing more of her down the line - the question is just in what form and in what capacity.

To round off the review, I want to also point out how much I love the dynamic between some of the brothers; Five and Luther, Five and Klaus, Klaus and Luther, etc. I grew up with a brother and sister too, and can testify that some of these squabbles should immediately diffuse any doubts that these are brothers (albeit not in blood) who grew up under the same roof.

The episode leaves us with a couple of new inquiries to chew on. By now, we have reason to suspect that there must be some additional side effect or benefit to the mysterious medication Vanya is always seen with; the fact that the pills aren't shown subtly and instead are always in the foreground leads me to reckon they're more than just ordinary antidepressants or pain relievers. There may also be the possibility that Hazel and Cha-Cha may be more than just humans seeing that they are able to go toe-to-toe with Luther in combat, and Luther's no ordinary combatant himself - he's capable of walking away from having a bloody chandelier dropped on him and that isn't a feat just anybody is capable of!

Name That Tune:

It's not an action or a thriller series without Nina Simone's 'Sinnerman' set to the background. The Umbrella Academy follows in the footsteps of The Blacklist, Sherlock, and Person of Interest to accompany the academy's brawl against Hazel and Cha-Cha with this jazzy spiritual tune.

Hargreeves Humor:

Klaus: "I'm with Diego, because screw you! And if Ben were here, he'd agree with me."
Ben: "No. I don't."

Five: "I'd ask what you're up to, Klaus, but then it occurred to me I don't care."

Vanya: "I was sort of the fifth Beatle of the family, so I never really did like the Beatles."
Leonard: "More of a Stones guy, myself."

Klaus: "Hey! Did I ever tell you guys about the time I waxed my ass with chocolate pudding?"

Aaron Studer loves spending his time reading, writing and defending the existence of cryptids because they can’t do it themselves.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

As I never read the comic I had a couple of questions:
1. Why doesn't Five have a name? He's not forgettable like Vanya, and he's certainly not an easy target to tease. I take it their Dad would call him so, but why to follow Dad's frozen mannerisms in this particular case? The kids have never been blindly obedient.
2. Vanya is a male name. Was she mixed up with her twin-boy in the infancy, or what? Are we supposed to expect the appearance of a big Mr Tanya one day?
3. All in all, are names important?

Aaron Studer said...

From my understanding,
1) Diego points out in the pilot that Mom is the one who gave them their actual names, as their father only saw them as numbers. From this we can assume that Five jumped into the future probably before Mom gave the kids their actual names, as none of the other siblings even think of referring to Five as anything else.
2) I actually was not aware that Vanya was a boy’s name, so that is interesting in its own right...
3) The names aren’t explictly relevant to the plot, I’ve seen viewers refer to the characters both by their actual numbers or by their names, so it’s more just a personal preference when it comes down to what you want to call them.

Anonymous said...

Back from work to thank you very much for the reply. Sorry for delay!

Anonymous said...

By the way, if you're interested, Vanya is a short form of Ivan.