Warning: The following contains spoilers for Secret Invasion through episode three and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Secret Invasion episode three, Betrayed, is an odd combination of things that are wonderfully layered and weighty while at the same time having things that feel dumped into it because there was nowhere else in the season to put them.
Also the show is overly fond of shooting women.
We might as well get into it.
The Good and Questionable of Secret Invasion: Betrayed
MCU’s Secret Invasion continues to prove what happens when you cast good actors and let them do their thing. Though this did not have the beauty of monologues like what we got from Samuel L Jackson in episode two’s Promises, there were still multiple scenes where the dialogue would’ve fallen flat if not for the actors able to meet a challenge even a slightly less talented person would’ve struggled to face.
First was Priscilla, where Charlayne Woodard had to single handedly sell the audience on her and Nick Fury not only having thirty plus years of history but that she as a character was interesting enough that said history included marriage. Which meant not only having the right chemistry with Samuel L Jackson, but also being able to deliver a monologue of her own where she had to convey not only her love for her husband but her grief at his loss.
Difficult in another way was the history between Nick Fury and Talos. Here the banter between the two of them - flowing easily between Samuel L Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn - helped convey the idea that this was a conversational rhythm built over the course of thirty years. Then there was the meaning and gravitas given to new to the audience information like finding out Nick Fury has been using Skrull spies since Talos and his compatriots came to Earth.
Much like with Priscilla, a name I’m continuing to use because that’s how she’s listed in the credits, the information about the Skrulls is a significant piece of Nick Fury’s history which we have never heard before. The mere concepts then become a hard sell, particularly for an audience with a not insignificant percentage of people ready to “Um, ACTUALLY….” anything they perceive as contradicting what they believe is the actual real world decades-long plan for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Kevin Feige himself does not sleep at night unless he’s personally supervised the positions of the dust motes on set to ensure they properly set up and foreshadow the next four phases of movies.
Which of course is also a percentage of the audience which will dismiss anything that doesn’t fit into their MCU worldview regardless of how well it’s presented. But even so I do think everyone involved here understood the challenge they were facing and handled it pretty well. Nothing was too over the top and everything felt believable as something that might have been done by the guy whose secrets have secrets. Even the use of Skrull spies doesn’t come off as a cheating retcon about Nick Fury’s rise to power as much as it does an example of how smart he was to recognize this potential from the very beginning and use it to his advantage.
Of course that once again raises the question of whether Nick Fury doing this made him the good guy, or at the very least a good guy, but I still feel as though the show is aware of this and not ignoring the implications.
Particularly since the show is also showing a deft hand at other implications without hitting the audience over the head with them. Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Gravik talks a nice talk about the people who care more about posing for pictures while others get blood on their hands, but over the course of three episodes we’ve seen that Gravik is exactly that kind of leader. He’ll do an action if it lets him show off, like setting the bomb off in episode one, or if he cares about sending a personal message like killing off G’iah, but otherwise it’s the others who have to get their hands dirty. Even last week we noticed how often he literally handed over his gun to others for them to use instead of him.
Though this does bring us to the show’s fondness for shooting women in the chest. Sigh.
Look, even if we didn’t recognize that you don’t hire Emilia Clarke of all people to effectively be a background character who gets unceremoniously killed off halfway through the season, there’s also the part where we haven’t seen all of her scenes that were revealed in the trailer yet. Sure, this being a Marvel show about shapeshifters means that those scenes could be anything from G’iah isn’t dead to flashbacks to the person Emilia is playing there isn’t actually G’iah. But point being something more is coming. I know better than to treat the scene of G’iah being shot and seemingly killed as the whole of that story.
That being said, that’s two times that we’ve seen important women get shot in the chest 1) to hurt the men who care about them and 2) as afterthoughts to their own lives. First was Maria Hill in episode one and now G’iah in episode three. So either the show is purposefully using this visual language as a way to hint to the audience that the repeated pattern means there’s more going on than meets the eye or the show was oblivious to how even a fakeout death should have more meaning.
I’m willing to wait the remaining three episodes to decide, but as Nick Fury says I’ve got my eye on it.
It’s not helped by another continued pattern I’ve noticed, which is weak editing decisions. Now I’m not naming the editors here because when I call out sub par work I like to be sure I’m not throwing blame around willy nilly. There are many reasons why a show can have bad editing and only one of them is that the editor isn’t good at their job.
To that end, we have some hint that the problem may be before we even get to the editing bay because episodes one through three all have different editors. The person who edited episode two did also work on three, but not alone. So that right there hints to me that we may be looking at production issues more than anything else.
But let’s take a step back and talk about the issue, which is that the show repeatedly has edits which do not properly connect its narrative. There’s a particularly easy example to see in episode three when Gravik and G’iah arrive in London. An establishing shot of a location is editing 101. You want the audience to know where the characters are, you show them the city or building they’re about to be in. The Russos are famous (some might even say notorious) for theirs, for example.
If you need more of a connective thread you’ll show how the characters got there. For example if you show a character saying “Let’s go” and walking away, you might throw in a shot of them getting out of a car before entering a building just to clarify that they didn’t walk from the last scene to the current one.
This kind of visual language is so understood in movies and television it’s typically unnoticed while still serving the function of necessary structure for the audience to rely on. It’s like using “said” in written stories: the word itself is effectively invisible but it still helps the reader know who is talking.
Keeping all this in mind, look at the transition we get from Gravik and G’iah in Russia to them in London. We go from Gravik talking to G’iah in presumably the middle of the night because he just woke her up, then we see them coming out of a private plane, then we get a shot of unidentifiable buildings, then Gravik and G’iah in a car. What about any of this tells the audience useful information?
I mean I suppose there could be something said for Gravik being happy to spend the money on a private plane while back home all the Skrulls appear to be using computers running on, at best, 4mb of RAM and the finest software that Windows 95 can provide. But if that’s the case this is not the moment to set that up. Or it needs to be set up clearer by having G’iah take a moment to look at the plane while we’re also seeing her collect herself before leaving it.
In establishing shots plane means how did they get there, and frankly if the trip was Russia to London the audience can easily guess that answer. If we’d gotten a clearer shot of London before showing G’iah and Gravik in the car that would’ve done all of the heavy lifting. Instead the shot of the city established nothing - we’re not even seeing a building that’s easy to recognize from the top like the Houses of Parliament or even the Gherkin for that matter.
And while I do think there is some element of obviously missing pieces in the story where the lack of connective tissue is on purpose to help hint of reveals to come, basic establishing shots like this usually aren’t it. Not unless there’s a scene later where they need to reveal G’iah doing something in secret while she was on the plane, for example. And even then there’s no reason not to use a proper shot of London.
Which is why to me this suggests there was some kind of a mess going on with what was sent to editing, and as the old staying goes garbage in = garbage out. For instance, to my eye that moment of Gravik and G’iah getting off the plane wasn’t included in the episode because it was considered necessary for the viewer, it was included because they filmed it and oh shit they need to justify the expense even though later changes meant the scene wasn’t as important anymore.
But we shall see. We’ve got three episodes to see how well they handle the setup so far.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- Seriously, what is up with the old computers? I get that they’re using an abandoned nuclear reactor but that’s why the location looks old. They’ve got money for a SuperSkrull creation machine but not a couple of Chromebooks?
- I’m assuming the glowing in Gravik’s hand as he healed was meant to hint that he’s already given himself Extremis. Which does remind us all that they never said what, if anything, Tony Stark did about “fixing” it after Iron Man 3. Don’t mind me, just sitting over here on the bench of people bitter that they never bothered to clarify if Pepper Potts has super powers or not.
- Part of the reason why I think we’ve not seen the last of G’iah specifically instead of through flashbacks or another character is that Emilia Clarke was 100% channeling her inner Mother of Dragons during her last scene with Gravik and you don’t ask Emilia Clarke to pull on that much nobility and steely leadership to have her be interrupted and dumped on the ground like trash. There were a lot of levels of strength G’iah could’ve been showing in that moment and which Emilia Clarke has the skill to pull off. Again: maybe it will turn out to be a poor decision on the part of the show but at this moment I’m not considering it accidental.
- As soon as Gravik dropped the information about the nukes in the car I knew G’iah was being set up. That being said, I appreciated how it was still a danger that needed to be averted, thus making it the right choice on her part to tell Talos. I was braced for the reveal at Bob’s house to be that it was entirely a trap that G’iah had been stupid enough to fall for.
- So let me get this straight: Fury and Talos were in a race against the clock which required blowing G’iah’s cover and putting her life on the line for the sake of a code word that would’ve been rejected as too weak and obvious if Bob had used it for his Spotify password? Seriously? I mean I get that they’re not going to have Ben Mendelsohn read out “32o98snndss!#DI” but come on. Throw us something like a “Zero - Foxtrot - Bravo - Niner” or whatever. Even the Winter Soldier had a harder code phrase than the nukes!
- I don’t want to backseat drive Gravik’s leadership here but if you’re going through all the trouble to put your undercover people in place to launch a nuclear weapon and you’ve got three of of your own guys to work with maybe, I dunno, take over both people who are responsible for turning the keys? This seemed like a whole bunch of steps and easily fucked up opportunities for a problem that could’ve been solved by hitting key guy #2 in the head while he was using the bathroom and putting one of the other two Skrulls in his place as well. I’m just saying.
- Why hello there, voice of Don Cheadle on the phone.
And that’s all for this week! See you next week for whatever episode four may bring.