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The Time Travel Rules That Five Has To Follow On Umbrella Academy

From Doctor Who to Back to the Future, every time travel-centric show or movie follows a certain set of rules, and Netflix's The Umbrella Academy is no different. The show's resident time traveler, Five, has a set of time travel rules he has to follow, although he's often of the mind that rules are made to be broken. Unfortunately for the brilliant time traveler, his actions always have consequences.

The Umbrella Academy writers have been candid about the difficulties of creating a time travel rulebook for the series. In Netflix's Behind the Scenes podcast, showrunner Steve Blackman and several other writers shared how they sat down to hammer out the rules for Five, as well as for The Commission. And while they initially planned to model Five's time-traveling guide after Back to the Future's set-up (essentially, if you change something in the past, it causes a ripple effect that changes your timeline as well, leading to Marty McFly almost erasing himself from existence), they ultimately decided time is too complicated for every change in the past to directly affect the futures of the main characters.

"For a long time, we've just been laboring under the Back to the Future rules," The Umbrella Academy writer Rob Askins explained. "The notion that every change in the past is gonna change your future. A sort of basic cause and effect notion. Time is messier than that, matter is messier than that. So you can go back and change things and you won't necessarily be changed ... the picture in Marty McFly's hand is not necessarily going to erase slowly."

Five's primary time travel rule on The Umbrella Academy is expect the unexpected

What's tricky about Five's powers is he doesn't have complete control over them. The first time he time travels, he ends up in a post-apocalyptic future with no way of returning home. Because he hasn't fully grasped how to move back and forth through time, he has to be careful about the jumps he makes to avoid ending up in another time he doesn't want to be in, or inadvertently changing the past so significantly he ends up triggering another apocalyptic event.

Additionally, he needs to at least try to play nice with The Commission. Even though Five doesn't have any qualms about meddling in the past or the future, The Commission's goal is to preserve major historical moments — like the Kennedy assassination — in order to keep the timeline in order. Five and his friends are far less concerned about the timeline as a whole than they should be, which leads to them averting Kennedy's assassination in season 2 and causing an apocalypse that could only be undone by allowing the president to die.

Because of this experience, Five seems to realize meddling with major world events is trickier than going back in time a few minutes to save his siblings' lives. As such, he's time-traveled enough now to know his actions in the past can cause major repercussions in the future — which means he should limit the amount of historical changes he attempts to make.

Five knows paradoxes should be avoided at all costs

One hard and fast rule Five seems to accept is paradoxes should be avoided where possible. In the world of The Umbrella Academy, paradoxes occur when you meet a version of yourself from the past or the future, which results in both parties suffering from paradox psychosis. Paradox psychosis is a seven step process which begins with denial and ends with homicidal rage — a situation Five experiences first hand when he has to work with an older version of himself in season 2.

Generally speaking, it's never a good idea for two versions of the same person to hang out with another. It goes against the natural order of time, and the universe reacts accordingly. Still, Five is willing to risk murdering himself (or being murdered by himself) if it means correcting other time travel mishaps and putting the world back on track.

Respecting the Butterfly Effect is Five's latest time travel rule

Because not every change Five and his siblings make to the past affects them in the future, they were fairly lax about living their lives in the '60s. Since none of the superpowered kids would be born until the '80s, it seemed like they were safe to do as they pleased after Five accidentally scattered them across the decade at the end of season 1.

However, since then, Five and his family have learned the hard way that the Butterfly Effect is real. While it's true that traveling back in time won't automatically mess with the characters' timelines that doesn't mean they're immune from unexpected consequences. Case in point: When they return to the present day at the end of season 2, they find an entirely different group of people at The Umbrella Academy, which is now known as The Sparrow Academy.

It's unclear how this massive shift in their own timelines will play out in season 3, but it seems safe to assume Five will have a greater respect for the Butterfly Effect moving forward.

Time travel is always complicated, but for Five, the concept is even trickier than usual, because even when he tries to follow his own rules, he just can't seem to escape the unforeseen consequences of his trips.