‘The Umbrella Academy’ addresses Elliot Page’s coming out with warmth and emotion (column)

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Spoiler alert: Don’t read if you haven’t watched the first two episodes of “Umbrella Academy” Season 3, now streaming on Netflix.

When “The Umbrella Academy” last aired new episodes, in July 2020, its star held a different place in the culture, under a different name.

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Elliot Page, the Oscar-nominated performer, is by far the show’s most prominent cast member – all playing a family of superheroes constantly trying to thwart the apocalypse. And his public revelation that he is a trans man at the end of 2020 presented the series with a conundrum as it considered a third season. How could “The Umbrella Academy” make the most of Page’s talent and honor the work he’s already done on the show, while also considering that his character, known until then as Vanya , had for two seasons been presented as a woman?

The answer, with a new season launching June 22, is a surprisingly, if not soulfully, low-key approach. ‘The Umbrella Academy’ often expresses its stakes with a sort of post-Quentin Tarantino mania for all references at once – indeed its new season begins, after a flashback sequence, with the show’s central characters taking part in a hallucinated dance battle to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” – but it doesn’t put similar pressure on Page’s character exit. It isn’t until the end of the first episode, when in a confrontation between Page’s character and a hero from a rival hero team, that the pressure is put on the bruise. “What do you really want, Vanya?” asks this hostile; the double meaning of the question hangs in the air for viewers who have followed Page’s story, even as Page responds quickly and quickly.

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However, only a few minutes are allowed to pass before we get some sort of catharsis; this moment comes near the end of the first episode, and within the first five minutes of the second, Page is shown deliberately wandering past a barbershop, stopping in front of a classic barber guide pointing out different male grooming methods. The character walks in, with only a momentary hesitation and a studied, laid-back “hey” at the hairdresser, and sits down in the chair to cut a long mane.

It’s a small moment, taking up relatively little show time, but nuanced and performed with elegance. Any queer or trans person can probably relate to the accidental and intentional way their feet brought them to a place of business where they had a groundbreaking experience, and the exhalation of fear and doubt they felt. felt before entering. The show diverges, a bit, from the universal experience in Page’s next scene, in which the performer walks into a contentious family reunion and, at the first mention of the name ‘Vanya’, declares “That’s, uh , Viktor… That’s who I’ve always been. Um, is this a problem for anyone? The reunited family members, to one, say they are happy for Viktor and resume criticizing him for the tactical decisions he made during their confrontation with their enemies.

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It’s seamless – to the point of reminding both that “The Umbrella Academy” is a fantasy and that Viktor’s identity within the series is perhaps less important to those who write it than his role in it. the battle for the fate of the world. A later scene, in which Emmy Raver-Lampman’s character benevolently nags Viktor for not coming out sooner and berates himself for not realizing he’s trans, suggests how the best-meaning allies can sometimes be a bit boring. But Viktor stops him after only a few moments; he seems, in his new skin, to always know what to say, and he goes on to describe the unease he once felt upon seeing himself in the mirror. It’s elegantly presented, apparently drawing inspiration from Page’s performance from real-life experiences the actor describes, before the adventure continues.

But at a time when an ongoing backlash against trans people’s rights to simply exist is unfolding across this country, a show depicting the process of coming out as a possible self-declaration that can be greeted with kindness feels like a worthy thing to put into the world, if the occasion arises. That Viktor’s story unfolds in a show whose pop and crackle make it a favorite of young viewers, just as the idea of ​​children being educated about the existence of trans people has become the workhorse of an ascending and hysterical right. more rewarding. And that it takes place on Netflix, a service whose co-CEO Ted Sarandos championed anti-trans rhetoric in comedy specials by Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, provides a good example of counter-programming. (Praise for this series’ approach to Viktor should go to the team behind it and not the management of Netflix, which has made it clear they’ll stream anything.)

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I’ve criticized ‘The Umbrella Academy’ in the past, for being somewhat rushed in dealing with its wide cast of characters and picking up their stories from time to time before eventually losing interest. It’s a show with more verve than follow, which, in ambitiously trying to take on the world, often loses sight of the close, granular detail that makes stories worth telling. But at the start of this new season, there’s a casual approach to reintroducing the character of Page and Page as a performer. Viktor is trans and is imbued with powers even beyond the strength it took to get out; Page is trans and is a moving and warm actor in part because of everything of his life experiences. By solving this problem, allowing Viktor and Page to move on, meeting where they were and allowing them to stay on the team, “The Umbrella Academy” did a small good thing at a time when it might be easier not to.

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