By Christian Holub
August 01, 2020 at 05:21 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about season 2 of The Umbrella Academy.

If you’ve read EW’s digital cover story of season 2 of The Umbrella Academy, then you know we were on set for the filming of the climactic scene when the ghost of Ben Hargreeves (Justin H. Min) materializes to help out some of his siblings like Klaus (Robert Sheehan). Now that the season is out on Netflix and available for everyone to watch, let’s dive into that scene a little more. Make sure you watch before continuing! 

Coming at the end of episode 8 and carrying on into episode 9, the sequence involves Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), and Klaus trying to save Vanya (Ellen Page) from her imprisonment at the FBI building in Dallas. While trying to run away with her lover Sissy (Marin Ireland), Vanya ran afoul of Texas police. Her Russian-sounding name drew extra suspicion during the Cold War, and she is taken in by the FBI. Assuming she’s a spy, her interrogators want to know who her “handler” is (if only they knew). When she doesn’t tell them what they want to hear, they give her LSD hoping to jog her memory. Though it’s taken to a visually surreal extreme (Vanya imagines her feet stuck in a vat of eyeballs, as well as a family reunion with her and her siblings dressed in their old school uniforms eating their own brains for dinner), the CIA did use psychedelic drugs for interrogation and brainwashing purposes during the ‘60s in experiments known as Project MKUltra

Christo Kalohoridis/Netflix

“Part of our research was into what the FBI was doing then, and we know that they were using LSD as a truth serum,” showrunner Steve Blackman tells EW. “So it made sense to us that if they were going to get Vanya, they had to do it. But I wanted to sort of do a really interesting LSD trip for Vanya, where she saw herself and her siblings back in the house. The idea of eating the brain simply was a sense of remembering her past, and it was just visually fun for us."

Blackman continues, "I just love the fact that if someone looks something up from the show, they'll find that a lot of those things are based in reality. I mean, they worked on that for years and it turned out it didn't work for them, but it was great to see what happened when Vanya was on LSD and had quite an effect.”

Blackman’s favorite element of the brain dinner is the amount of different dietary restrictions among the main cast, which meant the props team had to come up with something that worked for all of them. Here’s how some of them remember the taste: “coconut milk” (Castañeda), “gelatin” (Tom Hopper), “very thick” (Sheehan), “absolutely disgusting” (Min).

Christo Kalohoridis/Netflix

Now, of all the people government agents could have given mind-altering drugs to, the supersonic Vanya is a pretty bad choice. She starts losing control of both her mind and body, sending out waves of power that (as Diego sees from Commission headquarters) could threaten to destroy the FBI building and cause an international incident leading to the nuclear apocalypse glimpsed at the beginning of the season. Diego, Allison, and Klaus all try to get to her, but they can’t beat back the raging storm of her powers. That means it’s up to Ben, whose ghostly form isn’t affected by such mortal forces and whose natural empathy is what Vanya really needs at that moment. 

“I think there's a certain sort of innocence, compassion, kindness, and empathy that Ben has more so than some of his other siblings,” Min tells EW. “He was able to connect to them on a deeper level, which is I think why, when he did die, it did sort of cause the family to separate. In season one, he realized along with Klaus that he had this ability to become more corporeal. He wants to use that even more so in this season, to help his family in whatever ways that he can.”

Ben got a little more agency in season 2, thanks to the discovery that he could take control of Klaus’ body. To hear Min tell it, the preparation for those sequences sounds pretty funny: “It was a lot of ridiculousness because Robert was imitating me for quite some time. Every time I would see him, he would just start repeating things that I said to him. And it was annoying.”

Christo Kalohoridis/Netflix

But after a season of trying to reclaim some independence, Ben decides to make a selfless sacrifice there in the FBI building. His practice of possessing Klaus allows him to use the last of his spirit energy to reach into Vanya and comfort her at a very low point. Vanya spent most of season 2 not remembering the events of season 1, which made her a more relaxed and easygoing person. Suddenly having all of her trauma resurface in a moment of drug-induced psychosis threatens to bring her back to her apocalyptic White Violin mood, but with Ben’s help, she’s finally able to reconcile the different parts of herself. 

“I think that’s a beautiful moment with [Ben] when she's feeling incredible guilt and sorrow, and he’s just really explaining to her what she's been put through and helping her come to the realization that she doesn't have to be the only kid at the table anymore,” Page says. “So, I think her perspective comes to maybe just accepting the fact that she had a s----y childhood. I think it allows her to have more compassion for herself.”

At least this time, Ben got to say goodbye. But...is he really gone forever? Stay tuned to EW.com for more coverage of the final episodes of The Umbrella Academy season 2. 

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