Robert Sheehan and Tom Hopper talk us through the '60s set The Umbrella Academy season 2

(Image credit: Netflix)

When it comes to sequels, there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than to escalate the action and take the story into darker territory. Well, The Umbrella Academy season 2 decidedly bucks that trend. 

The first outing of the Netflix series was pretty dark, both in terms of the gloomy, retrofuturistic, Gotham-esque world inhabited by the Hargreeve siblings and the themes of domestic abuse, drug addiction, dysfunctional families, and trauma weaved into the apocalyptic storyline. However, showrunner Steve Blackman has thrown The Umbrella Academy into a brighter landscape as he adapts Gerard Way’s second graphic novel, Dallas, for this sophomore season.

In the season 1 finale, Five (Aiden Gallagher) – unable to prevent Vanya (Ellen Page) from causing a world apocalypse – thrusts the team back in time and season 2 opens with the siblings landing in sunny Dallas of the '60s. Thanks to Five’s temperamental mastery of time-travel, though, they have all arrived individually and at different times. 

Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is the first to touch down, with the ghostly presence of Ben (Justin M. Lin) by his side. His vision is blurred by the baking sunlight beating down upon them. Stepping out into a bustling street, while Bobby Darin serenades the scene with "Beyond the Sea", the pair discover they have landed in the Texan city on February 11, 1960. A montage scene then fills us in on the “timeabouts” of the rest of the Hargreeves kids in the same alleyway.

Where in the world...

(Image credit: Netflix)

Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) arrives in 1961, stumbling into a cafe where she is quickly informed of the segregation politics of the Deep South while Luther (Tom Hopper) crashes into 1962. Diego (David Castañeda) lands on September 1, 1963, where he spots a TV in a shop window showing JFK delivering his inauguration speech, Vanya drops in on October 12, 1963, and is knocked off her feet, while Five finally arrives a month later to find Dallas has become a warzone and his siblings are battling Soviet soldiers who have invaded US soil. A nuclear bomb is about to drop on the city but thanks to a former colleague from the Temps Commission, Five is given 10 days to prevent his siblings causing yet another apocalypse.

“I do think there's certainly a lighter element to the show this year, particularly as it's gone on towards the end,” Luther actor Tom Hopper tells GamesRadar+. “Steve [Blackman], our head showrunner, enjoys writing those scenes thematically and enjoys the comic element, I suppose of all of us as a group together.”

Part of the lightness comes from siblings coming to terms with the differences and lies that kept them apart for so long, both prior to and during season 1. For some, like Klaus, that came from dispelling with the more toxic mechanisms he used to cope, and both he and Ben getting some sort of closure on their co-dependent relationship.

“Because of the elastic band of drugs not stretching Klaus to and fro, all over the place, he's had a minute to breathe, in fact, a few years before the show picks up in the second series, to just exist without drugs for the first time in his adult life,” Robert Sheehan explains. “He's living with the thing that he was trying to kind of douse before with drugs [but] at the end of the day they have to be sort of human beings. Eventually, they just have to manage, to figure out ways of managing.”

(Image credit: Netflix)

Klaus finds another way of managing: becoming the leader of a free-loving cult – which, of course, means a whole new wardrobe to sashay around in. “The cultish look, that was 99%, [costume designer] Christopher Hargadon and Steve,” Sheehan explains. "That look was painstakingly created. That jacket was redone and restitched to perfection.”

Luther doesn’t get quite the jazzy costume overhaul, but Hopper was put through the ringer by fight choreographer Tommy Chang as the gorilla-man begins working and doing some underground fighting for a local gangster.

“The guys who do the fighting stuff like to use skills that you already have, so I'm fortunate to have done a fair bit of kickboxing,” he explains.”So, we decided to use a lot of those things that I already knew to add to Luther’s fighting style.”

Luther is feeling less sorry for himself this season and part of that is thanks to how he’s adapted to his new environment. “He’s in a fairly dark place at the end of the first season, but at the same time, he's dealing with it now in his own way,” the actor says. “He's a bit tougher this year. He's fighting for a living. He's found a way to channel that aggression that he's had about his dad and everything. He's not just going to be moping around all season again.”

Though Hopper admits that Luther hasn’t “stopped yearning” for Allison, who, as a black woman, had to adapt pretty quickly to survive the racist times she's found herself in. The Rumor’s path leads her into civil rights activism – and into a marriage with local civil rights organiser Raymond Chestnut (Yusuf Gatewood) – and thrusts her into the crosshairs of prejudiced institutions and discriminatory members of the white Dallas community.

The not-so-swinging '60s

(Image credit: Netflix)

Vanya, having developed amnesia and been taken in by a local housewife named Sissy (Marin Ireland), is no longer carrying the weight of loneliness from season 1 and begins to explore her bisexuality at a time when same-sex romances are a taboo. It’s because of the social and cultural challenges of the era that Sheehan believes the time period is perfect for the Hargreeves siblings to develop and become stronger.

“It was a time of hot, intense change. All that about the civil rights movement you couldn’t omit, it would be quite glaring and odd,” he offers. “For someone like Allison, a person of 2019, who is a movie star on paper anyway, to be thrust back to where she can’t walk into a shop because it’s for white people, it's like how do we give them everything and then take it away? How much adversity can we throw at the siblings? I think all of that, all of the politics of ‘63, was perfect to serve the drama of the show and the character development as well.”

Diego and Five spend much of the series together, at odds with each other as well as certain members of the Temp Commission causing even more machiavellian mischief. There’s also a new character called Lily (Rita Arya) who is described as, “a chameleon who can be as brilliant or as clinically insane as the situation requires.” There are also some sinister assassins called The Swedes who have been sent to take out the Hargreeves family. For knife-throwing Number Two, though, a hero complex dominates his narrative as the siblings come face-to-face with their adoptive father Sir Reginal Hargreeve, allowing the series to continue to subvert the idealisation of superheroes.

“I think we're always working for good,” Hopper says. “I think the problem is that they don't know how many problems they cause by trying to do good. Diego, for instance, is so obsessed with getting to the bottom of things that he ends up, causing an absolute shit show on the way. It's the same with Five as well, then the rest of us end up getting dragged in the middle of it and make our own little problems. 

“I think we devalue our own importance,” he adds. “I think we forget that we do have as much influence as we do and we're just cracking on, making all these little decisions which have no impact, but of course they do, and to the point where we might end the world.”

The Umbrella Academy launches globally on Netflix on July 31, 2020.

Freelance writer

Hanna Flint is a freelance film and TV critic who has bylines at GamesRadar+, Total Film magazine, Variety, BBC Culture, The Guardian, British GQ, IGN, Yahoo Movies, and so many other publications. Hanna has also appeared as a critic and commentator on Sky News, Sky Cinema, BBC World Service, and BBC Radio 5 Live, and can be frequently found as a Q&A host at MTV UK, BFI, and BAFTA. When Hanna isn't writing reviews, interviews, and long-form features about the latest film and TV releases, she specializes in topics concerning representation and diversity.