WARNING: THIS COLUMN CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS TO SEASON TWO OF THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK BUT ALSO ENJOY!
Time within a pandemic works a bit funny. Not funny “haha” or even funny “hehe” but more ironic funny. The type of funny where you say to your spouse “I haven’t stubbed my toe in a while” and then proceed to walk directly into the coffee table. Granted, that’s a bit funny “haha” but you know what I mean. It’s just funny. It works differently. And time during the pandemic has certainly worked differently. Has it been a day, a week, a month? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m cooped up inside and not only do I agree with Rust from True Detective that time is a flat circle, but I may also be starting to look like him. Not in the sexy McConaughey way but more in the I’ve been drinking in my cabin daily by myself reading conspiracy theories way.
With that being said though, it has been a week since Netflix released the superb second season of The Umbrella Academy and now time has taken on a new meaning. We’re kind of in that vortex where we’re waiting for Netflix to announce season three, announcements that Netflix frequently takes their time to deliver, and then we’re waiting for said season to arrive on our screens. Which the pandemic has thrown yet another wrench into as we have no idea when studios are going to be able to begin production again. So, writers, get writing!
What are we to do? Well, if you’re me, you waited three days after completing season two and then started it back up again. As soon as this season concluded I instantly started missing the Hargreeves. Like hard. The type of missing that’s similar to a new relationship and you have to say goodnight and go your separate ways after a stellar date. You don’t want to leave but you also know that you need to get to sleep because you have work in the morning and you’re probably going to see them tomorrow anyway. It was like that. Time is too wonky in this pandemic and while I know I will eventually see the third season of this show, I just wanted to hang out with my friends again.
One of the greatest aspects of this second season is how the show gives every character a moment to shine. Whether it’s Vanya coming to terms not only with her powers but with herself as a person with value or it’s Five understanding not only his limitations but the fact that he’s a central member of this family, The Umbrella Academy relishes in its character moments. There are no minor details. Everything comes into play. Something as small as watching Luther eat his feelings all season is paid off wonderfully when he gets into the car with the rest of the family. There are consequences to actions. There is redemption. And out of all the Hargreeves family members, it is Diego who possibly has the biggest turnaround.
Season one Diego was a bit of a tortured soul. Think about it, in a matter of days he loses his father, former lover, robot mother (twice), his butler monkey, and learns his sister is going to bring about the apocalypse. I haven’t seen a series of unfortunate events this bad since Thor’s run in Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Endgame. Something tells me Diego and Thor could have a conversation. The problem with Diego though is he doesn’t handle his emotions well. He internalizes them and as seen in much of season one chooses to keep his family at arm’s length often fighting with them and saying he doesn’t need them. Of course, by the end of that first season the family all comes together to stop Vanya from destroying the world, they fail, but most importantly they come together.
Season two takes that bond and then reshuffles the deck. Suddenly the Hargreeves are spread out not just within Dallas but within the decade. Characters arrive within years or months of each other forcing them to once again rely on themselves. Part of the journey of season two is bringing the band back together but it’s also a very personal season. As mentioned before, each family member has a great deal to overcome and reconcile with, and Diego’s personal struggles could be the most complex. Yes, Vanya is an easy contender here but her memory wipe in season two gives her a clean slate and the ability to build a life out of the shadows of her apocalypse bringing violin playing. Diego isn’t that fortunate. He remembers everything and his time locked up in an asylum forces him to confront his issues. Whether he wants to or not.
David Castaneda brings such a raw vulnerability to Diego that he instantly becomes hard to ignore. One second he’s got your adrenaline pumping with a hallway brawl with the Swedish cat-loving hitmen and the very next he leaves your heart in your throat when he stutters in front of his father. Diego is so complex and so layered and Castaneda delivers scene after scene after scene. The emotional heartbeat of this second season is Diego Hargreeves. Yes, he is a man with some pretty clear daddy issues who just so happens to have a hero complex to boot. And while he sees himself almost as a Luke Skywalker and Five thinks he’s Batman but lower we know the truth about Diego. He is a hero and like most heroes, he suffers from his demons. The internal debate that he’s not good enough. The attempt to hide his vulnerability because of the belief that heroes can’t be vulnerable. What makes Diego so important to this second season is his ability to overcome these issues.
All season long, Diego believes that stopping JFK’s assassination is the most important aspect of the family being brought to this timeline. What screams hero more than saving the President of the United States from being assassinated? The thing is, Kennedy has to die. His survival is a catalyst to the apocalypse that Five witnesses at the start of the season. Diego ignores all this evidence even when it’s staring him in the face and becomes hyper-focused on stopping his father from dealing the death blow. Because when push comes to shove, this is less about JFK and more about Diego showing his father that he has worth. Diego needs to be the hero here. He needs to prove his father wrong and after a season that sees him verbally undressed and stabbed by Reginald, we’re rooting for Diego to give him the finger. It turns out though, Diego is wrong. His father had nothing to do with the murder of JFK and a note that reads “I told you so” turns out to be the most important aspect of Diego’s story.
Sure, there is a crushing defeat to JFK dying and learning that his father had nothing to do with the assassination. The symbolism of being a hero while confronting daddy issues dead on seemed too good to be true. And while it hurts, Diego takes that pain and actually learns from it. He chooses to prove his father wrong in other ways. When the family is trying to figure out what to do next, Diego ultimately allows himself to be part of the group. He’s not fighting for the leadership role with Luther. He’s not walking away when the rest of the family decides to backup Vanya. He’s right there with them because he now understands that he’s not defined by his father. Diego is a man who is in charge of his own destiny. Who has value and that value can be seen in the bond he shares with his dysfunctional family. Diego is whole once he accepts the fact that he doesn’t need to be alone. That it’s okay to be vulnerable and rely on others to pick you up. Because as dysfunctional as the Hargreeves family is… they always pick each other up in the end.
That’s why Diego’s speech in the barn is so important and impactful. It serves as the mantra of this second season. Yes, this family is all types of messed up. Yes, they’re all types of broken. But when they come together, they’re family and nothing can stop them. It’s this realization that finally frees Diego and delivers the best emotional arc of the season. No one else could have given that speech. Castaneda delivers it with the vulnerability and emotion that Diego is constantly trying to pretend he doesn’t have but also with confidence. In that moment, as the odds are stacked against them, Diego steps forward. It’s a moment where he’s being a hero without focusing on the fact that he’s being a hero. Diego is just doing what’s right in that moment. He’s the only one who could. And when you think about it, isn’t that what a hero is?
Diego isn’t Batman and he also isn’t Luke Skywalker. At the end of the day, he’s Diego Hargreeves. He’s tortured. He’s broken. But he’s in control and that’s what makes him the emotional heartbeat of this second season of The Umbrella Academy. The MVP. A hero.