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The Umbrella Academy: Changes

And so we have reached what is perhaps the most controversial episode of The Umbrella Academy with regards to character development. And if I'm being completely honest, I think the backlash is a tad too feverish. Warranted, yes, but very hysteric too.

So let's start with the recap.
• Klaus briefly relapses but is sucker-punched by Ben transcending the material world,
• Diego uses his blood to save Allison,
• Cha-Cha takes Agnes hostage,
• Vanya learns who Harold really is and makes a pin-cushion out of him,
• Vanya returns to the academy and is captured by Luther and thrown in an isolation chamber.

The last bullet point is what has divided fans and also critics of the series, and led many of them to demand Luther's head on a platter. As I mentioned in an earlier review, Luther's lack of any relatable characteristics makes him a hard character to get behind when tough calls have to be made. This combined with Luther showing little to no concern for Vanya at all over the last eight episodes until now makes his abrupt decision to take 'precautions' against Vanya feel rather out-of-the-blue. You'd think that Pogo, the last person Luther claims he would trust, making the revelation to Luther about Vanya's newfound powers would further raise Luther's skepticism, but nope, I guess Pogo can't be trusted until the story demands Luther trust him wholly.

Here's why the fanbase is so livid: Luther's actions are committed purely out of self-interest. In other words, Vanya hurt Allison so she deserves what's coming to her. In my last review, I noted that love can be a fine motivating factor for a protagonist, but Luther isn't acting here to help achieve a greater good, I'd argue it's not even out of love for Allison, it's out of selfishness. (To quote the last series I reviewed on here - Gotham: "Love is about sacrifice. It's about putting someone else's needs and happiness before your own.") Well, it's clear Luther isn't taking into consideration Allison's own needs because he barricades the chamber any time Allison makes an attempt to help Vanya. But then, this is also why I think the backlash is a bit too maddened. Allison's by no means a dull or drab character, there are other candidates that could fill that slot, but she's not necessarily a fan-favorite the way Diego, Vanya or Klaus are. While her near-death experience took me by surprise, I don't know how many others were that affected. If hypothetically, say Klaus was the one that Vanya had nearly killed and Luther locked Vanya up for it, given the adoration and love the fanbase has for Klaus, I'm not sure the backlash against Luther's decision would nearly be as potent. Like I said, still unwarranted, but then, some fans would take anything they could get to see some form of justice being dealt for Klaus' wound.

Ooh while we're on the subject of Klaus - let's talk about how him nearly relapsing for all of forty seconds at the beginning felt just as abrupt too. In between last episode and this one, all that's happened that has weight to drastically alter Klaus' mood is Allison's near-death experience, but the way Klaus explains his decision to turn back to substances to Ben makes it sound as if there were multiple factors at play. Regardless, Klaus decides to stay sober when the more interesting development of Ben being able to make physical contact with things (like his fist to Klaus' face) in the living world rears its head. Klaus nearly relapsing is a plot point also easily forgiven in light of Klaus' own efforts to liberate Vanya from Luther. Not only is Klaus primarily motivated by his bond to his sister, but his dismayed face watching Vanya's own fear at the thought of being locked up resonates much more with him than anyone else, for Klaus too likely understands how torturous and daunting solitary confinement can be. Of all the dynamics we never got to see in Season 1, perhaps the one I would have liked to see fleshed out the most was the relationship between Klaus and Vanya.

'Changes' delivers the final blow to Harold Jenkins' arc as well. After Vanya gets her head straight and decides she still loves her family after all, she makes the discovery of Harold being in possession of Sir Reginald's journal and realizes she's been played for a fool all along. Vanya's catharsis here involving the realization that she can't bring herself to fight or hate her siblings was wonderful, but I guess the showrunners felt the need to drive home the notion of Harold being pathetic in every sense of the word. For one thing, if you're trying to convince your girlfriend that you're both on the same side, I'd maybe skip over the part where you reveal that you murdered her competitor for first chair. For another, when it's clear that said girlfriend, who possesses an ability that nearly borders on telekinesis, isn't going to see things your way, it absolutely is not smart to echo her deceased father's words and call her 'weak' and 'pathetic', which is sure to piss her off and make her use her powers to turn you into the human equivalent of Ferroseed.

I also mentioned once how this series missed a huge opportunity, spectacle-wise and narrative-wise, to give Harold Jenkins powers. Because in the end, if Vanya ever were to discover that Harold was manipulating her, then there's also nothing stopping Vanya from leaving him. Without an ability to rival Vanya's, literally the only thing Harold could do is berate her, but Vanya then is still free to just walk out of his cabin and never speak to him again. Not the best of plans, Harold.

Oh and we also learn that Grace was created by Sir Reginald to help quell Vanya's temper because Vanya kept killing actual, live housemaids. That's almost a really clever solution, but the montage of Vanya brutally murdering actual individuals set to a more upbeat tune pretty much kills this revelation tonally.

So the board has been set for a possible showdown between Vanya and her siblings, but I also hope that the series chooses not to throw character arcs out in the window for the sake of an entirely explosive and action-oriented finale. Please?

Name That Tune:

Smith Western's 'All Die Young' plays over a montage showing how most of the siblings, Vanya herself, are taking her imprisonment. Of all the songs featured in this series' soundtrack, this one quickly rose to being one of my favorites, and it nicely encapsulates this feeling that the Hargreeves, whether for better or for worse, are taking their final steps out of the confines of their shared childhood, and into the world of adulthood.

Hargreeves Humor:

Five: "Excuse me, miss?"
Store Clerk: "Yeah?"
Five: "Could you give that mannequin something new to wear? She likes sequins."

Klaus: "This is Vanya we're talking about. Our sister. The one who always cried when we stepped on ants as kids."

Klaus: (after Ben punches him) "Ow! You just Patrick Swayze-ed me!"

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

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