There was a certain amount of loyalty Steve Blackman felt when adapting “The Umbrella Academy” from its graphic novel source material to his Netflix drama — loyalty to the original’s writer and illustrator, Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, as well as to the fans. But because the streaming service encouraged him to broaden the story to entice an audience that didn’t know the original storyline, Blackman felt at ease to take certain liberties, too. “The root of the show — the logline — is it’s a dysfunctional family show with a body count. So I didn’t feel I had to stay absolutely true to the source,” he says.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Klaus
In the graphic novel, the “No. 4” superhuman, Klaus, gets shot and ends up in heaven, where he meets God — depicted as a stereotypically macho cowboy who rides up on a horse. It is a quintessential scene that Blackman wanted to keep in his version of the story, but with a few key elements altered.
For one, Blackman says, he wanted whether or not the person Klaus meets is God to be “open to interpretation.”
“Is it God? Is it Klaus’ very weird mind? Is he, in fact, dead? I wanted to allow room to allow the audience to decide,” he says.
Therefore, in the seventh episode of the first season, Klaus (played by Robert Sheehan) falls to the ground and hits his head at a rave, leaving viewers to decide for themselves whether the sequence that follows is Klaus momentarily visiting heaven or merely hallucinating after a head injury.
In that sequence, Klaus finds himself in the “French countryside,” rather than a Western world, and meets a young girl on a bicycle (played by Birva Pandya), another major change from the comic cowboy.
“Obviously the group of kids is more inclusive, so this is just one of those changes. I wasn’t trying to make a statement about God — I just didn’t want a stereotype of a male God on a horse looking down. I thought it was much more interesting to have this young girl drive up on a bike and be annoyed by all of Klaus’ questions,” Blackman says.
Diving Into Daddy Issues
The girl isn’t the only important encounter Klaus has, though. From early on in the adaptation process, Blackman knew he wanted Klaus to be the one who learned the truth about his adoptive father Sir Reginald Hargreeves’ death.
Since Klaus was such an unreliable narrator in his daily life, that added to the mysticism around whether he was dead when he learned the truth. “It makes Klaus have to work harder to say, ‘No guys, I really did talk to Dad and he told me what happened,’” Blackman explains.
For this, he scripted a new scene, which takes place in a barbershop. “I wanted to really earn a moment of Klaus having a conversation with his father, ” Blackman says.
Blackman saw the opportunity to do this in Klaus’ mind after he struck his head at the rave because of the two-fold emotional punch it would carry: If the audience believed Klaus was in heaven, this afterlife confession from his father could be seen as a way the older man was making amends with the son who called him “terrible.” If it was just in Klaus’ mind, though, it could be interpreted as the son trying to find meaning and closure with a deeply fraught relationship.
It also gave Blackman a way to juxtapose the luscious, open unknown of the outside world with the more contained concerns percolating in Klaus’ mind. And, of course, it set Klaus down a hero’s path, having “the most important information that would turn the show,” Blackman points out.