So, my issues with S2!Klaus (and how ultimately those issues were reflected by the writing etc. of all the characters)
* Lack of time - So, comparing, Klaus has approximately 2 hours of screentime in S1 (counting in scenes with the ensemble in which he may not be central, but is present) and approx. 1 hr 25 mins in S2. (I haven’t compared screentime for each sibling, although Ben’s would necessarily mesh with a lot of Klaus’. If anyone else does, shout, I’d be interested to see the numbers!) We also know from cast interviews/social media etc. that alternate material was cut/edited for a particular approach.
So, necessarily, you’re going to have less time to get across your arc for your character. Luckily, no one really has one here, with almost every advancement being reset in preparation for S3 and presumably yet another fresh start.
We learn little about Klaus that we didn’t already know (deals with conflict by substance abuse, motivated largely by love for Dave) and he’s not involved in much of the plot for whatever reason (the Swedes don’t pursue him, despite him being presumaby famous); so his main purpose here is comic relief. (And it turns out…Umbrella Academy is not super-hot on writing humour, if the 18305 fart jokes didn’t clue anyone in. I was not surprised to learn they retained none of the S1 writers, as there was an appreciably different approach this season that didn not work for me.)
-> Overarching issue: Huge chunks of the siblings character development was mainly offscreen or described in reams of exposition (which definitely happened in S1, but one would expect better writing by a second season.) I get that it’s necessary in a time travel plot in the style they chose to write (e.g. the siblings scattering across different years) but it’s pretty glaring. There’s also a quantity of filler for stuff that wasn’t really necessary (the Handler, the Swedes, Pogo/Reginald/Grace storyline) and is a shame when there was less interaction between all combinations of the siblings, and Ben was still undercharacterised.
* Lack of ghosts - If you take away the powers which brought the kids into Reginald’s sphere, and in Klaus’ case were presented in S1 as a power that’s uniquely awful and difficult to overcome (even drugs and alcohol only seemed to give him respite for a short time – we see he dreams about ghosts and starts to see them after only a few hours) without a reason (I’d give the latter half of S1 the benefit of the doubt and say with the impending apocalypse, we can assume all we need to about offscreen withdrawal etc. from what we saw in 1.6 and 1.7 and just chalk up no extra ghosts to distraction on Klaus’ behalf and the effort summoning Ben; but in S2, not so much.) you’ve basically just…halved your character.
It almost suggests that Reginald’s view is correct, Klaus can apparently control his power and overcome the ghosts (as well as easily master his addiction, also offscreen) and the only reason he struggles is because of his own cowardice/narcissism/selfishness (not wanting to save Vanya/starting a cult/not wanting to ‘share Ben’ as I believe Steve Blackman put it.) Which isn’t to say Klaus, like all the sibs isn’t massively flawed; it’s just the ways in which he’s flawed are either a departure from previous canon or else…well, I’ll go into that in the cult discussion.
-> Overarching issue: lack of powers. I was going to compare this to a sibling, like if you’d just started S2 where Five no longer time travels and just never mentioned it, ever; but actually, I think almost all the characters’ powers and the effect they bring to their lives was fairly underused.
Allison is about the only one who does anything interesting, in that she seems to fall off the wagon herself in terms of trying not to use her powers (and the promise they may deal with this eventually instead of pairing her up endlessly is one of the few reasons for me to tune in to S3.)
Vanya’s character development and her inability to control her emotions is essentially divorced from her S1 incarnation with the memory loss dominating most of the season.
Luther they backed and forthed about in S1 in terms of presenting him as damaged; actively benefitting and winning approval for his strength; and as comedic; which I think was doubled down on here (his yelling ‘Look what you did to me!’ to Reginald being accompanied by the reaction shots of the others eyerolling/spit-taking; jaunty musical cues; and ‘Check please!’ punch line.)
Five, like Luther and Diego, seemed significantly dumber in a way that really only made sense as a contrivance (aka, Five needed to never once have considered using his gift to move across smaller amounts of time so he’d Suddenly Realise in the finale; and he needed to not realise that meeting their father would…get this, affect what their father might do and therefore their own lives so that we can get the ‘Oh shit!’ ending.)
The beginning montage of S2.1 seemed pointless – like, I get that you introduce elements every season in preparation for the next, I’m not media illiterate; but I feel like it’s not too much to ask that when you present something in the very first episode of 10 that you refer back to why it was included.
Why did everyone have an expert handling on their powers here, and work together, and why was it more satisfying than the actual finale?
Why did only Diego and Vanya realise their own power potential at the end of the tenth episode, apropros of nothing?
Is it on purpose that Allison is always contrivedly damselled since she could actually have some impact on the plot?
Why not include Lila mirroring Klaus’ power, what with her being a killer with presumably a few ghosts around her?
Lack of addiction – Why was Klaus clean? We see him ready to revert to old habits in stressful moments close to the end of S1, and yet here he seems to have overcome his addiction as portrayed by…a half-second shot of him refusing a joint, and yet more exposition from poor Ben. (We can assume it’s easier for him to quit since he’s not avoiding constantly ghostly visitations, but since we also have no reason for that presented in-show, we’re sort of going in circles.)
Is he sober for Dave? We don’t really delve into his realisation that Dave’s death can be avoided, and he doesn’t show any indications of having considered the issue at all over the three years of being in the sixties. (I’ve seen the headcanon that he’s staying sober in case his siblings are dead, and I think it’s lovely, but also that it’s giving way too much credit to the writing this season. Remember we see the very concept that the whole family have died presented as comical in the first episode – ‘They’re all gone! Poof! Like a fart in the wind!’ complete with humourous whimpering expression.)
Neither does he maintain his sobriety even temporarily in order to communicate with Dave prior to realising/believing his actions have come to nothing.
All totally believable, the guy’s an addict (although I do feel the comedic approach does weaken the believability of this link to Dave somewhat – I feel like Klaus, like his brothers this season, is portrayed here as going beyond their previous incarnations as thoughtless/spacy/self-involved etc. into actively stupid, and stuff like him only thinking to approach Dave twice – with years to prepare! – and not even remembering Dave’s uncle’s name correctly qualifies more as the latter than the former.) but it does then just create more questions as to how easily he quit offscreen, and suggests a plot written backwards from what they wanted the end result to be, rather than what that arose organically.
(I also think that there’s very little difference in the writing for him from sobriety to addiction, in terms of set pieces, dialogue, acting etc and I’d be interested to hear about the direction of the scenes prior to that; because I’m never quite convinced with UA that they have much to say on addiction or substance abuse beyond ‘Spacy hippy = amusing.’)
-> Overarching issue: Events having a lack of impact on the story – What was the point of the cult plotline? We learn very little about Klaus (to the point where 90% of the whole thing is just regurgitated pop culture references) – apparently he’s narcissistic (we know this because like everything in this season, we’re told it, repeatedly, just like: ‘Luther is sensitive.’ ‘Diego has a hero complex and daddy issues.’) but then, include scenes of him enjoying the adulation!
Here they’re basically using the same template for Allison in S1, where she’s manufactured a life of celebrity for herself but grown tired of it before we even meet her.
Ben gets to deliver yet more unconvincing exposition about how they left Real Lives, it’s very much not backed up by the writing - we get no sense of the cult members as real people (beyond Life of Brian jokes about how sheeplike they are) or that we’re intended to see their interactions with the group as anything but comedy relief. This post touches on how if you take the plot in any way seriously, it doesn’t work.
Likewise, none of the siblings actions really made much of an impact on the story. Luther working for Jack Ruby went nowhere; Vanya and Allison’s families conveniently stayed behind in the sixties; the JFK obsession was a bust; the Swedes are pointless. Like, if you’re going to give each person an individual subplot rather than have characters interact and actually establish links between them that enable an audience to emotionally engage; then have it serve either individual development or the overarching story.
* Dave – Who is Dave? We’ve gone from informed attributes from Klaus and, what, 2 minutes of screentime in which he had maybe three lines to…he likes hamburgers! I get that he’s a character who will probably return, but I’m still not sure why we’re supposed to invest in him when the show has done almost no groundwork over two seasons in establishing who he is. Compare this to Sissy or Raymond, who were far more fleshed out in less time. (I’ll also throw S2 a bone and say Patch in S1 also fell victim to undercharacterisation that was then supposed to make a big impact on a lead.)
The younger version seemed contrived in order to string out storyline for longer without resolution, as it made no sense with previous casting, but I’d guess, gives Klaus a reason to do nothing until there’s like, a week before Dave signing up for ‘Nam (as presumably if Dave was the grown adult we saw a mere five years on, there’d be no barriers to them just…dating in the sixties. We need manufactured conflict!) although I still think, idk, get this! – you could link your plots here. (Got a cult spanning continents and with pull with local government, and not only does this not link into Allison’s subplot beyond Ben busting out Ray; but you’d think maybe the cult might, I don’t know…protest the war that’s going on? The one that’s going to kill Dave?)
-> Overarching issue: More importantly, who is Ben?
Instead of brothers bickering endlessly (and flatly – Justin Min is funny! So’s Robert Sheehan! Could they have some dialogue that doesn’t sound like irritating eleven year olds: ‘Idiot.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Have you showered?’ ‘I hate your face.’), wouldn’t it be awesome if we found out more about who Ben is, and his situation?
We know he can disappear– is that some kind of freedom for him from Klaus, or does he just go…nowhere? (Steve Blackman iirc said Ben is always with Klaus, but then stuff like him not knowing about Klaus sleeping with Jill, or Klaus saying he’s shy about Ben seeing him fully nude doesn’t mesh with that. We know they can separate to a certain extent, as we see him on the lower level of the cult’s bus while Klaus rides up top.) It seems probable he can interact with other ghosts, although we don’t really see much of this.
Is this is his first experience time travelling - we still don’t know if he was in Vietnam, and his S1 POV of Dave seemed like he’d personally met him, but in S2, he’s describing the whole thing far less emotively as a ‘fling’.)?
Is this an insight into how Ben, like his siblings, was damaged by his upbringing by Reginald into viewing emotions as something to personally exploit (aka when he wants Klaus to sober up, he’ll use Dave as a reason to, but when he believes Dave risks his brother’s peace of mind, he’ll dismiss the relationship?) Or is Ben the sole Good One?
Could we see a reaction from him at the concept of all his siblings being considered dead? Or some interaction with them? (Or some reaction to his death, because basically, Reginald coopts his funeral to rag on the siblings, who then tear each other apart; but what do we learn about Ben himself? Uh…died on a mission?) Wouldn’t having him vocalise this actually deepen him and his character and create sympathy as opposed to vomit gags and sex swings? Could the other siblings show some kind of normal curiosity for once, developing them also; considering Klaus literally says ‘I’m Ben’ and ‘(I’m) possessed’; and Five sees Ben in the alternate 1963?
I didn’t get the vibe Ben ever became a character independent of Klaus.
Steve Blackman seems to have a view of him that’s kind of flatly generic, where upon he’s the innately best one, with a moral wisdom the others lack; which irritates me not only because it’s not really consistent with what we see onscreen – like, in Vanya’s hallucination, we see Ben as the only one to speak up for her, but in S1 we see that Ben is as quick to exclude Vanya as any one else – but it also undercuts Reginald’s abuse by making Ben immune to his abuse in a way the others aren’t. Ben deserves to be complicated and flawed too, and while I think we see his flaws onscreen, they’re not acknowledged like the others are, so it’s hard to say if the writers were going for ‘Ben was treated like an object all his life so he treats others the same’ or ‘lulz, bodily autonomy and consent aren’t a thing.’
I feel like we already knew from S1 that Klaus felt guilt over Ben’s death but was also happy to use Ben as a mouthpiece while ignoring his actual opinions; and that Ben cared about Klaus but was bitter and envious Klaus was alive while he wasn’t.
The ‘light’ thing I think was introduced too late for something that retroactively alters their entire relationship. (Not to mention Klaus’ power) and makes them both far more manipulative and mutually abusive than I think the show intended.
My first thought as a comparison was ‘What Happened to Baby Jane?’, tbh, like if you analyse it on any kind of literal level, Klaus basically prevents Ben from going to heaven in order to be his constant companion, and despite the tacked on ‘Oh, I always thought that was my fault!’ acts as if the opposite were true throughout the rest of the show’s run. And Ben, equally, allows his brother to take on the burden of believing that while knowing for 17 years that it was his own decision not to go on.
* Interactions with Family - I missed Diego and Klaus interacting (I felt like they leaned way into the less interesting side of Diego – wannabe Batman with daddy issues; and further away from his more nurturing/feminine side that appeared most with Klaus and Grace. I don’t buy S1!Diego would be like ‘ah well, overdose on the floor, then’ or that the writers understand that lines like that reflect on his characterisation as much as the sibling in question’s.) Luther and he didn’t really have an individual exchange like in S1, and kind of wavered between nice moments like Luther using his size to protect Allison and Klaus; and ‘lololol, Luther’s dragging him by the foot.’ Five and Klaus interacted far less (I literally sat trying to think of any S2 moments. ‘Pukebag?’) It was good to see Vanya and Klaus exchange more words than S1, so there’s an upgrade. And about one of the sole things I did enjoy in S2 was the Klaus and Allison interactions.
-> Overarching issue: There was way less interaction between characters generally. Halfway through the season is ridiculously late to reunite your main cast. The cast talked about how the Diego/Allison interaction was adlibbed by Emmy, and while she’s a queen, your cast should absolutely not have to be adlibbing stuff like ‘two siblings acknowledge each other’s existence’.
(I noticed this seemed to be a trend, also, like all the actors talked about the consideration they’d put into their roles – Tom Hopper talking about how Luther was seeking an alternate father figure in Jack Ruby and working for the first time in his life; Emmy talking about how Allison’s privilege within the Umbrella Academy and then as a celebrity blinded her to racial prejudice; David Castaneda talking about how Patch’s death affected Diego in S2 – when it seemed like they’d made far more effort than the writers themselves.)
Characters barely looked for each other, and had little reaction to the mutual assumption they’d all died. No one told each other anything, even stuff that might be helpful (’Guys, there’s these Swedish assassins trying to murder me!’) All stuff that was in S1, it’s just weird to see comments saying ‘Aw, everyone bonded much more in this season!’ when if anything, it felt even more contrived. I didn’t get the impression anyone cared about anyone more than the writers cared about joke potential – one episode, Allison is grimacing maternally and covering her brother with a blanket; next her reaction to what she herself assumes is ‘a seizure’ is not to move from her chair. A bunch of the Five vs Five plotline other than gas is whether or not one of them can talk Luther into killing the other first. If one person reaches out to another, it’s almost verboten that other characters could do similarly, so if Vanya’s reaching out to ask Diego if he’s okay; we know no one else will give a shit, etc.
I feel like the desire to present all the siblings as more entertaining-awful than actually damaged takes some of the complexity away. The removal of flashbacks of them as children compounded this, like it just seemed like the show was much more focused on mocking the characters for their issues/establishing Official Character Flaws that are generally softened in some way or else skipping over them entirely (could we put in the work into re-establishing Vanya into the fold when she and her siblings have damaged each other and spent years estranged, and she ended the season emotionally broken? Why, when we can introduce a hackneyed amnesia plot which completely erases any emotional impact?) and the predestination stuff with Reginald skated around almost excusing his abuse – what on earth was that scene in which Five apologises to him for how he behaved in childhood?!
Everyone fit more into boxes. Season 1 had conflicting attributes where sometimes Luther say is gentle, other times bullying and cruel. Klaus could be selfish and empathetic. Here it’s just throwing out scraps for stuff that seems memeable: lololol, Diego and Luther are himbo energy!1 Representation! Winks to the audience about incest! ‘I’m sexy trash!’ (It’s also bizarre when we see Klaus in S1 is suffering a far more immediate PTSD than three years on, and yet is swifter to intervene when his siblings are in need.) ‘It’s an awesome reference!’ (awful lines, ugh.)