Is Ben Hargreeves trapped within some kind of nightmare dimension in The Umbrella Academy? Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy follows the Hargreeves siblings – a group of former superheroes numbered from one to seven by their adopted father, but when the audience meet these social outcasts in the modern day, only six remain. The missing Umbrella Academy member is Ben, who lives on as a ghost thanks to the clairvoyant abilities of his brother, Klaus. For much of The Umbrella Academy, Ben remains a nagging voice of reason in Klaus’ ear, but when Robert Sheehan’s character actually sobers up, he can manifest The Horror physically for everyone to see.
Ben enjoys a more prominent role in The Umbrella Academy season 2, as his spectral form proves instrumental in saving the world when Vanya is tortured by the FBI. The other Academy members can’t approach their exploding sister, with Vanya’s mental energy repelling their feeble human bodies. Without a physical form, however, Ben closes in, enters Vanya’s mind and halts her outburst. In doing so, Ben is seemingly laid to rest for good, and his soul vanishes into the ether, severing the connection with Klaus and leaving the audience to assume that Ben’s ghost is now exorcised from the mortal plane.
Despite the air of mystery surrounding Ben’s final moments in The Umbrella Academy, the story maintains one absolute – that Ben is definitively dead. There appears to be no room for debate about the finality of Ben’s life. But is it possible that the real secret behind Number Six’s death is not being dead at all?
Like his siblings, Ben Hargreeves grows and evolves over the first two seasons of The Umbrella Academy, but one major question remains – the cause of the character’s demise. Ben has already been dead for a full 13 years when The Umbrella Academy begins in 2019, but the show makes no direct reference to how he was killed. Adding to the mystery, even the original comic story by My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way sheds no light on the matter. The ambiguity becomes almost a recurring gag in the Netflix series.
The only real clue as to Ben’s fate comes during a flashback sequence in The Umbrella Academy season 2’s final episode. Set during Ben’s snow-covered funeral, Sir Reginald chastises his children for allowing Ben to die on a mission, but the scene can’t be taken at face value. Allison asserts that the other siblings weren’t at fault, and Reginald is renowned for his trickery and deception. Despite the stinging eulogy of his father, Ben still could’ve died in any number of ways – murder, a tragic accident, suicide, or something more fantastical. Until The Umbrella Academy properly shows how Ben Hargreeves kicked the bucket, even the wackiest of suggestions can’t be ruled out entirely. One outlandish possibility is that Ben was pulled into the same dimension as the tentacles he summons, which would essentially mean Ben isn’t dead at all in The Umbrella Academy.
The Umbrella Academy season 1 reveals an inscription on Ben’s memorial statue at the Hargreeves mansion, and viewers immediately theorized that these words contained a major hint in the ongoing mystery surrounding his death. The verse makes reference to “the darkness within,” which initially suggests that Ben might’ve taken his own life. In flashbacks, the younger Ben is heartbreakingly reluctant to be a crime-fighting superhero, and “darkness within” might allude to a depression that ultimately claimed him at a tragically young age. Reginald’s comments in The Umbrella Academy season 2 make suicide less likely (albeit not impossible), but the “darkness within” line could be interpreted more literally. Instead of alluding to poor mental health, the eulogy may nod towards Ben’s tentacle ability – the “darkness” harboring inside Number Six’s stomach and earning him the code name of The Horror.
In a team of super-strong apes and time-traveling teens, Ben’s powers are by far the most unique. The Horror makes his stomach a portal to an unknown dimension, allowing otherworldly tentacles to reach through and take care of enemies in bloody and brutal fashion. Neither version of The Umbrella Academy explores the nature of Ben’s abilities in any great detail, but the memorial inscription might prove that Ben Hargreeves fell into the very alternate dimension he once drew power from.
The most intriguing aspect of Ben’s ghostly existence is his continued aging. Ben died in 2006, when the Academy members were in their mid-teens, and the photo atop Ben’s casket clearly shows a younger face than the one haunting Klaus in 2019. Ben’s ghost is portrayed by the 30-year-old Justin H. Min and, despite being a phantom, the dead Hargreeves sibling appears to be just as old as his living brothers and sisters. If Ben died as a teen in 2006, it makes no sense for his ghost to carry on aging.
Some might argue that Ben’s age in The Umbrella Academy is less a plot hole and more a narrative convenience – perhaps casting an adult actor improved the Hargreeves family dynamic. But with Aidan Gallagher brilliantly playing a teenage Number Five, casting another teen as Ben surely wouldn’t have posed a problem for The Umbrella Academy. Even if Ben’s casting was a decision made of convenience, The Umbrella Academy could’ve easily covered their inconsistency by not showing Ben as a teenager. The show’s openness would imply that Ben’s ghostly aging is no mere oversight.
If Ben entered an alternate dimension instead of dying in 2006, the aging of his “ghost” starts to make sense. The obvious follow-up question would then be how Klaus can commune with his brother if Ben is still alive. The answer may come from Reginald Hargreeves himself, who claimed that Klaus had only scratched the surface of his abilities in The Umbrella Academy season 1. Rather than simply manifesting the dead, Klaus may be able to contact beings from any dimension, the afterlife being only one possibility. So while Klaus believed he was seeing Ben’s ghost, he was actually speaking with a living Ben through dimensions, which explains why the apparition continued aging.
As mentioned previously, Ben so obviously hated using his powers in battle. Where Luther got to punch people and Five could zip around the room, Ben could only rip open his stomach and stand back while his opponents were torn to shreds, getting covered in blood each time. It’s easy to see where his reluctance might’ve come from, but Ben’s trepidation could be due to lacking control over his powers. Just as Five attempted time travel and ended up trapped in the future, Ben might’ve been swallowed by his own inter-dimensional link. Whatever produces the mysterious tentacles, it probably doesn’t consider Ben its master. If Ben used his ability during a mission and the tentacles weren’t satisfied with their meal, perhaps Ben was taken as a second course, leaving Number Six trapped in the alternate dimension to this day.
Without advanced knowledge of theoretical physics, the Umbrella Academy would naturally assume that Ben was dead – especially after Klaus pierced the veil and began communicating with his brother between worlds. And since Ben is permanently attached to his brother’s side, he may not even realize what truly happened, mistaking the alternate dimension for the afterlife. After helping Vanya in The Umbrella Academy season 2, Ben believed he was finally letting go of Klaus and moving on. In reality, he might be letting go of Klaus and heading straight back into a Cthulhu-esque nightmare.
The truth might finally be uncovered thanks to The Umbrella Academy season 3. In the alternate 2019, Ben is still alive as an adult, and likely has a better understanding of inter-dimensional superpowers than his counterpart. The Sparrow Academy’s Ben could explain what really happened in 2006 and prove that Ben can still be rescued. In an act of solidarity with his Umbrella Academy rivals, the alternate Ben might even dive into the multiverse himself, pulling the original Ben free from his nightmarish prison.