WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the entire first season of The Umbrella Academy. Read at your own risk!
Well, that happened.
The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy introduced viewers to the seven Hargreeves siblings — the superstrong Luther (Tom Hopper), the wily knife-throwing Diego (David Castaneda), the reality manipulator Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), the trippy medium Klaus (Robert Sheehan ), the time-traveling Number Five, the late Ben (Justin H. Min), and the seemingly normal Vanya (Ellen Page) — who were all adopted by the late billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) because of their unusual powers. Due to Hargreeves’ rigorous standards, the children all grew up disaffected and alienated from each other. Reunited by Hargreeves’ death and their long-lost sibling Number Five’s warnings of an impending apocalypse, the siblings were eventually able to reconcile with each other by the end of the season. They did not, however, manage to actually stop the aforementioned apocalypse. Season 1 ends with the planet in flames, a significant change from the original comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba.
EW spoke with showrunner Steve Blackman about choosing family over the world, Vanya’s season-long journey from Muggle to monster, the day that was and the day that wasn’t, and more. Check it out below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start right at the very end. As the last episode ends, it becomes apparent that they did not stop the apocalypse. The last shot is literally of the Earth being engulfed by explosions. How did you guys decide to play it that way?
STEVE BLACKMAN: Yeah, it ends horribly! What I really wanted to do was find a really good cliffhanger. I also thought it was too easy for this family to come together in eight days and save the world. It has to be trickier than that. I wanted to have an ending where they sort of came together as a family, but they didn’t achieve the greater goal of saving the world. If we get a second season, we’ll see how they’re gonna end up. These guys aren’t dead, but we don’t know what happens. I thought it told a lot about who this family was, which is they couldn’t quite get it together. Their wonderfully dysfunctional family couldn’t quite win the day. I thought that was very telling for the season.
I like how the White Violin story ended up. You kept all the main beats from the Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite comic (Vanya killing Pogo, slashing Allison’s throat, playing the apocalyptic concert, etc.) but in a format unique to the show. How did you conceive her journey?
I talked about it early on with Ellen. We decided we wanted to play it from start to finish. Ellen made some really creative choices and acting choices in episode 1 to show the whole metamorphosis into episode 10. Like how she goes from less to more makeup, how she starts wearing her hair down as this relationship with Leonard Peabody (John Magaro) escalates and she starts feeling more in control of her life. All the way to the endgame, where she’s overtaken by the abilities she didn’t even know she had. So it was a lot of talk with Ellen about playing a full metamorphosis in the truest sense of the word, going from light to dark or dark to light, whichever way you see it.
The ultimate revelation about Vanya is that she wasn’t powerless at all, she was the exact opposite. And if you come to see Hargreeves as a villainous figure due to the negative effects he’s had on his children, her opposition to him almost makes her seem heroic or sympathetic.
There is more to Hargreeves, he’s not just a villain. There’s much more to this character that we’ll see if we get more seasons. But he held her back, he medicated her, told her she was nobody, and she became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She lived believing she wasn’t special, and that’s very damaging. Getting to open up like this overwhelmed her in the end.
For the graphic novel fans, I still wanted to gave her an ending that was similar to the graphic novel. The ending’s different, but similar ideas are in there so that real fans won’t feel cheated. I really wanted to get back to Apocalypse Suite, even having our composer Jeff Russo to spend a lot of time on that. The guy’s won an Emmy. He wrote that from scratch, the whole “Apocalypse Suite.” All that music you’re hearing is Jeff Russo’s score. It’s a 90-person orchestra, it’s all original music, and it’s all fit to what we’re doing. I told Jeff right away this is what I wanted to do and that he had to write a 20-minute score. That’s something I want people to know, because that’s an amazing thing Jeff Russo did. It’s a true “Apocalypse Suite.”
On this track, I wanted to talk about Leonard Peabody, a.k.a Harold Jenkins, because he’s the one who sets Vanya on her path. He’s not quite a figure from the comics, though some things about him resemble the evil crazy orchestra conductor in the first volume. But I love the idea that the person manipulating the Umbrella Academy and bringing them down is their former biggest fan. Can you talk about conceiving this character and his role?
First of all, John Magaro is great. I wanted to get away from the conductor, because it felt like too much of a trope. It was such a villainous character, almost with a twirling mustache. It worked in the comics, but I needed someone to psychologically manipulate Vanya as opposed to physically change her. So the idea was to give her a love interest. What was tricky about him is he’s read that journal and knows all the secrets of the family, so he approaches Vanya thinking she’s the weakest link to go after them, and so he sort of unleashes the monster without realizing it.
He does it well, I worked it out with him and Ellen early on how we’d slowly over time peel the onion on this story. He manipulates her with every single beat, but you can get it, given who Vanya is. He keeps it together almost until the end, but then his hatred spills over and he spills the beans too early. But he almost makes it with her! Once she’s in that bathtub, he’s gotten her to comply and she’ll do whatever he says.
And then he ends up getting one of the most brutal deaths in the show.
Oh, I love his death. That was so much fun to do. I think for the audience it’s unexpected when it happens, because usually the villain makes it to the end. I wanted to kill him in the early-middle part of an episode where you just go wait, he can’t die, he’s the bad guy! But it’s too late. Vanya has her own autonomy now, her own agency now, and she’s moving forward even without him. The mad scientist is gone now, but the monster’s there.
I wanted to ask about that one episode, episode 6, that gets erased from history because of what Number Five does. I think that’s interesting because seeing events play out differently shows you various dynamics in the family, like how strangely things go when the person comforting Luther over Hargreeves’ moon lie is Klaus rather than Allison. Did you worry viewers might get frustrated by that fakeout, or do you hope you’ve built up trust with the audience by that point in the season?
I want them to see it with trust, but in a world where a guy like Five exists, there’s a paradox where he can go back and reset a day. “The Day That Was” and “The Day That Wasn’t” are the two episodes. I thought it was a really beautiful way to show how each of our actions has consequences. As minor as they may seem, getting another chance and turning left instead of right or saying something different may shift the course of your life. For example, Luther and Allison will never know that kiss happened. That might be torturous to the audience, but I hope they take it for what it’s worth. It’s fun storytelling to show them this is the world that these characters live in. It was not to torture the audience. I wanted it to be something fun and whimsical so they could understand why we did it, because it’s just pure storytelling in my mind. It tells a great story about what Five is going through and then he comes back a day earlier to be able to say “we’re not gonna f— around on personal s— today, we’re going to pull together as a family and make things right.” And that changes all those moments they had together. They might be my favorite episodes. They were hard to write and break, but I’m really proud of those two episodes.
I love the show’s version of Klaus going to heaven, because the black-and-white color scheme and the fact that the show’s on Netflix make it seem like he wandered into Roma for a second.
[Laughs] If I didn’t colorize his shirt, he would be in Roma, wouldn’t he? That’s a good point. I did want to keep the shirt in color, which was expensive because we had to do it in every frame. But I wanted it to feel like a comic book, with a bit of color on a white background. If I didn’t do that and he ran around you’d be like, he’s in Roma!
My favorite scene in the whole show I think is where Hargreeves gives Klaus a shave. It’s just a wonderful moment where you get to talk to your dad who’s dead, and the fact that he’s giving you a shave is just so weird and creepy. By the way, I didn’t say it was heaven! So it may or may not be heaven where that happened.
I really enjoyed Ben’s presence over the course of the season, culminating in the fact that we got to see his amazing powers again at the end! Plus the other siblings actually get to see his presence manifest. Was that meant to symbolize their reconciliation as a family?
Yeah it was very important that we came full circle and they got to see that Ben’s still weirdly with them still. It’s why they broke up in the first place, because his death broke him apart. Now they see him at the end of the first season, and you got it that it represents their greater reconciliation. Now if only they only could achieve their final job of saving the world!