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The Umbrella Academy: World's Biggest Ball of Twine

Ben (Sparrow Number Two): “Whatever game the Umbrellas are playing, you're gonna lose! You took our Number One, so we took you.”
Luther (Umbrella Number One): “Wait, we took Marcus?”

The Sparrows take Luther captive, because they assume that the Umbrellas took Marcus. Also, Vanya is now Viktor.

The Sparrows have reasons to assume the Umbrellas took Marcus. Marcus was with Vanya. The Umbrellas are hostiles and they have powers. Still, it’s negligent of the Sparrows not to have asked everyone else in the Academy if they know what happened to Marcus. As the Sparrows don’t even bother to check in with Grace (whom they don’t call Mom) they don’t learn the fact that Marcus touched the powerful ball of light in the basement and was pulled into the whatever as he did so.

Marcus isn’t the only one to disappear. Chet, the guy who runs Hotel Obsidian, is disconsolate because he can’t find his pug. In another wave, lobsters in the tank disappear, and then, later, a whole bunch of cows.

Vanya transitions to Viktor in this episode. This was necessitated by the actor’s transition from Ellen Page to Elliot Page. In the world of the story, the announcement is goaded by two things: Vanya’s discovery that, thanks to their actions in 1963, they are now known as the Kennedy Six, and that maybe a change in style is advised. Vanya also remembers her time with Sissy, and that she never felt right before that, and that she always was male.

The siblings react mostly in stride, with initial “What?” to a “Good for you,” responses. This shift wasn’t welcomed in all parts of the internet. Because some groups feel compelled to attack trans people, the reviews on IMDB.com for this episode were swarmed with those who were either genuinely angry about this or who were organized to display faux rage.

I thought the change was handled reasonably well, with enough attention but not too much, as the transition is not the story focus. In a way it's surprising that no one accidentally says "Vanya" after being told, as names are wired into our brains and it takes time for new neurons to grow. Maybe the Umbrellas are faster at learning; Reggie would have drilled them to adjust quickly. I’d also expect Allison to feel some sorrow, as in a family full of brothers, she has lost her only sister. Allison is going through a lot at the moment, having just said good-bye to her husband only to discover that in this version of events, she has no daughter.

Luther’s capture by the Sparrows defies expectations. They want information from him, but they’re not cruel. They share their nut butters with him and Sloane shows him around the Academy. When the Sparrows decide to let Luther go, they give him a message but also a tote bag (I love that the Sparrows are into merch). But before Luther gets very far on his way to the Hotel Obsidian, Sloane rekidnaps him, floating him up to her bedroom (but Luther is willing). It’s nice to see Luther – who is the most innocent, most earnest of the bunch – having a relatively uncomplicated relationship with a woman.

The other major story is Klaus and Five exploring Pennsylvania. I always wondered how Klaus could have a German name. I mean, Luther – tall, blond Aryan with an iconic German name – appeared to come from Germany. Why would the creators of the show assign another to the same part of the world? But it turns out Klaus comes from the Amish. He goes off in search of his birth mother, which is rather sweet, and true to Klaus, as he is in many ways the most sensitive of the Umbrellas.

Five lets himself be dragged into the road trip because he decides to retire. He treats himself to the sauna (schvitz or shvitz, Yiddish for sauna, similar to the German for schwitzen, to sweat); finally puts on long pants and a jaunty hat. He’s got the mannerisms of an older guy but they're not longer making a big deal of it. His attitude as that as long as the world isn’t ending, this timeline is OK, even if they have lost their home and Allison has lost her daughter. However, when Klaus discovers that his birth mother somehow died before he was born – the day of his birth, actually – then Five gets worried. The grandfather paradox is the most twisted of the paradoxes, and he has good reason to be concerned – and to resume work.

Title musings. “World’s Biggest Ball of Twine” is the title of the episode. Not only do we get to see this silly thing, but we learn we’re in the loopiest story ever. Other metaphors are given by Klaus and Five, thinking about the complications with their family, as well as Sisyphus, pushing a ball up a mountain over and over. It’s also a harbinger to the grandfather paradox, the most twisted of the paradoxes.

Bits and pieces

Five’s desire to indulge in kitschy sightseeing reminds me of Agnes from Season One, and how she circled all the best places to bird watch on the map.

The steering wheel is on the right side of car, an indication that we are in a mirror universe.

The Amish call Klaus “English” because he speaks English. Apparently the Amish speak a dialect of German.

Vanya can actually be considered a boy’s name or a girl’s name in Russian, so in one respect there was no reason to change it. But Viktor is definitely a boy’s name.

Several places in the US claim to have the world’s biggest ball of twine. What humans will do when they’re bored is impressive.

I liked how Grace the Robot brings the ball of light in the basement a plate full of various cookies.

It seems highly unlikely that Rachel’s sister, Klaus’s aunt, would have a scrapbook full of strange deaths. The Amish make a point of isolating themselves, and it seems unlikely that she would have been able to gather information from around the world. But maybe she’s a rebel, just not sufficiently rebellious to leave her people.

Five also has a new look. Long pants! And a hat. Although the actor’s not a kid anymore, Aidan Gallagher didn’t have the growth spurt I was expecting.

Klaus did not really change his look. He is always the most scantily clad.

I didn't mention Lila but she's doing some solo work, including stealing a briefcase from the Academy after the Umbrellas left it there.

If you watch the open carefully, you’ll see the front page of a newspaper showing that Sir Reginald Hargreeves was at the opening of the Hotel Obsidian. So, everything is connected!


Five: News flash, geniuses! It's not about us! Take a look around. If you hadn't noticed, there's no doomsday. There's no apocalypse. The sun is shining. Birds are doing whatever the hell birds do. That's all that matters. We're done messing with time. And I'm officially retired.

Ben: I'm Ben, Number Two.
Luther: It is so good to see you again, buddy.
Ben: Why does everyone keep looking at me like that?
Luther: Because you've been dead for 15 years.

Allison: I knew something could go wrong if we came back. I knew it, and I risked it anyway. I left Ray to be with Claire, and now... Now it's like she never existed. And I don't even have a picture of her.

Klaus: We are going to Pennsylvania to find my birth mother. Yay!
Five: Excuse me?
Klaus: I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. I just needed somebody to come with me for emotional support.
Five: Oh, emotional support, like a Schnauzer?

Klaus: I helped myself into Dad's office, looking for the key to his safe 'cause he had Pogo lock up all the stealables. But instead, I found a treasure trove of our family history told in expired check stubs. ... I was too messed up to, uh, do anything about it, too scared to look her up. But always in the back of my mind, I wondered why she sold me off for three grand. I mean, come on, she couldn't have held out for five? Six?

Klaus: Hey, I'm glad you came along. You're a good brother. All right, all right. You say nice things about me now.
Five: Let's go find your stupid mother.
Klaus: Love you too, tiny dancer!

Stanley: FŐ˝ck, yeah!
Diego: Hey, watch your mouth!
Really, why has the world agreed that certain words are bad and others are not? And yet we all do. Maybe it’s because we want certain words to have more force?

Overall rating

Some excellent bits, some good misdirection. The Vanya is now Viktor storyline, however, although well done, felt like a detour, and there wasn't the delight of the spontaneous dancing from the first episode. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching it. Three out of four Sparrow tote bags.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.


  1. Thanks for your review, Victoria.

    I thought the Vanya to Viktor transition was handled really well, and I especially liked how Allison reacted. And I enjoyed all the new looks, especially Five dressed like a retired old man since that's what he is.

    Claire's nonexistence wasn't a surprise. I could just feel it coming. How devastating for Allison.

    I also noticed that the steering wheel was on the other side, but didn't think "mirror universe." I should have! The Umbrellas changing the timeline in the sixties wouldn't have affected steering wheels, after all.

    FWIW, I moved back to southeastern Pennsylvania a few years back; my family is from this area. The "Pennsylvania Dutch" dialect is definitely German. My grandmother and her many siblings, born and raised in this area, had a mild German accent, even though they weren't Amish.

    The Amish population is shrinking. If you think about it, it makes sense. People don't convert and join the Amish -- they're born into it, and many young people leave. They're very aware of the outside world, too.


  2. the Dutch part came from mangling of the word Deutsch so they have nothing to with the Netherlands and are indeed German.

  3. FYI, I was just rewatching this episode and the steering wheel on the bus Harlan took was on the usual side. I've been trying to see where it is on other cars.

  4. The steering wheel placement varies throughout this season.

  5. So far I'm only noticing the difference on the hotel cars, which have an "H & O" shield emblem on the front doors and are used by various characters.

  6. The Amish call all non-Amish "English" regardless of the heritage of the person.


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