showrunners 015 – The umbrella academy 6 core questions

Reminder, the Umbrella Academy on Netflix before reading this post. We discuss the plot and themes in the series and you will learn a lot more.

1. What’s the global genre?

External Genre: Action (Life and Death)

Melanie:

I was unsure about the subgenre of the Action story, at least for the TV series.

It could either be: 

  • Action – Man against Man – Hunted (Five is hunted by the Commission)
  • Action – Man Against State – Saviour (Hero fights someone who wants to destroy society)
  • Action – Man against Time – Countdown (8 days until apocalypse)

In the comic book, I decided it was action – savior because in the comic book the antagonist was the Orchestra Verdammten. Their intent was on social destruction because they wanted to end the world. And Number Five is set out on his own redemption plot to stop his sister Vanya from destroying the world.

Internal Genre: depending on family members

  • Luther: Status and/or Worldview Revelation
  • Diego: Worldview – Maturation in the TV Series. I thought it was Status-Sentimental in the comic book.
  • Allison: Worldview Revelation or Education? 
  • Five: Morality Redemption (same as in the comic book)
  • Klaus: probably Worldview
  • Vanya: Status Pathetic

2. What are the obligatory scenes of the global genre? 

Considering 5 is the main protagonist

An Inciting Attack by the Villain or Environment
Five sees the End of the World as he traveled into the Future (Episode 1, 2)

Hero Sidesteps Responsibility to Take Action
Five doesn’t tell his UA extraordinary siblings about the end of the world (Vanya in Episode 1, but not Luther in Episode 2).

Forced to leave the ordinary world, the Hero lashes out
Five becomes delusional believes in Delores and we realize that it takes him decades to return home.

Discovering and Understanding the Antagonist’s MacGuffin Scene
Five understands now that the commission wants the apocalypse to happen because it is meant to happen (Episode 5)

Hero’s Initial Strategy to Outmaneuver Villain Fails
Five left the commission as he was supposed to murder JFK to return to his family to stop the apocalypse (episode 5)

All Is Lost Moment: Hero realizes he must change his approach to salvage some form of victory
Five gets drunk after Hazel and Cha Cha burn down Meritech lab (Episode 4). He has to go back to the commission to work for them to be able to save his siblings, though he wants to look for a new clue for how to stop the end of the world. (episode 5)

Randall thinks this is too soon in the series for the all is lost moment. The All is Lost Moment is when they realize that Vanya is going to destroy the world and they may have to kill her to save it).

Parul agrees with Randall: The world is about to end and they realize they have to take her down 

The Hero at the Mercy of the Villain Scene: The Core event of the Action story, this is the moment when the hero’s gift is expressed. 
The villain is probably the commission because they want the apocalypse to happen. So it’s the moment when Vanya performs and her siblings try to stop her, but the time cops are there too to stop them stop Vanya.

The Hero’s Sacrifice Is Rewarded Scene (extrapersonal, intrapersonal, interpersonal)
We don’t know the effects of moving all of the UA has on Five, something he has never tried before. 

What are the conventions of the global genre?

Hero, Victim, Villain
Five is the hero (possibly Diego, Allison, Klaus, and Ben). The victim is the planet as well as all of humanity. The villain is the commission, Leonard Peabody, Vanya.

Hero’s Object of Desire
save the world and his family

Power Divide between Hero and Villain
Five has his family, the commission has an army of time cops and time itself.

Speech in Praise of the villain.
Hargreaves praise/ fear of Vanya’s powers 

3. Point of View

In the comic book, each scene had a different POV-character as the main character of that particular scene. Sometimes there were even some of the POV-characters in one scene together. 

In a novel, those POV-Shifts within a scene can be confusing because we can’t always seem to follow who sees or thinks what. But a comic book as well as a movie consists of different frames and provides a better point to see the action from an outside angle. 

As a viewer, we want to follow the action where it goes. We don’t wanna be stuck with one person’s limited point of view. That’s why switching the POV in comic books and TV Shows is possible.

In a novel, it’s easier to find the POV-character because you stay with that one person throughout the scene. In a comic book or movie, the writer and the artist are allowed to leave out the POV-character in certain frames of the scene to show the surroundings, reactions and other characters in the scene. So as a reader you feel more distant about what’s going on. 

If you have trouble finding the POV-character of a scene, look to the one person who faces the biggest crisis question. Sometimes that’s hard because there seem to be more than one crisis questions for the different characters. If that’s the case, ask yourself the question: Who has the most to gain/lose in the scene. That could be your POV-character.

4. What are the objects of desire?

Save the World; Save the Family

Melanie: I have the same Wants and Needs as I’ve come up with for the first volume of the comic book:

The external object of desire for the global story (WANT): The members of the Umbrella Academy want to save the world. (Action)

The internal object of desire for the global story (NEED): The members of the Umbrella Academy need to understand that even though they have grown up, they do not see the person each one of them has become. They need to put their black and white worldview aside and see the shades of grey in each of their personalities. (Worldview)

Parul: The story would be stronger if they could unite the team earlier to focus on the same desire. Vanya is trying to feel good, Luther is trying to validate his time on the moon, he’s focused on solving the crime against his father. Diego wants justice after his Patch is killed by Hazel and chacha

5. What is the controlling idea/theme?

The world (life) is not saved when the dysfunctional family of superheroes can’t come together.

6. What are the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff?

Beginning Hook:

Years ago, a billionaire adopted 7 children who were born with supernatural powers and created the Umbrella Academy. When the billionaire dies, his remaining disparate children are brought together for his funeral. Two of them are missing: Ben who died in an accident, and Five (a time traveler) who disappeared as a child. Five appears at the Funeral, in the body of a child, and tells them that he has been trapped in the future. Worse, he has seen the end of the world and warns them that they have 8 days until the destruction of the planet. His siblings are all too focused on their own problems to believe him. 

Middle Build:

When the Meritech lab is destroyed by an explosion and the last clue to find out who will get the artificial eye is lost, and the Handler returns to offer Five a new job in the Commission, he has to make the decision if he wants to work for the Commission again to let the end of the world happen and save himself (and his family), or try to save everyone by deceiving the Commission by basically gambling with the entire life on the planet?

Five decides he’ll work for the Commission again and he receives a new clue to stop the end of the world.

Ending Payoff:

When Vanya almost kills Allison and the family discovers that Vanya possesses dangerous powers, Vanya returns to the mansion for help.  The family decides to confine her instead of helping her understand her powers, causing her to lose her mind, escape, destroy the mansion and ultimately destroy the world.

Summary: The Umbrella Academy Season 1

Did it work?

Melanie: My trouble was that my expectations were set so high on the action story that I needed to get used to how much they focused on the internal struggles of all the characters. I missed the great life to the death fight scenes a lot from the comic book. But I get it, that they wanted to focus more on the characters. I still feel that the comic book balanced internal and external struggles so well, that both pushed the plot forward. In the TV series, I feel it’s more on standstill. After all, it’s about the end of the world and they are not doing anything about it.

And added to that, at the end of season 1 they haven’t managed to save the world. But I guess that will become something like the overall super challenge while the next season might turn around something completely different – like they’re back in time and need to solve other problems first before they can come back to save the world from the apocalypse. Which is also a great help to let the characters develop so that they’re ready to take on that big enormous challenge in the end.

But well, they have traveled back in time again and Five releases his gift on the highest level he’s ever done. That serves as a great cliffhanger for season 2. And it’s well done because it focuses on Number 5 as the main protagonist. Him seeing the end of the world was the inciting incident to season 1 and the failure of accomplishing it, is probably the inciting incident to season 2. And again, if you compare season 1 to volume 1 of the comic book, it couldn’t have strayed away any further. The beginning, the death of Hargreeves, and the threat, the apocalypse, have stayed the same, but the rest of all the plot points they’ve changed completely. And for someone who highly appreciates the incredible storytelling in the comic books of The Umbrella Academy and that big mystery box the writer Gerard Way had created, I disliked how many open questions have already been answered in the first season of the TV show. Be it the mystery around Hargreeves Death or Vanya’s past or the past future life of Number 5 just to mention a few.

So I conclude by saying that my expectations were really high because of the masterfully told story in the comic books. I consider the Umbrella Academy Comic Book as a masterwork for telling an action – saviour miniplot story. But season 1 of the TV Series had changed the primary genre. There’s still action, but it seems like the internal genres of each character (Status for Luther and Vanya, Worldview for Allison and Klaus, and Morality for Five) were much stronger than in the comic book. In the comic book they were there too, but they supported and influenced the primary genre of action. Here, as said, not so much. So I will stay a fan of the comic book and if it wasn’t for the awesome portrayal of the characters in the TV show, I guess I wouldn’t watch the next season.

Randall: Too many coincidences, tropes, and unanswered questions to be really great – however, in the end, it turns out I like dysfunctional superhero shows, I’ll watch the 2nd series, but if it doesn’t pick up I might not watch the whole thing.

Parul: I think that the inciting incident needs to be clearer and that progressive complications should be truly progressive complications. A lot of what seems like a progressive complication – Luther’s time on the Moon, his investigation into his father’s death, the mother as a robot, Five’s chase of the eye, these become irrelevant.

Bonus

Global Five Commandments for Number Five

Melanie:

I’d like to sum up the series by using the five commandments for the global story.

But before I can do that, we need to clarify who’s the protagonist.

Who’s the character we’re gonna focus on if we want to sum up the story of season 1?

I think that Number Five is the main protagonist of the story.

I do even consider Five the main protagonist of the Comic Book series because he’s the one where you can see clearly how high the stakes are.

In Season 1 of the Umbrella Academy, all of Five’s siblings follow their own little queries. Luther tries to solve a murder mystery, Allison wants to be a better sister because she needs someone to take care of since she’s not allowed to see her daughter.

Klaus is Klaus until he travels back in time and finds meaning through experiencing love for the first time.

Vanya is caught in her own love and performance story, and Diego is out on Revenge on Hazel and Cha Cha.

Meanwhile, Five tries to stop the end of the world. He had seen what will happen and he tries to stop it. He is so caught up in his ways of doing things alone that he can’t ask his siblings for help.

He doesn’t see them fit for helping him at all, because their fight at the funeral showed him that they haven’t changed a single bit.

His quest to prevent the looming apocalypse, which only he knows about, is the strongest of Umbrella Academy’s multiple storylines.

Considering Five as the main protagonist, here’s the 5 Commandments of the global story:

  1. Inciting Incident: Five has seen the end of the world.
  2. Progressive Complications: Five is stuck in the body of an adolescent boy, is hunted by the commission, his family hasn’t changed
    Progressive Complication Turning Point: Meritech Lab explodes and destroys Five’s hope of finding the owner of the artificial eye (Randall: family learns that Vanya has deadly powers she can’t control)
  3. Crisis: Does Five Work for the Commission again to let the end of the world happen and save himself (and his family), or try to save everyone by deceiving the Commission? (Randall: how does the family deal with this? embrace Vanya and help her deal with her powers or imprison her)
  4. Climax: Five Works for the commission where he finds the clue about ‚Protect Harold Jenkins‘, who’s later killed by Vanya. (Randall – imprison her causing her to lose trust in the family)
  5. Resolution: You can’t change the time. Everything still happened as it was supposed to happen. The apocalypse took place. (Randall – Vanya causes the end of the world, UA can’t stop it, but Five saves the family)

If you’re interested to learn what the Beginning Hook, Middle Build and Ending Payoff are for the first volume of the comic book and for the characters of Luther, Vanya, Diego and Five, here’s a link to my website of editing-comics.com where you’ll find the complete analysis of the comic book Apocalypse Suite.

Heroic Journey

Melanie: Theory for Five’s Past

1. The hero is introduced in the Ordinary World where…

Five lives alone with a mannequin for over 30 years at the end of the world. (episode 5)


2. He or she receives a call to adventure

Handler from the commission wants to recruit him / hire him as a time correction assassin. (episode 5)


3. He or she is reluctant at first or refuses the call, but

Five years of service so that he can go back in time to start everything from happening. reluctant because she tells him he can’t change the apocalypse. (episode 5)


4. He or she is encouraged by a mentor to

This is reflected in their father’s teachings and his influence that they are special children meant to make a difference.


5. Cross the first threshold and enter the special world where

Five is trained and becomes the best assassin for time corrections and removals. (episode 5)


6. He or she encounters tests, allies, and enemies…

only shown swiftly as he shoots very famous people, engages with the Handler, and works with the commision. (episode 5)


7. After these trials, he or she approaches an inmost cave (a psychological challenge that he or she must contend with) that will force him or her to operate at the outer limits of his or her capacity.

The equation to return back to the time he had left, which goes wrong and puts him 8 days before the apocalypse. (episode 5)


8. This is where he or she will suffer an ordeal.

Five has to kill JFK. (episode 5) (Randall – The ordeal is that Five has to convince his family to help)


9. After the ordeal is complete, he or she takes possession of the reward (a highly valuable skill)…

Five is now a trained assassin, awesome fighter and is able to travel back in time (episode 5) (Reward is Harold’s name)


10. But negative forces pursue the hero on the road back to the ordinary world.

Hazel and Cha Cha are hired to eliminate Number Five. (episode 1, 2 …)


11. He crosses a third threshold back to the ordinary world and experiences a resurrection.

Five is back in time but caught in his teenage body. (episode 1) (the team is back together, mostly)


12. Transformed by the experience he or she uses his or her new skill to

better the world around him or her.

Five tries to stop the end of the world. (episode 1-10) (Randall – transfers the family to safety)

Randall:  Theory for entire Umbrella Academy

I think we can take this a step further and apply the hero’s journey to the whole Umbrella Academy.


1. The hero is introduced in the Ordinary World where…

The Umbrella Academy’s ordinary world is to be a crime-stopping superhero team


2. He or she receives a call to adventure

The call to adventure is to continue being a superhero team


3. He or she is reluctant at first or refuses the call, but

But the members drift away for various reasons and do their own thing


4. He or she is encouraged by a mentor to

This is reflected in their father’s teachings and his influence that they are special children meant to make a difference.


5. Cross the first threshold and enter the special world where

They are brought back together by the death of their father and the revelation that the world will end soon


6. He or she encounters tests, allies, and enemies…

They are challenged by Cha Cha and Hazel, the Commission, finding the owner of the eye, and Leonard/ Harold.  They are joined by Patch, mom, and Pogo.


7. After these trials, he or she approaches an inmost cave (a psychological challenge that he or she must contend with) that will force him or her to operate at the outer limits of his or her capacity.

Desperate to solve this destruction of the world, five comes up with a plan to threaten the Handler


8. This is where he or she will suffer an ordeal.

Five is brought back to work with the commission which he hates


9. After the ordeal is complete, he or she takes possession of the reward (a highly valuable skill)…

Five obtains Harold’s name


10. But negative forces pursue the hero on the road back to the ordinary world.

The commission is still alive despite the damage five inflicted


11. He crosses a third threshold back to the ordinary world and experiences a resurrection.

The team is finally coming together to stop the end of the world; the resurrection is the team coming together.


12. Transformed by the experience he or she uses his or her new skill to

better the world around him or her.

Finally united as a team, even with Vanya, Five is emboldened to try to transfer his family at once to save them from the destruction of the world.

What’s next?

The Witcher! Watch it on Netflix!!

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If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.

These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.

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