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Major SPOILERS below for anyone who hasn't yet watched through most of The Umbrella Academy's second season.
For anyone who has a special place in their hearts for Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá's Umbrella Academy comic book, Season 2 of the hugely popular Netflix series came almost completely out of left field, honing in on only certain elements from the second story arc dubbed Dallas. Beyond adhering much of the season's central conflict to the JFK assassination, showrunner Steve Blackman and the creative team also seriously expanded on the character-specific narratives for both Emmy Raver-Lampman's Allison (Number 3) and Ellen Page's Vanya (Number 7).
In the Dallas comic arc, Allison was still dealing with the aftereffects of having her vocal cords severed, meaning she wasn't able to speak or use her Rumor powers, and she harbored a grudge against Vanya, who started the storyline off in a paralyzed state while suffering from amnesia. (That's something the TV show did keep intact.) CinemaBlend spoke with showrunner Steve Blackman all about the critically lauded new season and its major reveals, and I had to ask about the decision to upgrade Allison and Vayna's stories to incorporate timely race issues and LGBTQ relationships. In his words:
It was very important to me, if we were going to tell a story in 1963 Dallas, that we didn't shy away from the real issues of the day. Even though we're a fantasy world, with the racial issues, we didn't want to ignore them or glaze over them, or the issue about what it meant to be gay or queer in 1963. So we did an incredible amount of research on both, and we really wanted to ground it in a real way that felt emotional and could be understood as relatable. It was a very emotional two days when we filmed the sit-in scene, which wasn't based on any one sit-in, but sort of an amalgamation of that time, and the brave people who put themselves in harm's way like that for racial equality.
It definitely would have been strange for The Umbrella Academy to use 1963 Dallas as its central setting without leaning into any of the social norms during that time period. It's easy to consider John F. Kennedy's assassination as a dark moment that tainted a hopeful America, but things certainly weren't so optimistic for millions of people in that era due to their skin color or their sexual preferences.
When Allison showed up in Dallas after Number Five's botched time-travel rescue at the end of Season 1, she realized she was stuck at a point in time prior to advances in the civil rights era, where Black citizens weren't served at certain establishments. Luckily, she found refuge at a local salon, which happened to be the headquarters for an activist group headed up by Yusuf Gatewood's Raymond Chestnut. The two met and fell in love, getting married seemingly without a whole lot of waiting around. In this scenario, Allison avoided using her powers not due to injury (as in the comic), but rather a choice not to muck things up, though she later reneged on that choice during a particularly heartbreaking scene when the activists' sit-in got violently disrupted by police.
Meanwhile, Vanya's arrival in Dallas was quickly interrupted when she got hit with a car driven by Marin Ireland's Sissy Cooper. Having lost all of her memories now, instead of just the ones Reginald wanted her to lose, Vanya was taken in by Sissy's family, including her possessive and misogynistic husband Carl (Stephen Bogaert) and their mute son Harlan (Justin Paul Kelly). Her friendship with Sissy turned into something more emotional and sexual in nature, all behind Carl's back, and Vanya's bond with Harlan also grew in interesting ways that connect to her powers.
The Umbrella Academy showrunner Steve Blackman spoke more about adding to Vanya's storyline, saying:
Then also, we really wanted to tell an interesting love story between Vanya and Sissy, and what it would be like to be gay or queer in 1963 and how much risk there was. You could be put in jail and, you know, Sissy could have her child taken away. So these were really important stories for us.
Even though Vanya and Sissy's story feels a little trope-laden at times, The Umbrella Academy deserves kudos for keeping most things grounded. In that Carl isn't portrayed as some monstrous abuser and philanderer, but rather as a demanding drunk with outdated views on gender norms, though still one that showed love for his family. Thus, Sissy's tryst with Vanya would have been looked upon even more damningly by others, as opposed to everyone magically understanding that the two women deserved a new life together. The same goes for Vayna saving Harlan's life the way she did, as well as their continued connection.
While chatting with Steve Blackman about these more touchy subjects, I asked if it was strange for him to have wrapped on Umbrella Academy's second season a while back, only to witness all the racially charged protests for police reform (among other things) that inevitably make Allison's Season 2 arc all the more relevant. Here's what he told me:
Yeah, it was. You know, I wrote this season over a year ago now. Seeing the Black Lives Matter movement coming to life and be such a cultural and relevant things right now was interesting. But it shows that we made some progress, but it's just not enough. I think the show highlights when you see what's happening in 1963 and then you jump ahead to 2020, there's a long way to go.
Unlike the Hargreeves family, the real world doesn't have a Number Five to blame for problems in the past and present, nor a bunch of other superheroes that could eventually show up to save the day, as it were. We don't even get a Destiny's Children cult with an absentee leader to put our faith into, though that's probably a good thing.