Warning: The following contains spoilers for Secret Invasion through episode five and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Secret Invasion episode five, Harvest, frustrates me.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s aspects of it that I liked. G’iah and Priscilla talking and fighting side by side was amazing. I’d watch an entire series of the two of them doing just that. Likewise I enjoyed the long shot of Fury and Skrull Rhodey threatening each other in the hallway at the hospital. And Olivia Coleman continues to delight as she clearly has the time of her life and please god let there be more Sonya Falsworth in the MCU because we’ll all be better for it.
But the thing I keep coming back to, as I touched on when talking about episode four, Beloved, is that I cannot for the life of me guess a thesis statement for this show. Even if episode six reveals some massive twist we should still be able to, five episodes in, say what Secret Invasion is trying to do.
Which gets into talking about Harvest as a whole so we may as well get into it.
What Is Secret Invasion Trying to Accomplish?
As I’ve talked about so often now I’m not even going to bother hitting you with the links, TV shows need to know what they are about. They need a statement that is sometimes literally put on the first page of the show bible and/or written at the top of the writer’s room whiteboard saying this is the thing every script needs to aim for.
Now the statement doesn’t have to be profound. “You know what’s cool? Giant robots beating up kaiju.” is a perfectly valid thesis statement. (Which admittedly undersells that movie which is about more than that but point being if it had been only that it still would’ve been totally fine and still really fucking cool.) But you need something to define what your show is about or else you get a huge mess.
When we look back at the various Disney+ Marvel shows we can see the ones who had a thesis vs the ones who either didn’t have one or who had a bad one. Good ones include WandaVision, which was about exploring trauma and grief. Falcon and the Winter Soldier was about what does it mean to be a superhero on behalf of a country that hasn’t loved you or anyone who looks like you as much as you loved it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Loki whose thesis statement, if it had one, was “Let Tom Hiddleston bounce around the set killing time until we introduce Kang which was actually the only reason this show exists.” (With, of course, a scribbled in addendum of “Hopefully putting all our eggs in this one basket won’t bite us on the ass.”)
And of course She-Hulk embodied what happens when your thesis statement is the equivalent of the shrug emoji.
When we look at Secret Invasion, then, what is the statement? What is the show trying to do? Can we come up with a running theme for the five episodes we have so far beyond “We’re doing a show called Secret Invasion”?
There’s so much that could potentially be mined here. Skrulls as an allegory for refugees is the most obvious but the show barely touches on it. Moments like G’iah saying she didn’t know the prayer to say over Talos’s body were good, I’m not saying they weren’t. But Falcon and the Winter Soldier managed it much better with the Flag Smashers, up to and including the use of a plot point about them trying to gain super powers, and that was even with Covid shutdowns ruining their ability to do the Flag Smasher storyline as well as they’d hoped.
Some sort of statement about Fury as the linchpin allegory for the show - as Wanda’s grief was for WandaVision - might work. Except the scenes we get that explore Fury’s past and current mindsets, amazingly written and acted as they are, feel like they snuck into the show by accident. Alternatively they were from drafts of scripts that were written on their own and then pieced into all the action scenes.
To go on a slight tangent here, I will say the pattern of those genuinely well written character moments suggests to me that Brian Tucker, who has been credited as being at least one of the writers on each episode so far, is the one most likely to get the credit for those scenes. It’s not slam dunk proof by any means, but it’s a common denominator that stands out.
Sadly related but the slightly better editing this week compared to previous weeks when Pete Beaudreau and Jim Stanger have credit does suggest that the poor editing of previous episodes has another common denominator who stands out. I’m not naming names because I could be wrong and I’m not trying to drag anybody who doesn’t deserve it. As I’ve said before, there’s lots of reasons why something could be poorly edited and many of those reasons happen well before the footage gets to the editor in the first place. I’ll just point out how much easier it was to follow the action in G’iah and Priscilla’s fight scene than it was in the action sequence last week. Also not for nothing but we got better establishing shots too, like that one of London which had clear landmarks in it like Parliament and the London Eye as well as a Russo-style title card.
Winging back to the topic of lacking thesis statements, to me it also stands out that even within the show there are poor thesis statements. Once again I ask: what’s Gravik doing?
He wants to bring about nuclear war to clear out the planet of humans and make it a planet for Skrulls. Great. Got it. Clear statement there, no problem.
But how? Because we’re five episodes in now and the only conclusion I can make about Gravik is he is utter shit at planning.
I get that we grade TV shows on a curve that does not expect reality. Nothing we have seen so far is how the Secret Service operates or, for that matter, how an actual hospital would do an operation if the President of the United States rolled up with a potentially fatal wound. That’s fine. It’s not a documentary, we don’t need accuracy.
But in terms of Gravik’s plan it needs to make some kind of sense within the story. That is just not happening.
We’ve already touched on how if you want to launch nukes, you only need two people to turn a key, and you have three Skrulls at your disposal then there’s a super obvious solution to making this happen and it’s not “Only replace one of the key turning people with a Skrull.”
Even allowing for that particular argument to be too picky, what about the thing where Skrulls replace people in high levels of government? Why did they do that? Why is Gravik not taking advantage of it?
The thing about the whole “You don’t know who is a Skrull! You don’t know who you can trust!” is that they’re supposed to do something about it. Now if previously the Skrulls were only gathering information that’s fine, but replacing a world leader is a much bigger deal. The replacement of Rhodey makes sense as a thing you do to gather information and put one of your people in a position to whisper ideas into the ear of people who can actually do things. If you’re the person who can do things… just do them?
Like not to get too far into the weeds here but the fact that the Skrulls do not have a home of their own on Earth when not only does New Asgard exist but there was a whole movie that featured it recently is a tiny bit of a plot hole. Even if you want to argue that Asgardians had a leg up because they already looked human and because they had a connection to an Avenger… well Skrulls can look human too and are connected to Fury and Captain Marvel.
Now an argument can certainly be made that perhaps this was intended to be the point. It is possible to set aside land on Earth for alien refugees but Carol fucked off and Fury never got around to it because it worked better for him to keep Skrulls a secret. I’d find that fascinating! It’d be a great story and I’d watch the shit out of it.
But I don’t think that’s the story they’re trying to tell. I think that in all honesty they forgot that New Asgard exists and/or they were hoping the audience would too. It reminds me a bit of someone, sadly I can’t remember who and Google is no help but I want to say it was Ta-Nehisi Coates, who pointed out that in the multiverse of the Marvel worlds it’s a little weird that the modern audience is expected to buy in to the idea that mutants are shunned and reviled because of things like their strange appearance when meanwhile The Thing is free to grab a pastrami sandwich at the nearest Yancy Street deli anytime he wants.
Bringing it back to my point though, regardless of whether there’s already in universe proof that homes for alien refugees are possible… what were the Skrulls doing with this high level access all this time? It’s been over 30 years. There are Skrulls now who can consider N’Sync songs as rocking oldies and they still are waiting around for approval? From whom? They’re the ones leading nations now.
Which goes back to yet another thing that doesn’t make sense which is if Gravik wants to start a nuclear war and he’s dead set on it being between the US and Russia because of reasons, why not do a wacky thing like, I dunno, replace the leaders of the US and/or Russia? Skrull Rhodey works for Gravik. They got a Skrull in there enough to replace a known Avenger in a high position of power connected to the president and couldn’t take the next step of just replacing the president?
Hell, even a plan next to that would have worked. Because you know who is in charge of the country when the president is unable to lead? The Vice President. It wouldn’t have been the most straightforward plan in the world but a plan that involved killing or at least significantly incapacitating the president long enough for a Skrull Vice President to step in and launch the nukes would’ve made way more sense than this long ass convoluted thing that assumes POTUS will launch nukes if Skrull Rhodey says “Aw, c’mon!” about it enough.
So yeah. It’s a mess. There are good parts of the show, there are. I still rank this as an MCU Disney+ show that I enjoy and not just because in comparison to She-Hulk there’s nowhere to go but up. But I also sigh because it feels like there is a much better show in here that did not get a chance to happen. I’d honestly be fascinated in the behind the scenes of all all this came together but I highly suspect it was interference from above that kept getting in production’s way.
As always, things that didn’t fit anywhere else
- Speaking of things that I suspect are because nobody paid attention, apparently the way to handle a dead Skrull’s body is just to leave it on the floor. Gravik left G’iah’s supposedly dead body in the woods, Pagon’s dead body was left on the floor, and who the hell knows what happened to Talos’s body before G’iah claimed it.
- How famous was Maria Hill that killing her would make Fury the most hated person on the planet? And again not to poke holes in Gravik’s master planning here but wouldn’t the better option have been for him to imitate Fury while setting off the bomb?
- Also no shade on Maria Hill but killing her makes Fury the worst criminal in the world? Is every actual criminal taking a holiday or….?
- Rest in peace, Beto. I had better hopes for your ultimate purpose but good on you for trying to stand up for the right thing. Hopefully someone remembered to pick up your body.
- Also hey: at least Beto wasn’t killed by getting shot in the chest. That’s a nice change of pace for this show.
- I absolutely loved the moment where you could see Fury silently noticing one of his security measures wasn’t there and thus knew someone was beyond the door. I never tire of scenes that show characters thinking and let you watch the actor’s face to know what’s going on.
- “Don’t worry about me, I’ll put on a good face.” felt like a line from a better script. Things like this and the conversation with Fury and Talos on the plane, Fury and Priscilla about poetry, and so on are the ones that make me wish the show had been more about that then whatever else it’s trying to be.
- I love the detail that Fury’s got fake graves all around the world.
- I don’t mind that Fury has Avengers DNA. As I told a friend of mine, it’s like finding out Batman has contingency plans to stop the Justice League: the surprise would be if he didn’t. I do, however, question if the best way to store multiple people’s DNA is to dump them all together in a single perfume bottle.
- Like last week, this episode clocked in at well under 40 minutes. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t put last week and this week into one ep and just make it a five episode season.
- I have no idea how they intend to wrap things up in the finale. There are so many questions that need to be answered but I suspect that all we’re going to get is that Fury confronts Gravik and that’s it.
- Given the WGA Strike and SAG-AFTRA strike I did wonder if I should continue these articles. I know my audience is nowhere near large enough to make a dent in things, but if you don’t stand by your principles in all situations they’re not principles so much as vague ideas. Luckily there is official word that things like this are totally fine so I went ahead. Also I like to think that since part of what I try to do is explain what goes into making shows and movies helps teach why the work of writers, actors, and everyone else is so important and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
- To make sure it’s clear, I 100% support the strike and encourage folks to do the same by following what the unions ask of supporters and also contributing to the Entertainment Community Fund if they are able.
And that’s all for this week. Tune in next week as we see how they try to wrap this up.
Thanks for reading!