Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. In this entry, we cover the ending of The Umbrella Academy season one.
By now, in the year 2019, the world has seen its fair share of superhero romps. Even among all the fantastical high-flying antics gracing screens big and small, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy manages to break from the mold.
The 10-episode series that brings to life Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá‘s Eisner Award-winning comic of the same name dives deep into some kooky lore. It’s a solid ode to and subversion of the superhero genre. However, The Umbrella Academy proves to be an incisive family drama at the same time. This ambitious balancing act is delicate but thankfully deftly handled. Here’s The Umbrella Academy‘s ending, explained.
By the season’s conclusion, violin virtuoso Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page) has undergone the most striking transformation. Previously thought to be completely ordinary, she discovers untapped and untrained superpowers of her own, accepting her innate ability to convert sound into massive energy blasts. That said, Vanya does this to disastrous results. Her intense, unchecked emotions borne from years of trauma and isolation result in widespread, indiscriminate destruction.
Vanya may have been influenced by the series’ red herring villain Leonard Peabody (John Magaro), who encouraged her to revisit her past in the first place. However, as her brother Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) puts it, Peabody was a mere “fuse” in the grand scheme of things.
As a girl, Vanya was always left out of the Academy’s training sessions, as well as (unintentionally) shunned by her brothers and sister. The biting exposé she subsequently writes about their dysfunctional home life is received with either vitriol or nonchalance. Furthermore, it takes the deliberate disappearance of her orchestra’s long-standing first chair for her to even “earn” the spotlight on stage.
And while Vanya struggles with numerous problems resulting from broken interpersonal relationships, the most vital and regrettable event of her past involves her sister Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman). When they were both very young children, Allison’s insidious ability to warp realities through rumor is manipulated by their distant and arguably asshole-ish father Reginald (Colm Feore) to produce the fateful lie of mediocrity that unequivocally changed the course of Vanya’s life.
This revelation tips Vanya over the edge. The earliest manifestations of her abilities result in violent deaths as well as a particularly harrowing accident that severs Allison’s vocal cords, stripping her of her powers.
Despite the fact that Vanya is shown to be genuinely remorseful about this, she thirsts to prove herself, and by the time of her breakout concert at the Icarus Theater, she fully rejects the presumption of “ordinariness” that had constantly colored her life since childhood. She morphs into the White Violin, the bringer of the apocalypse who uses her music to wreak havoc upon anyone who wishes to silence her.
Empathy and familial bond become imperative in preventing total annihilation. That said, although Allison is aware of her sister’s contrition and remains adamant to spare her, their brothers are more focused on neutralizing Vanya for the greater good.
It’s important to consider how far each character has come in the lead-up to the final showdown at the Icarus. Luther (Tom Hopper), once considered the leader of the Academy, essentially hit rock bottom during the show’s later episodes. Thankfully, the character — a part-man, part-Martian Ape hybrid with super strength — slowly learns to take charge of his own life.
Diego (David Castañeda) sheds his detached, rebellious persona in favor of respecting the group effort. Granted, to say that the hot-headed vigilante fully refrains from punching, kicking, and his signature knife-throwing would be inaccurate. Still, between losing important people in his life and rekindling some sibling bonds, Diego affirms the value of personal connection.
Meanwhile, Klaus (Robert Sheehan) embarks on a bumpy path to sobriety, revealing his true potential beyond “simply” being able to talk to the dead. That’s already a weird power in and of itself, but there’s so much more to the character than his amazing snark and proudly outlandish behavior.
Klaus — codenamed the Séance — can tangibly conjure the dead. His many interactions with the Academy’s deceased Number Six, Ben (Justin H. Min) reach a badass fever pitch in the finale, showing some bad guys from the Temps Commission a thing or two.
And what exactly is this Commission? Well, in a show rife with countless opportunities for alternate realities, the organization has a supposed responsibility to eliminate threats to the timeline and ensure that certain big-ticket events are bound to happen. Apocalypse included.
The Commission then has close ties by hiring the time-jumping Hargreeves brother Number Five. Little did they know, the “kid” — a 58-year-old trapped in a 13-year-old’s body — always meant to return to his family, despite his proficiency as an assassin. Five’s persistent dissent (for example, breaking his contracts multiple times) is the final necessary element to stop Vanya.
At first, Luther proposes to diffuse the situation at the Icarus by incapacitating Vanya, which Allison vehemently disagrees with. Honestly, she’s proven right once the men approach the stage. Vanya subdues her brothers with vines of sonic energy, seemingly sucking their life force in the process.
Allison, filled with empathy for Vanya, sneaks up behind her sister and fires a deafening gunshot that breaks her concentration. Unfortunately, the remaining energy within Vanya bursts through the ceiling of the Icarus and blasts a hole in the Moon, sending chunks of rock falling to Earth.
Clearly, the apocalypse is still underway. However, Five determines that there’s still a way to prevent the Earth’s destruction. He encases his six siblings in temporal energy and transports them back in time, allowing Vanya a chance at rehabilitation. We witness each of the (physically) older Academy members de-age and disappear just as the credits roll.
This ending reads as something of a cliffhanger, opening up some storytelling avenues for The Umbrella Academy moving forward. There is a distinct possibility that our maladjusted heroes will get to rewrite history as teenagers once more.
I’d also like to think that that final leap through time and space could hint at something more symbolic. The Academy is finally a team again — like they were as children — and their relationships can pick up where they left off.