The Umbrella Academy Season 3 Review: The Umbrellas Meet The Sparrows With Some Very Messy Storytelling

Season 3 of Netflix's "The Umbrella Academy," based on the comic series of the same name by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá, is finally here. The season took a bit longer to get to our screens due to the pandemic, but now the Hargreeves family is back and ready to fight a whole new threat: the Sparrow Academy! After saving the world (twice), the superpowered siblings of the Umbrella Academy have found themselves in an altered timeline, where their dear old dad Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) adopted a different set of children as a result of their time-traveling meddling. Those children grew up to be the Sparrow Academy, and they're not too thrilled that some random supposed impostors appeared in their living room and demanded information. That's how season 3 kicks off, sending the Umbrella Academy on their most challenging adventure yet.

"The Umbrella Academy" has always been a little bit of a mixed bag. It is absolutely excellent when it's good, but it's also truly terrible when it's bad. There isn't really a middle ground for "The Umbrella Academy," because the show simply goes too hard and invests too much in its characters and wacky world-building to ever be bland or boring. That means that the hits and misses are both as large and obvious as Luther's shoulders. After a shaky first season, the series found its footing in season 2, focusing on the chemistry between its stellar cast and leaning into the weirdness. Season 3 is a frustrating mix of both, delivering exceptional arcs for certain characters while making baffling decisions with others, leading to an experience that feels sort of like eating those gag jelly beans: it's impossible to tell whether the next scene is going to be piña colada or vomit flavored. That's pretty tough when you love piña coladas, and some viewers may finally grow tired of having their expectations and feelings yanked around in service of a confusing narrative.  

Character-driven chaos

In season 1, the Hargreeves kids had to save the world from one of their own after Vanya, who in season 3 goes by Viktor (Elliot Page), embraced his powers and went rogue. The second season saw them trying to deal with the repercussions of some faulty time-travel due to Five (Aidan Gallagher)'s powers not being quite enough to take them all to the same place and time. They had to stop an apocalypse there, too, before jumping through time once more back to the present. Unfortunately, the present has changed dramatically as a result of their time shenanigans, and now they have to try and contend with a completely different timeline and set of rules. Theoretically, they could even run into this timeline's version of themselves, which excites drugged-out ghost whisperer Klaus (Robert Sheehan) but terrifies big sweet Luther (Tom Hopper). They check into the Hotel Obsidian, Klaus' favorite place to crash and try to figure out how to make friends with the Sparrows and exist in a brand-new world. 

Because this is "The Umbrella Academy," there's soon another apocalyptic event that needs to be stopped, though this one makes the first two seasons look like an afternoon in the park. As the characters get closer and closer to doomsday, they reveal new things about themselves to both the audience and one another, leading to moments both exciting and deeply disappointing. The show is at its best when it gives the characters catharsis and joy, because they are all deeply traumatized people who deserve at least some measure of peace. The cast plays a family much like a real family, and getting to spend time with them feels like hanging out with the X-Men if they were real people and not superheroic ideals. Everyone is deeply flawed, but most of them have understandable reasons for their sometimes selfish or silly behavior. Pairing up different characters and seeing how they interact is a great part of the fun, and this season has some incredible moments, including a brotherly road trip with a surprising destination, a bachelor party complete with terrible karaoke, and a hilarious bathroom brawl. It's unfortunately just not quite enough to save the season from its more dour half.

The good, the bad, and the really ugly

The performances are all great this season, and Elliot Page's transition and life as a trans man have been handled with nuance and grace. The show looks better than it's ever looked, with some moments in the back half of the season that are genuinely jaw-dropping from both a visual and special effects perspective. The big, ugly problem is that one of the characters does something irredeemable and the show never mentions it again, instead asking us to have sympathy for that character. There is an attempted rape that is completely glossed over, making all of the moments where the series handled tough subjects more delicately feel slightly tarnished. It became difficult to care at all about the character, who remains a central protagonist for the rest of the season. 

The members of the Umbrella Academy have forgiven one another for some pretty terrible things, but usually, the series identifies those actions as terrible and shows the repercussions. Instead, the scene here is immediately written off, and because the victim is a man, the scene grows exponentially more complicated and worthy of examination. Men are less likely to report sexual assault because of the potential reactions from their peers, and many toxic myths exist about men and consent. The show's handling of this plot point is irresponsible enough to sour the rest of the season, and it's a real shame. 

I wanted to love season 3 of "The Umbrella Academy," and there are brief moments where I did. Unfortunately, the show's mixed messaging and messy storytelling hampered the good moments, leaving me with both sweet satisfaction and a terrible taste in my mouth. The good news is that Netflix has already renewed the series for a fourth season, which means there's time to course-correct and maybe deliver satisfying endings for the characters we've grown to know and love. Despite my frustrations, I'll still be watching, because I'm a sucker for when this show is sweet and silly even if I occasionally get a mouth full of vomit. 

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10