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The Umbrella Academy Detail That Puts A Harsher Light On Carl

When it comes to likable characters on The Umbrella Academy, the superhero family that's perpetually trying to stop the apocalypse from occurring is ripe with choices. Unfortunately, not all characters are oozing with likability on season 2 – like Carl Cooper (Stephen Bogaert), husband of Sissy (Marin Ireland) and father of Harlan (Justin Paul Kelly), who probably has a tough time making the top of the list of people's favorite TV show characters.

Carl and Sissy enter The Umbrella Academy story in 1960s Dallas, when Sissy accidentally hits Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page), who's suffering from amnesia, with her car. Sissy takes Vanya into her household while Vanya tries to remember who she is, and she eventually becomes a live-in nanny for Carl and Sissy's son Harlan, who has autism. Sissy and Vanya start developing feelings for one another, leading to them engaging in an affair behind Carl's back. Vanya also saves a drowning Harlan from dying but unwittingly transfers her powers to him.

Inevitably, Vanya wants Sissy, who's unhappy in her marriage, to run away with her. Carl threatens to send Harlan to a mental intuition if Vanya doesn't leave. Later, when Vanya uses her powers to stop an explosion elsewhere, it causes Harlan's abilities to also activate. A scared Carl proceeds to take Harlan to a mental institution, but is stopped short by Sissy. When Carl fires a bullet at his son, it deflects, hitting him and changing the family's life forever.

Two wrongs don't make a happy family

Carl has been painted a monster, but it doesn't come without reason. As long as a character redeems himself or herself, said character can bounce back from some pretty unimaginable mistakes, but Carl never did. In Carl's defense, he was trying to support his wife, son, and, for an extended period of time, an amnestic Vanya. Carl isn't the best father, as he doesn't understand how to help his son and is no stranger to coming home drunk from places he probably shouldn't attend as a family man. Yes, his wife cheated on him with the same person he welcomed into his home and supported, and, yes, his wife also tried to run off with that same person along with their son. 

But two wrongs don't make a right, and an eye-for-an-eye tactic shouldn't be played on a family member or someone you love. Carl's final decision led to his death, and he reached that point because he, understandably or not, wanted to take Harlan to a mental institution — a detail that puts an even harsher light on Carl.

Mental institutions weren't the same in the '60s as they are now

As Reddit user u/TimmaFrop points out, mental institutions weren't the same back in the day as they are now — although Diego (David Castañeda) did find himself institutionalized for his obsession with preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the second season of The Umbrella Academy. And mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions weren't as understood and accepted in 1960 as they are today. It can be argued that Carl is a patient and forgiving man for wanting to patch things up with Sissy, and perhaps Carl and Sissy don't have the capacity to understand Harlan's experiences, but still, Carl rushes his son to an institution as a solution to his problems — and, as many fans have argued, what appears to be a punishment for his wife.

Times change, as do mental and physical health procedures. Doctors aren't always on the right side of history just because they have a framed diploma. While there were, of course, adequate medical professionals in the '60s and this is a TV show that figured out time travel, there was a time when mental disorders were treated as haphazardly as, say, demonic possessions.

Sinister procedures aside, Carl was ready to take his son to a mental institution without a proper and well-thought-out conversation with his wife, who absolutely doesn't want that path for Harlan. While this is what they knew at the time, a person doesn't need to put on hindsight goggles to realize that taking a kid to a place that can endanger them rather than help them is a big decision.

Again, we're talking about a show that's figured out time travel — there could have been other capable and perhaps advanced procedures available — but using the take-my-son-to-an-institution ultimatum card so Vanya will disappear is typical, well, Carl. In all fairness, Carl was right in raising suspicion about Vanya, but it came at a ghastly cost.