Time travel, am I right? With its dizzying paradoxes and parallel universes, the plot device has been used as a tool in science fiction to dissect notions of fate and identity for over a century. From H.G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine to BBC’s wildly popular franchise Doctor Who, if executed without finesse, it rarely makes sense — we’re talking jumping back and forth through the ages, after all — as each work of fantasy sets its own laws. That is, except in The Umbrella Academy Season 2, which tackles mid-century America's latent racism and homophobia, mirroring the country's present landscape and its ongoing struggle to eradicate them.
The second season of the series, based on the comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, follows a largely similar plot structure as the first: A family of super-powered siblings, the Hargreeves, who were brought together by a billionaire adopted father with questionable intentions, struggle against a countdown to a coming apocalypse. Having narrowly escaped a cataclysmic end at the hands of Vanya (Ellen Page), whose newly unleashed powers have the properties of a literal bomb, they are thrust back in time to 1960s Dallas at the beginning of the season. There, they come to find the end of the world has followed them, now in the form of a nuclear Russian holocaust, and the troupe, who each have gone their separate ways (Robert Sheehan’s Klaus, for example, has become a cult leader), must reunite to find their way back to the present.
Despite the narrative’s fantastical basis, the harsh realities of the ‘60s South held particular resonance for two of the season’s stars, Emmy Raver-Lampman and Ellen Page, as well as timely storytelling opportunities for their characters, Allison and Vanya.
“We're definitely getting a really raw, fresh, beginning for Allison. She doesn't have the fame, and the money, and the reputation and she doesn't know where her family is,” Raver-Lampman tells MTV News. Separated from her family, Allison finds a new home in a local, Black-owned salon. The shop doubles as the gathering place for a group of activists led by Raymond Chesnut (Yusuf Gatewood), with whom she falls in love and soon marries. She reinvents herself and finds a new family in the civil rights movement. “I think that it is also shaped by the fact that she has also found herself in the segregated South. That is kind of shaping a lot of the community she's building, a lot of what she can and can't do, and who she's trying to be.”
The character of Allison is canonically white with purple hair so, having been cast as a Black woman in this role, Raver-Lampman knew the overt racism present in the time period had to be addressed. “You're throwing a Black woman back into the segregated South in 1961, ‘62, and ‘63, so we're not going to be able to not address it,” she says. This comes to a head in the third episode, in which a staged sit-in at a white-only diner, loosely based on similar events at the downtown Dallas restaurants Piccadilly Cafeteria and Woolworth, breaks out into a violent riot. “There was definitely a care that needed to be taken,” she says of filming the scene. “That was the one scene that I was the most nervous about. That is an ugly part of history, especially for the Black experience. The violence, and the brutality and the hatred that is kind of living in those moments.”
In Vanya’s case, the season shows her as “she's more comfortable in her body, and who she is, and she's able to connect to her emotions, and is able to connect to people in a real way for the first time,” Page tells MTV News. At the outset of Season 2, Vanya has amnesia and is taken in by a family — a wife, husband, and a young son — who live on a farm outside of Dallas. She develops a romance with the mother, Sissy Cooper (Marin Ireland), behind the possessive, alcoholic father’s (Stephen Bogaert) back. “She falls in love for the first time,” Page adds.
Set six years prior to the Stonewall riots of 1969 that marks what is now known as Pride Month, during a time when homosexuality was both illegal and considered a mental illness, Vanya’s personal growth is met with outside prejudice. Cooper struggles to leave her husband and, when Vanya finally convinces her to do so, they are headed off by police. Portraying these difficult narratives is a careful tight-rope walk: “Having the sort of accuracy and balance and joy mixed with obviously the certain obstacles,” Page describes.
Though these narratives are set over 50 years in the past, they feel as relevant as ever, releasing as protests continue nationwide following the police killings of unarmed Black citizens like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and as LGBTQ+ rights continue to be debated at the highest level of government. And for both actresses — Raver-Lampman as a Black woman and Page as a queer person — these stories are personal.
“We just don't learn about the degree of violence and suffering and the treatment of marginalized people,” Page says. “One can hope that, potentially, in this way, you connect with people. When you do have something that's in a fantasy realm, superhero realm, that has just such massive exposure and reach.”
“I was really honored for this opportunity on such a platform to depict a little bit of American history and the struggles of the African-American community,” Raver-Lampman adds. “I'm happy for that opportunity to kind of hopefully open up a window of communication between the next generation that is going to be continuing the fight all over the world.”