The Umbrella Academy Theory: Ben Killed Himself

The Umbrella Academy Theory: Ben Killed Himself

Ben’s tragedy in The Umbrella Academy isn’t just that he died (twice), it’s that he killed himself. The biggest mystery in Netflix’s phenomenally successful show relates to the most heartbreaking moment in the Academy’s lives – the death of their brother – which was at the root of much of the group’s conflict. And it’s possible that Ben’s story is even darker than it initially seems.

As in Gerard Way’s original Umbrella Academy comic, Ben’s death remains a mystery, and the way the show deals with the fallout of his death at a young age is very much part of the show’s successful model of storytelling. The results of the death – from Ben’s ghostly relationship with Klaus to the way his death changed Sir Reginald’s relationship with his children as well as their own sibling dynamic – are arguably more important than how it happened. But there are references throughout the first two seasons that seem to consciously seek to add a sort of mystique to those events, encouraging fans to debate what happened.

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

Related: Umbrella Academy: Everything We Know About Ben’s Death

Crucially, there are also hints in The Umbrella Academy season 1 and 2 that suggest that Ben tragically took his own life, which changes the entire dynamic of the moment and makes Ben’s story even more heartbreaking. It could also explain why Ben is only able to use his powers after death through Klaus and also why he sticks around as a ghost at all.

Ben’s Death Is A Secret On Purpose

Justin Min as Ben in The Umbrella Academy

Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy comics are no help to working out the secret of Ben’s death. Way explained to IGN that the answer to Ben’s death was “beyond a spoiler” because it hadn’t been explored in the comics and was important to them, suggesting he clearly has an idea on how it happened. Even The Umbrella Academy’s Netflix show-runner, Steve Blackman has no idea how it happened. All that’s revealed of what happened is what Sir Reginald says by way of a eulogy for Ben, as he accuses his young charges of allowing Number Six to die and refuses to hear any excuses.

It’s interesting to note the rest of the Hargreeves’ reactions to the funeral: Allison protests that it wasn’t any of the children’s fault, Luther seems to feel guilt saying “Dad was right, we should have done more, this didn’t have to happen” and Diego takes that as a challenge saying he “couldn’t do it all by myself…you’re supposed to be Number One!” Clearly, there is more to the story than has been revealed and the drip-feed of information is actively designed to make fans speculate. Crucially, if there wasn’t more reason to discuss the details of Ben’s death in The Umbrella Academy, it would have been made explicitly clear what happened. In reality, the show wants Ben’s death to do for the audience what Sir Reginald says the children must do: “let it fester in your hearts. So there is never a next time.”

The Lesson Of Ben Hargreeves’ Death Is Unity

It’s interesting, from that point on that the main thrust of The Umbrella Academy sees the Hargreeves attempting to get back together and mend fractured relationships, even when they’re spread across time. Whenever something threatens to go wrong it’s because one of them is isolated or refuses to act as part of the team. Five’s time as an assassin, Viktor’s relationship with Leonard, Diego’s wilful independence in season 2… all of it leads to trouble. In effect, the lesson they learned from Ben’s death was to look after one another and to stay together as a family. Even Sir Reginald’s own suicide was designed to bring his children back together.

Related: Umbrella Academy: Every Superpower The Show Changed (Or Left Out)

Crucially, Viktor’s importance to The Umbrella Academy apocalypse could be seen as the “next time” Sir Reginald was warning about. While he played the tyrant and emotionally abused her to keep her powers under control for the greater good, he still allowed Viktor to be part of the family. He could have cast him off, but he recognized the importance of that support from Viktor’s siblings, which is the same drive that made him make the children a “mother”. It is also no accident that the apocalypse, in both seasons so far, has been fended off by the Academy coming together. In effect, the Academy may be flawed, but it functions best for its members when it acts with the same support mechanisms that are often missing for those in despair.

Ben’s Tombstone Explains His Dark Secret

The secret to The Umbrella Academy’s Ben death could lie in his headstone. Despite the suggested manner of his death being tragic but heroic on his final mission, Ben’s monument is not one that would be expected of such a noble sacrifice. Instead, the inscription reads, “May the darkness within you find peace in the light”, which clearly has two meanings. The darkness within relates to the nature of Ben’s powers and his function as a conduit to a dark dimension, but in more typical use, the image of “darkness within” suggests emotional turmoil and despair. And “finding peace” again reflects the idea of someone defined by struggle and conflict – exactly the kind of eulogy you would expect of someone who had taken their own life, in fact.

Ben Killed Himself Because Of His Powers

The last remaining question, naturally, is why Ben would kill himself and it could be linked to his powers. All of The Umbrella Academy’s 3 seasons have a running theme in terms of how each of the children feels about their own powers, which explains why most of them barely use them. Five is easily the most active, but even he is reluctant to use them, primarily because his lack of control led to him basically ruining his entire life. Luther despises the physical modifications made to his body, Alison seeks normalcy more than anything, Viktor was actively forced to suppress his powers, Klaus fears his and Diego chooses not to use his as an expression of his desire to prove himself to his father. There’s even a hint of Ben’s relationship with his tentacle powers: during the bank robbery scene, the others are almost reveling in their powers, but Ben is reluctant and has to be forced to use his.

It could be that Ben’s use of his powers came at a great cost to him. He was, after all, turning his body into a portal for unspeakable monstrosities. After he’s used his powers, he emerges covered in blood, and his nickname in the comics is The Horror. It would be foolish not to think this would all come at some psychological cost. What’s more, Ben’s powers were so formidable that it seems unlikely he could have been killed in conventional ways; more likely, he could no longer live with being forced to use such nightmarish powers and instead turned them on himself, perhaps allowing his body to be taken back to the dimension the tentacles emerged from. That could even offer a solution to why Ben ages after his death.

Related: The Umbrella Academy: Why Diego Never Uses His Superpowers

Even his decision not to cross over – which he tells Klaus was his own choice and not something Klaus forced him to do – could have been a reflection of the manner of his death. Tragically, Ben’s reasons for killing himself – not being able to cope with family pressure and duty and the cost of his powers – were removed when he died and his ties to his family were clearer. He took the only chance he had left to stay. Ultimately, this is all still important even beyond Ben’s second death, because a new Ben is involved in The Umbrella Academy season 3, so it may be that an answer is finally definitively offered.

Ben’s Umbrella Academy Season 3 Sparrow Academy Appearance Explained

Justin H Min as Ben Hargreeves The Sparrow Academy Number One The Umbrella Academy

Ben’s tragic death was always theorized to be temporary, and now it’s confirmed that not only is Ben alive in The Umbrella Academy season 3, but he’s also Number One at Reginald Hargreeves’ alternate-timeline Sparrow Academy. The question of how Ben can still be alive after having died as a child in the show’s original timeline is fairly easy to answer, though; since the other Hargreeves siblings altered the past with their time in the 60s, the events in their present that led to Ben’s death can easily have been impacted and changed. The more puzzling problem is why Ben was included in Hargreeves’ new and improved Academy while the other six Umbrella members were not.

There are two main theories that explain this. The first is that Reginald never found out about Ben when he met his other children in the 60s and therefore had no reason to be disappointed in him and choose another child for the Sparrow Academy instead. The other is that Reginald did know of Ben, but simply couldn’t resist recruiting him a second time because of his powers. Either way, The Umbrella Academy season 3 is sure to offer a bittersweet reunion between Ben and the other six siblings.

More: Why Sparrow Ben Can Be Even More Powerful Than The Umbrella Academy’s

Want more Umbrella Academy Articles? Check out our essential reading below…

Game of Thrones Season 8 Finale Jon Snow

Game Of Thrones Sequel Series About Jon Snow In Development

About The Author

Simon Gallagher
(414 Articles Published)

Simon is the Head of Features for Screen Rant and a veteran editor who has been writing online since 2010 – long before anyone wanted to read his work. He loves Clueless. Like, a lot.

Previously seen at WhatCulture, Simon has been with Screen Rant since August 2020. If you’ve read anything on Grease here, he was probably behind it.

More From Simon Gallagher

Author: Deann Hawkins