(Minor spoiler warnings for The Umbrella Academy!)
Would you love a job that took you to different locations? One where you could see not only many sights but many times? You’d get to meet fascinating people and you’d get to kill them. All in the service of a noble cause: Preserving world order and making sure time itself stays consistent.
Who wouldn’t want that sort of job?
This guy, Hazel.
First off, I’d never heard of Gerard Way’s comic book work apart from his latest run on Doom Patrol which I was excited about. I still have not gotten around to it (I want to read the original run by Grant Morrison first) but I was surprised to find out that he had written something before that. A little comic called The Umbrella Academy and apparently it had been popular.
This was news to me, especially as someone who loved (and still loves!) My Chemical Romance and kept up with them till their third album and dropped out after their fourth. I was still sad they broke up soon after and would do unspeakable things to see them back together.
Anyway…the point is that TUA is an amazing show and you should go watch it. It has some minor writing issues throughout, plot conveniences that seem a little too unbelievable even in the world it sets up. And early on a few characters fell flat for me acting wise. But it builds all of these characters up and their relationships extremely well. It just takes a few episodes to really get going, which is common these days I’ve noticed.
TUA centers around a group of superhero has beens who were adopted by a wealthy old man (think Professor X, but terrible). They developed their powers as children and now, 20ish years later, their lives are falling apart. The family they had built is almost non-existent and their “father” is an abusive shadow that haunts their day to day existence.
But fuck that shit let’s talk about Hazel and Cha-Cha!
Hazel (played by Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (played by an incredible Mary J. Blige) are partners in crime…well, it’s tough to say it is “crime”, exactly. It’s sanctioned by an organization and seems to have some level of legitimacy, both morally and perhaps legally? But I don’t believe we’re ever told whether governments know about it or not, let’s presume they don’t.
In any case, what Hazel and Cha-Cha are doing clearly has some moral validity to it. They’re guns for hire, sure, but they are also clearing away people who would otherwise mess with the timeline in some major way. They’re ostensibly there to keep the peace within the universe so things keep on track in the most optimal way possible. The trouble is: What if the timeline they are trying to preserve is like…the apocalypse?
Of course, that’s no hypothetical, that’s the premise of the entire show. That Hazel and Cha-Cha have to defend the timeline…in order for it to be destroyed. Their boss, “The Handler” sees things a different way, and takes a larger view saying it’s just the ending of one thing, not all things. But that takes a far too big of a scope to the planet and its inhabitants. People matter and they should not be sacrificed because this is How Things Happen.
People have been justifying horrible things for as long as civilization has existed and likely far earlier by saying that because a given thing happens that must be what should happens. But this is fallacious reasoning. Just because a given thing is preordained to happen does not mean it is the right thing or even a good thing. It just means it is what happens. This is an observation without moral content to it. Perhaps that isn’t a bother to people like The Handler or her subordinates, Hazel and Cha-Cha but I think for most people it would matter a lot. In fact, that’s what we see.
And one of the biggest things we see is Hazel. I don’t just mean physically (though he’s a big boy) but emotionally the job has clearly taken its toll on him. He complains early in the series about his hand hurting him from carrying around his heavy briefcase all of the time. He complains that the “suits” don’t have to carry them and so they should not complain when he feels like he has to put it down. He soon has to get an arm brace, just so he can keep carrying it occasionally and loses the briefcase because of his injury and laments that he doesn’t get any sort of medical insurance.
Hazel lamenting about the company he has worked for and for a long time, becomes a running theme within the show. He is constantly dissatisfied with the way he and his partner are treated. As if they’re disposable, they’re given little information about the assignment besides who the target is and none of the potential complications that could occur. They end up going into a fight they don’t win and get hurt because of it.
In addition to this, their “superior” whenever questioned constantly belittles their concerns, mostly Hazel’s, and tries to assuage them that they will get something better if they just hold on a little bit. Hazel plays along but never seems completely content with the raw deal he knows he’s getting. Sure, he’s protecting the order by doing badass things, but what if that order is immoral? What if the job just doesn’t excite anymore?
It should be obvious I’m not claiming Hazel is a saint. He is not a good person in many ways. But TUA constantly complicates the notion that Hazel is a monster by showing that he is capable of love and companionship, empathy and remorse. They don’t excuse his past actions and they don’t make him a good person either. But they do show that there is more to him than a hired hitman and that makes him a compelling character.
More than that, in reflecting on the show and Hazel’s lament, I realized that the show (and likely Way) was saying a lot about modern job culture and what is expected of employees these days. It might be an awfully weird way to go about it, but hey, that’s Gerard Way for you.
All of this to say: Go watch The Umbrella Academy! It’s got Ellen Page and, to be honest, that should be enough reason for you to watch. She’s great.
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