Daddy Issues: Umbrella Academy 2 and Ex-vangelicals

Umbrella Academy season 2 takes us through a surprising journey of deconstruction and reconstruction following a season of heartbreak. In many ways, their process of dismantling the confusing relationships they have with their father and with each other sheds light on a similar trend we are seeing in the Christian community—that of the deconstruction of the religious perspective.

In the last few years, we’ve seen notable figures such as musician Mark Gungor and author and pastor Joshua Harris, among many others, announce their transition from faith to no faith. In many situations, they have come to a place where they can no longer accept the status quo of their evangelical faith. Lisa Gungor in an interview with Relevant states their disillusionment as a couple started with their difficulty to conceive and progressed as they toured locations like Auschwitz. Joshua Harris famed author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye rattled Christian audiences when he announced he was divorcing his wife and made a public apology about the damage caused by his book. In the end, he stated that what he has always understood a Christian to be no longer fit him. We often hear a lot about people in the first explosion of change, but we aren’t as aware of the process that proceeds this.

The characters of Umbrella Academy go through a similar transition.In season 1, we meet the exceptional individuals who make up this evil-fighting ensemble. However, apart from Luther, no one is really trying to stop evil anymore. Instead, brought together by the death of their “father” (the wealthy man who adopted them all as babies and trained them), we see a picture of dysfunction and brokenness. Each of them have been harmed or led astray by their relationship with their father. They are unhealthy emotionally, unable to sustain meaningful relationships with others and with each other. One poignant scene shows them all dancing alone in their rooms to the song “I Think We’re Alone Now.” This epitomizes their alienation from their father and from each other. This disharmony is what leads to the end of the world, centered around Vanya’s insecurities and exclusion from the family.

To save everyone, Number 5 sends them hurtling back in time. Unfortunately, they get separated and land in Dallas, Texas in the 1960’s but in different years. While this appears to be a tragedy, when Number 5 finally catches up to them about three years later for them, he finds most of them settled in to some degree, except Diego who is in a mental institution (because he claims Kennedy will be assassinated). Diego escapes from the institution with the help of Lila. Diego and Lila then begin a complicated, but important, relationship. Allison is married, not using her powers, and is working in the civil rights movement. Luther is working as a bodyguard and fighter for a crime lord, and Klaus has started a cult and lives in a mansion. Vanya has lost her memory but is working as a nanny for an autistic boy on a farm where she is happy.  So different is she from the first season that Ellen Page, who plays her,  felt she was playing a different character.

New and old relationships are tested in this season, and they are challenged to be authentic and to persevere in them. Though they have to leave these relationships formed in Dallas at the end of the season, they are changed as a result of the risks they were willing to take. The contrast between season 1 and season 2 is distinct—season 1 shows them separated and confused. Season 2 shows them beginning to rebuild their relationships with each other by learning to navigate relationships with others. 

Part of their challenge comes from the rebuilding of their concepts of themselves. Their “father” Reginald Hargreaves had raised them according to specific purpose—one in which they are failing in season 2. Season 2 shows them grappling with these ideas and then reconstructing who they are based, not on their understanding of the father’s perspective, but on what matters to them and that flows out of the new relationships they are making. Allison learns to not depend on her power to influence people. Luther stops trying to be the hero. Diego learns to trust others and to fight for that trust. Vanya finds peace from the weight of her childhood rejection. Klaus overcomes his consistent selfishness and is willing to sacrifice to save Vanya. 

As they struggle to get from under the oppressive weight of their father’s expectations, season 2 reveals two important facts (that they still don’t know). The first is that he isn’t as evil as they think he is. When a picture emerges showing him on the grassy knoll near where Kennedy is assassinated, Diego and the others assume he is part of the plot. Later, behind closed doors, we see Reginald Hargreaves angry when the president is asassinated, stating that he had said it was not supposed to happen. Second, in this same scene, he reveals that he is not even remotely what his kids assume him to be. In fact, he is much more distant from them than they realize. These two things are revealed to the viewer but not to the other characters.

These two hints, however, foreshadow a possible revelation for them that might help adjust their understanding of who they think their father is. In the meantime, they each grapple with this disparate relationship in their own, usually unhealthy ways. Luther who has always tried so hard to please his father takes an important step of growth when they meeting with their father in the 1960s. In a fit of bravery, Luther tears open his shirt, reveals his ape-like chest and yells, “Look what you did to me!” Diego comments that this is the first time Luther has ever stood up to his father. 

To be forthcoming, they are not the only ones with Daddy issues. In fact, at the heart of the exvangelical movement is a frustration with God the father. Like the father from Umbrella Academy, our Father can sometimes seem distant, incomprehensible, and even cruel. His Law is exacting and His expectations are overwhelming. Like the Gungors observed, the weight of allowed suffering in this world causes us to ask, “Is He good?” There are several responses to this cry of fear—ignore it and double down in faith, reject everything and build a hope in one self, or reconstruct our faith but build it slowly and through much wrestling.

Ironically, we learn from the characters in Umbrella Academy the first stages of this process. It’s easy to get lost in concepts and theories in moments like these—the big why of it all. However, we are first relational people. Instead of looking at ideas, we should look at people. Like the characters in the show, we need to take emotional risks, to be vulnerable, and open to find ourselves. These relationships are a gift that leads to life. Those who love well are on the path to healing. 

We can’t stop there though because as valuable as these relationships are they are only a part of life—not the whole. We cannot get away from our origins. While our family roots can provide some form of identity, the gnawing question about why we are here cannot always be ignored. It is easy to say there is no meaning to life, but it’s difficult to live that way. Number 5 vehemently claims life is meaningless while risking everything to save the world. 

This process requires wrestling of a deep and elemental level; it means to mourn and grieve the world we live in. We must bring the heartache of countless generations before a God who seems far away and uncaring and hash it out. In short, we have to work out our daddy issues. This is not a quick process and cannot be rushed, but it can’t be ignored either. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, it takes courage and fortitude to not let go. It is easy to begin the process of deconstruction and stop there without any intention of rebuilding, It takes courage to wrestle until peace has come.

Like Luther, we need to boldly proclaim our grief before our Father. The Psalms themselves are a perfect picture of this. The authors alternately dance with joy and praise, grieve and weep, hurl questions and accusations, and demand justice and revenge. Psalms is unfiltered emotion that is laced with hope. Unfortunately, this kind of honesty is not always encouraged in Christian community or often in its literature. Catherine Marshall’s Christy is an exception to this. Set in 1800s Appalachian mountains, city girl Christy moves to a mountain village to be a teacher. The things she experiences there challenge her faith to the core. When her best friend and mother of young children dies, Christy struggles with God. Laying on the ground, she cries out and even beats her fists on the ground. “I don’t understand, God! I don’t understand…and I don’t understand You. Why are you so inscrutable? Why are You so hard to find when the need is greatest?” After she expresses her feelings, she lays there quietly feeling the stillness of the forest. Her honesty is the beginning of her healing and the beginning of her new understanding of life and God.

So the bitter thoughts rolled and seethed inside me—too much inside me….Then with intuitive knowing, I had been sure that indeed it does matter how we live our lives, that there is One who cares. Thinking of that, I knew that it was wrong not to speak out my rebellion to the One at whom it was directed. I could at least give Him a chance to defend Himself. Speak it out! Yes, and act it out.

The characters of Umbrella Academy know very little about their father. They don’t have the benefits we have to learn of our Father through Scripture and His omnipresence. Even more, they don’t have the incarnate life of Christ as the image of the Invisible God to help them understand their distant father’s heart. We, instead, have just what we need to start the path of unraveling the mystery of God’s goodness. Looking towards season 3, we don’t know how their relationships with their father will develop, but it is encouraging to see them on the path, moving forward towards hope and peace.

Photo by Joy Stamp on Unsplash

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