The Reluctant Prophets of The Umbrella Academy

D. Marquel

“It’s not my responsibility,” protests a desperate young man, dope-sick and shivering, in a debate with his dead brother. “I didn’t sign up to save you!”

This is The Umbrella Academy, Netflix’s adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics series. Minutes later, the same man, Klaus Hargreeves (Robert Sheehan), finds himself on the floor of a warehouse rave, cradling a pill, contemplating escape: from a lifetime of living with ghosts, from the stern guiding hand of his father, and from the pressure of potentially saving the world.

It’s not easy being a prophet.

The Umbrella Academy tells the story of Klaus and a number of others who were mysteriously born to 43 women from around the world on the same day, at the same time. Another catch? None of these women were pregnant when that day began.

A group of these children are adopted by the enigmatic Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), a monocled, Victorian-style dandy described as “the world’s most eccentric and reclusive billionaire.” He rears the children, trains them, and—once they’ve reached adolescence—forms a squad known as The Umbrella Academy (UA). As a team, they rid the world of baddies and threats with the aid of extraordinary, otherworldly talents developed in their early childhood.

From infancy, then, the UA kids are tapped to sacrifice an average life in the name of the greater good. It’s a duty thrust upon them by their hardline adoptive father, who constantly reminds them that they have important work to do. He’s so devoted to the mission that he neglects to name the kids and instead simply assigns them numbers. These aren’t the X-Men, learning under the tutelage of a mollifying Professor Xavier. Sir Reginald Hargreeves makes it perfectly clear to his children: I’ve got big plans for you, whether you like it or not.

The UA members don’t like it. After the death of their adopted sibling Ben (Justin H. Min), the others disperse to pursue their own ventures. Klaus, the recalcitrant medium, dives into decadence and drug use to dull his sixth sense. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), a dangerously persuasive hypnotist, flees to Hollywood to become a beloved movie star. Number Five (Aidan Gallagher)—who never takes a proper name—defiantly jumps through time and space seeking his independence. There are others, each of whom initially rejects the call to use their talents for good in the name of fear, rebellion, ego, and self-doubt. When they reunite years later, following their father’s mysterious death, it’s clear that their respective attempts to escape have left them all even more trapped than before.

It’s not easy being a prophet.

The Bible provides its share of heroes imbued with what could be called “powers.” And like the UA, these biblical heroes are similarly susceptible to human insecurities. While God chooses a number of prophets to deliver his message and facilitate his work on Earth, not all are immediately thrilled with their assignment.

Like the UA, the prophet Jeremiah is chosen from the beginning “to uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah demurs, insisting that he’s only a boy who doesn’t know how to speak. But God assures him that he will put divine words in his mouth.

Moses, upon hearing his divine orders to deliver Israel out of slavery, also offers excuses. “Who am I?” he asks. “What if they do not believe me?” And again: “I am slow of speech and tongue.” This call to do God’s work not only overwhelms Moses, but disrupts his plan for a peaceful, domestic life. Here again, God won’t take “no” for an answer. Instead, he endows our hero with the power to summon and manipulate nature in order to rescue his people.

We often forget that Jonah, too, was a prophet. In fact the reason he ends up in the belly of that giant fish is because he’s been ghosting God’s call to prophecy. When told by God to go to Nineveh and call out its people on their “wickedness,” Jonah just leaves. He gives God the “New phone, who dis?” treatment, hops a ship, and heads in another direction. It is during this escape attempt that Jonah is cast into the sea, like Pinocchio, and left to rethink his prior objections. He eventually accepts the call, a decision which ends up saving the people of Nineveh.

Like Jonah, the UA’s Klaus Hargreeves comes to terms with his role in a looming apocalypse (prophesied by Number Five after a particularly long time-jump). First, though, he too nearly “drowns.” After crawling across that warehouse floor, literally chasing a high—bathed in pulsating lights and techno music, mixed with his vivid memories of violent combat—Klaus gets knocked out cold. When he opens his eyes, he’s in the afterlife. The black undertones and bold colors that have marked the series thus far are replaced by the brightly lit grays of a classic Italian film, complete with concertina music and a lone child riding a bicycle. It’s here, away from the distractions of everyday existence, that Klaus—like Jonah isolated underwater—is finally able to confront his father.

“We were just kids,” Klaus tells him. “Little kids.”

“You were never ‘just kids,’” his father replies, offering the slightest knowing smile. “You were meant to save the world.”

When Klaus awakens among the living, like Jonah spat back upon the shore, he’s fortified by the truth, ready to complete the mission he was assigned. He’s learned to embrace his father’s intervention and to accept that he and the others in the UA were given these gifts for a reason.

While the rest of us may not possess cape-worthy powers, we’re all blessed with talents of some kind. In this respect, we are all prospective prophets and heroes, subject to the sometimes difficult call to do good. It’s not enough to be chosen, however. There’s a choice to make on our part as well. It is easy to run away or to doubt our ability to live up to the role God has chosen for us. But if we each accept our gifts and their potential for good, we can join God in his plan to restore the world.

Topics: TV