Sunday, August 2, 2020

REVIEW: 'The Umbrella Academy' - Vanya Must Confront Her Past and Deal with the Consequences in 'The Seven Stages'

Netflix's The Umbrella Academy - Episode 2.08 "The Seven Stages"

A desperate Five concocts a risky plan to intercept another version of himself. The FBI tortures Vanya. Diego discovers what causes the apocalypse.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's The Umbrella Academy.

"The Seven Stages" was written by Mark Goffman & Jesse McKeown and directed by Amanda Marsalis

Being told something is different than experiencing it. A person can absolutely have a visceral reaction upon learning something. In narrative storytelling though, it's much more dramatic and devastating when the character actually experiences it firsthand. It's better to show than to tell. This hour exemplifies that philosophy by stating that Vanya hasn't exactly coped with the reality of what her life was like before traveling to the 1960s. She has been told that she caused the apocalypse. Her siblings have informed her of how isolated she was throughout her entire life. They tease that they have all done horrible things to her. And yet, it's shocking to actually remember all of those brutal details. It's easy to make the argument that it's necessary for Vanya to remember. The narrative can't act like everything that happened in the first season doesn't matter. It has been able to skirt the issue by presenting this new version of the character. She is on a similar journey. But it's also allowed her siblings to befriend her once more. This season has suggested that the family can actually function properly together. They may have been isolated for a little bit. However, they are more unified than ever before. That still may not be enough to stop the apocalypse. Diego learns that Vanya is once again the cause. She is targeted simply because of the Soviet fear throughout America. Her presence presents as a political statement that causes others to fear for their safety. Sissy and Harlan welcomed Vanya into their family. They love her. They feel better because she is in their lives. Carl views her as trying to destroy everything that he has built. This is his family and nothing is going to change that. He is domineering. Sissy feels the demand to be courteous even though she is terrified of her husband. She has to go through the motions with him. He doesn't truly care for their son. Harlan is just a burden that he has to deal with. Vanya is the true threat simply because she wants to take his family away from him. Vanya has that noble goal. She doesn't remember her life in 2019. And yet, this new family she has formed is so much better for her. When she is drugged and tortured, she sees a vision of her father. He makes the argument that it's toxic, selfish and delusional for her to forget. It's simply a choice as well. She doesn't want to remember. As soon as she makes that conscious decision, then the memories all come flooding back. That doesn't make much logical sense. It's just important for the show to mirror the storytelling developments of the first season while putting a new spin on them. It can't be a simple retread of everything that happened before. That would be incredibly boring. This season has been exciting. It has explored new facets of the characters. Some patterns still persist though. Diego believes his fears about Vanya have been proven correct. He thought she would cause the apocalypse. He is seemingly proven right. He is still trusted with the tools to potentially make a difference. He is the sibling who emerges with a briefcase that can potentially carry them back to 2019. Meanwhile, Five believes he is the only sensible member of the family. He was given that ego boost by his father. He believes he can craft an argument for interacting with his former self in the timeline. That is incredibly dangerous and reckless. The show mostly plays that for a joke though. It lists the side effects of this paradox and they are mostly humorous. It builds to the massive consequence of homicidal tendencies. And yet, the previous episode showed just how murderous Five could be. As such, that doesn't seem like such a worry. It's mostly just a story that will continue to go awry because Five is the one concocting the plans. He may understand the time travel mechanics better than Luther. But his superiority complex may actually doom this family. It may reset everything if his former self doesn't break his contract to return to his family. The show may only be paying lip service to that concern though. It presents itself as being complicated with its portrayal of time travel and the repercussions for the audience. It isn't all that clever or amusing though. It's the show embracing the tendencies of the past where the siblings are competing with one another instead of working together. That wasn't a good storytelling impulse. This season strived to evolve beyond that. But now, it has to emerge once more to make everyone believe that Vanya will cause the apocalypse. That rigid adherence to a core structure dooms this story from feeling original. The audience may have a greater understanding of these characters and their relationships with one another. The same mistakes are happening though. The story is too familiar. The only difference this time is Vanya having a connection to Harlan through her powers. That may subvert expectations. Or the show will end with dire proclamations just like it did in the first season. Experiencing that once worked fine. Experiencing it again will probably be less successful.