You know how sometimes a relationship just… doesn’t land? Well in the case of Luther and Allison from The Umbrella Academy, it super(hero) didn’t land. And that always disappointed me, because this is one of those shows that, in all other aspects, effing nails it.
The characters are interesting, diverse (in ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and personality), realistic (insofar as you can be when superpowers are involved), likable (even though they’re all assholes), and gorgeous to look at. Even the kid, for some reason. Does that make a perv? To be fair, his character is actually 60 years old.
Wait… does that make me a perv??
Plus the plot line and magic system is original (enough), and satisfying to watch.
But my forte is character relationships, so that’s what I’m going to dive into.
Every main character gets a romance at some point during the current two seasons. Even the dead guy got to make out with his cult lady. And considering this show is NOT a romance, I thought they were all relatively well done. Just the right amount of romance to support the story and add a little sweetness without crossing the line into cheeseville or a lame audience grab.
There’s always a but, isn’t there? Seems that way to me.
Luther and Allison are the exception here.
Now hold on. I already went over the fact that this is NOT a romance show, and the romances aren’t supposed to be a whole big thing, right? Well Luther and Allison are the exception here. These are the two that the audience is supposed to root for. Theirs is The Romance that gets a multi-series arc. They’re the ones who get obstacles and a will-they-won’t-they. They get the kisses that get undone, the “close relationship,” and the jealousy and the pining.
This is supposed to be the epic love story. Except they do it so half-assed it hurts to watch. I think this may be the only time I’ve ever seen a tv show or movie break the cardinal sin of “telling not showing.”
It’s a tv show! It’s in the name! How can they not show it!
But they don’t show the audience jack shit. They tell us. And it’s boring. I think at one point Vanya actually says to Allison, “You two were always so close.” That’s it. That’s all they give us. Hey audience, these two were always close. Got that? Okay great. Moving on.
You Look Great
Their interactions with each other are cold. Their first meeting is full of small talk and non-answers. There’s no closeness, no comfort between them.
And you could argue that this makes sense. They’ve been apart for years, and there’s a bit of awkwardness between them. It’s okay, as the show moves forward, we’ll see them grow inseparable, just like they probably were as kids. They keep telling use that’s how things were. And the “You look great,” comment from Luther is a big road sign. “I’m noticing what you look like, and I want you to know that.” And for the audience, that means “These two are totally gonna kiss later.”
You know, I’ve had people tell me I pick way too hard at these things. I make a big deal out of things that don’t matter. Every phrase gets analyzed, every comment, every look. But I disagree with those people. For someone who wants to write great relationships, this is the stuff that matters most. As writers, we know that to be concise is to be powerful. And that means every phrase, every comment, every look – they all have to mean something. Or else they get cut.
So when I’m a member of an audience, and I hear a comment like “you look great,” I have to think to myself. Why did the writers include that line? And when should I consider using it myself? In what situations, between what kinds of characters would that line be powerful?
Well the answer is, when two people with Feelings see each other after a long time apart.
Anyway, back to the point.
So we’ve had a lackluster reunion, but we’ve seen the signposts to expect romance between these two. Shy looks, awkwardness, comments on appearances. All sprinkled in during their conversation about the other members of the Umbrella Academy. Because remember, right now the audience has no context at all. They’re repeating, repeating, repeating each other’s names and most obvious character quirks. That’s classic beginning-of-story stuff.
But the marked closeness never actually happens. They don’t back each other up on anything. They don’t make exceptions for each other. Every conversation they have together after that is just… two people talking about things. They act like brother and sister. Allison even says she tells her daughter about “her uncle Luther” all the time.
They hardly even stand next to each other. That’s why I have so few images in this post. It’s nearly impossible to grab an image with both of them in the frame at the same time!
The only good moment they had together was in the very last episode when Luther called Allison’s daughter for her. And I don’t mean the love speech he gave. I mean the fact that he helped her call her daughter.
Words are just words. In the classic words of one Philip J. Fry:
Words don’t mean much. His big romantic speech has no legs to stand on because we haven’t experienced any closeness between them during the entire season.
Actions mean a lot. And this action (calling Allison’s daughter for her) is the only thing Luther does for her in the entire show. I mean, he does pine for her a bit, but he pines about just about everything, mostly his own father.
And what does Allison do for Luther?
Go on. I’ll wait.
Nothing? That’s what I thought, too. Allison doesn’t do anything at all for him ever. The stories she tells her daughter, that’s for Claire. Not Luther.
Oh no, wait. When they were kids, she made a fort for them to share in the greenhouse. But as adults during the timeframe of the story we’re experiencing now? Nothing.
I was gonna say “don’t get me started on the dance that never happened,” but here I am. Started.
They had a nice conversation during episode 6, and here I was thinking “Okay finally. Here we go. The romance is finally going to go somewhere. But then Allison ruins it by blurting out this winner:
I think you’re maybe the only person who really knows who I am and still likes me anyway.
This is, on its own, a great line. It fits with their characterizations and the story. I like it. But it’s the kind of line you have in a bittersweet, doomed romance, where the two characters try to be together but they’re not actually in love.
Because he only likes her for what he thinks she is, and she only likes him because he likes her. That’s what this kind of line sets up. Everyone in the world dislikes her, except for him. Therefore he’s got rose colored glasses on where she’s concerned.
Everyone in the world dislikes her, except for him. Therefore she keeps him around for her own ego.
And that totally fits them! So why are the writers continuing to push this “epic” romance?
Ugh, and then the non-dance happens, which is cringe city. I watched this train wreck again just to count the cuts and be salty about it.
They’re walking onto the dance floor during one of the longest un-cut segments of the scene.
Yeah… They’re totally into this. /s
There were 65 cuts in a 2 minute dance sequence. That’s an average of one cut every 2 seconds (ish). And some of the cuts happened so fast that I probably missed a few. I’m willing to bet it’s closer to 70 cuts.
Guys, I love a great dance break. I love all the dance movies, musicals, both classic and modern. They’re so slick to watch, full of athleticism and artistry and energy. I feel like if frickin It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia can do it, anybody could!
But clearly not. Because despite the expectations set by the dance number in episode one, this one really did not live up to the hype. 65 cuts? Really? They couldn’t go more than 2 seconds at a time?
And then of course, the show took whatever relationship building they had achieved during this scene and undid it all by having Five go back and time to start that day over again. So…
And the pattern continues in season 2. Luther pines for her, and looks for her for a while. And he is legitimately freaked out when he finds out she’s married. (I have to admit, his freakout when meeting Ray was spot on.)
But when they’re actually together? Crickets. They make small talk again at an outdoor restaurant (like brother and sister).
The only intimate moment the pair of them have during season 2 is in the last episode (just like before) when Allison is struggling to breathe and Luther gives her mouth to mouth. That moment has some real intimacy in the way they hold each other, in the way she desperately wants his help and he desperately tries to give it.
But even then — once the moment’s over, it’s over. They continue behaving like brother and sister afterwards. Their relationship with each other is no different than their relationship with everyone else.
Does it really matter?
Of course it doesn’t! This isn’t a romance show! And their relationship makes sense within the context of their characterizations and the overall plot. So why am I making a big deal out of the lack of chemistry between Numbers One and Three?
Because the writers did that thing where they set up a romance and then failed to deliver. And this isn’t me complaining that they aren’t together together by the end of season 2. No, I can wait for The Big Moment. But the writers put out sign posts that this is The Romance to root for, and they keep putting out more road signs saying “trust us, this is gonna be epic,” but they’re leaving out all the closeness between the two characters that actually encourage us to ship them. They’re saying “it’s coming” without developing a close relationship or a growing relationship or anything at all special between them.
There is a reason why I can go on youtube and find about a dozen fan videos about Luther and Allison, but about 200 videos about Nick and Jess, or Lucifer and Chloe, or Ben and Leslie, or Damon and Elena, or Luke and Lorelai.
Why do these other epic romances (in other ensemble shows in varying genres) pack such a punch, when Luther and Allison just… don’t? That’s what I want to know.
I’ll tell you the difference. In every single one of those shows, no matter what was happening or what a specific episode’s plot was, those characters supported each other, made exceptions for each other, were aware of each other. They shared secrets. They orbited around each other. And that’s where Luther and Allison failed.
So far, anyway. We’ll see how things turn out in season 3. But for right now, this is my favorite romance that the Umbrella Academy has given us so far:
And that’s not me making a joke. Five had a a fantastic relationship with that mannequin, and she stood by him through everything. Metaphorically speaking. You know, since she doesn’t have legs.