It turns out spending hours pouring over the time travel logistics of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame actually did have a point: It prepared us for season 2 of The Umbrella Academy. Where the first season of the Netflix series, adapted from the comic by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, gently dipped us into the raging waters of time travel, season 2 throws us to the sharks. By the time you get through all 10 episodes, you’re going to need help clawing your way out of the slew of tunnels that you’ve dug yourself into. There are more than a few sticking points in trying to follow Umbrella Academy time travel throughout season 2, and they may just unravel you if you let them.
The One True Timeline
Throughout season 1, we are told by Kate Walsh’s The Handler time and again that the sinister Commission exists to preserve The Timeline. The reason she sends Cha Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton) to kill Number Five (Aiden Gallagher) is because this Commission has determined that the apocalypse must happen in 2019 to keep this all-important, singular timeline intact. We don’t learn why the timeline must stay on track or what is at stake, simply that there is only one true reality and this organization will do anything to keep that reality from veering off course.
This One True Timeline concept is supported by Five’s time travel throughout season 1 and at the very beginning of season 2. In season 1, Five blips forward in time, to the day after the apocalypse, where he finds his brothers and sisters dead in the rubble of their family home. Later, he blips back and though he’s in the wrong body (he’s actually in his 60s, despite appearing to be a pre-teen), we assume he’s jumped back along the same timeline, to meet his family just days before the apocalypse that he has seen with his own eyes. Throughout season 1, we have no reason to suspect that there are any multiverses or branch realities going on, because we’ve watched Five bounce from one time period to another, like a bug on a string. One timeline… right?
The Umbrella Academy In The ‘60s
The singular timeline theory seems to hold water when we first begin season 2. Each member of the Hargreeves family is dropped into a different time in the 1960s: Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min) in 1960, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) in 1961, Luther (Tom Hopper) in 1962, Diego (David Castañeda) in September 1963, Vanya (Ellen Page) in October 1963, and Five in November 1963. When Five arrives, he sees that the apocalypse has followed the Umbrella Academy back in time, taking place on November 25, 1963 instead of in 2019. This allows each Umbrella Academy member to develop their own rich new backstories, but eventually, all seven of them come together, proving that at the very least, they were all dropped into the same timeline.
But there’s a slight wrinkle in that logic, because as we saw, the apocalypse did happen in 2019, the Hargreeves were just able to escape its wrath by blipping back in time with Five. We watched everyone burn up, including Hazel and his newfound love, but as we learn in 1963, the mere movement of the Umbrella Academy seems to have changed the future and Hazel was able to live out a long life with his gal, who died of cancer before Hazel went back to the ‘60s to warn Five of the nuclear apocalypse.
Yes, Hazel has a briefcase, which means he could have traveled himself and his plus one to anywhere in time, but not if they were incinerated — as they were at the end of season 1. To follow that logic through, we can acknowledge that the Academy fam time traveling to the ‘60s changed the future so Hazel was never burnt to a crisp, but it also changed the timing of the apocalypse to happen much earlier in 1963. That would wholeheartedly change everything about 2019, not just the removal of Vanya’s destruction. Are we to believe that Hazel was still somehow born after said nuclear holocaust, met the same woman somehow, and then lived out their days with a briefcase stolen from the Commission, which he was somehow recruited to despite the changes in reality, and then spent his dying days to come back to the 1960s to stop it all from happening again? That’s a hell of a lot of coincidences (and that’s before you even begin asking questions about what it’s like to live in a nuclear wasteland in 2019). And sure, you could assume that the Commission had something to do with Hazel finding his way back to a lot of the same conclusions, but there’s a lot that doesn’t quite fit perfectly here.
The Old Five
Another factor complicating this idea of one true timeline that the Umbrella Academy is bouncing around, triggering changes large and small, is the fact that Old Five jumps to 2019 in episode 9. We see clearly through the portal, that is he is jumping into the 2019 we first saw in season 1: With the 30-something Hargreeves kids all standing in the backyard of the Umbrella Academy, staring up at the portal after learning of their father’s death.
The problem is that those Hargreeves are the past versions of the ones we’re seeing now. Meeting Five as an older man rather than a young boy would inherently change the trajectory of their lives — there’d be time spent figuring out if he’s really Five, varying levels of willingness to follow his lead, and Cha Cha and Hazel certainly would have had an easier time finding him rather than going on a wild goose chase for four whole episodes. That would absolutely change the future, which has already been changed by the Hargreeves going to the ‘60s.
The New 2019
Which brings us to the big jump at the end of the season. Our crew jumps forward in time, landing the day after what would have been the 2019 apocalypse. They avoided the 1963 apocalypse, allowing the future of the world to be preserved, only to arrive in 2019 and find a totally different Umbrella Academy, headed up by Ben, who is very much alive. Oh and Reginald never died by suicide in this 2019.
Now, because Old Five jumped correctly back in the ‘60s, we can assume that the new 2019 will look very different. But Old Five jumped into the exact vision of 2019 from season 1 — the reality in which Ben and Reginald were already dead. Ben being alive in this new 2019 while Old Five jumped to the 2019 we know seems to indicate the possibility of branch realities. Theoretically, when the Umbrella Academy arrived throughout the ‘60s that started a branch reality, offshooting from the original timeline that ends with Vanya’s big explosion, and in this branch, the apocalypse happened in the ‘60s. Sending Old Five to 2019 in his correct body creates a branch reality from the moment he arrives in 2019, allowing for the inevitable differences brought on by Old Five’s presence and methods, which could be why Hazel knows Five but was able to grow old with his wife rather than being incinerated by Vanya’s apocalypse. It still leaves some gaps but it makes a whole lot more sense than to assume that all this is somehow happening in one everchanging timeline.
But there’s just one huge problem with that semi-workable solution: the Commission. They say time and again that their whole goal is to protect The Timeline, singular. Which I guess means we have to just accept that while it doesn’t make much sense, this is truly all one timeline plagued by thousands of butterfly effects, making it unrecognizable from one decade to the next.
What’s The Key To Following The Timeline?
After spending hours trying to iron this out, looking something like Charlie Kelly building a crime board in that oft-memed episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, I’ve come to what I believe is the only solution for trying to follow the timeline in The Umbrella Academy: Don’t.
This show is great because of its wackadoo performances from Sheehan and Hopper, the joy of Five’s 14-going-on-60-something energy, Walsh’s outlandish fashions, the non-stop one-liners (god bless whoever penned the line “I’m the daddy here”), and the ever present suspicion that the series is actually just one long music video to promote songs like that Swedish Adele cover and the ska version of “Bad Guy.” It’s also great because it looks at all the floundering I’ve just done and says, Nah, no one needs to look at it that closely. The series literally hops wherever it wants in time, pulls whoever it wants out of the past and future, and lets the chips fall where they may. It’s messy, but it’s a delight because it’s messy and unbridled by the confines of clean logic.
So don’t be me. Next time you start trying to pinpoint the logic of the Umbrella Academy timeline, make like Elsa and “Let It Go” — a song that will undoubtedly make a season 3 appearance as an emo pop ballad performed by Gerard Way at this rate.