Warning: The following contains spoilers for Secret Invasion through episode six and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Secret Invasion episode six, Home, has me wanting to hold the show upside down and shake it like a piggy bank while going “Where’s the rest of it?”
Seriously, where’s the rest of it?
I touched on this last week with episode five, Harvest, but here at the end I’m faced with the same question: what was the point of this show other than to check off a box at Marvel Studio headquarters that said “Do something with Secret Invasion”?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s good things about the show. The acting was phenomenal. The super skrull fight was a lot of fun and showed thought into the ideas of how a multi-power battle could go far better than certain other shows we could mention. I certainly don’t feel like having watched the show was a straight up insult to my time and investment in trying to care about the characters.
But in the end Secret Invasion the show is just kinda there. My ultimate review boils down to “O… kay?”
Seriously, where was the rest of it?
We start to get into the details here so let’s just do that directly.
Secret Invasion Was An Idea In Need of a Story
Look, I’m the first in line to remind everybody that the Disney+ Marvel shows are not going to significantly move any needles. For proof of this you need only see my maniacal laughter when everyone insisted that Loki was an amazing show because it introduced the multiverse and Kang and was the lynchpin of the entire MCU going forward and then we had three whole movies that hinged on the multiverse and/or Kang and Loki the character and show didn’t come up once except as a post credit scene, aka “This is not part of the plot, it’s an advertisement for a future product.” I am in fact petty enough that I will take that I Told You So to my grave.
I say this to make it clear that I do not require the Disney+ Marvel shows to make big swings in the MCU or to have significant impact. They’re not meant for that, I don’t expect them to do that. This is why the more successful shows are successful because they aim small. They either introduce a character (Ms Marvel, Moon Knight) or dive deeper into characters we already know (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier). The plot is merely a vehicle to let the character work happen.
Secret Invasion, then, is already dealing with a problem because the concept that Skrulls have replaced people all over the world, including MCU characters we know (Ross) and love (Rhodey) is supposed to be significant. But you can’t do significant in a Disney+ show. Which means that the very concept of the show is undercut by its limitations.
Now this didn’t mean they had the impossible task of not being able to make a good show. They could’ve made a perfectly fine show if they understood what they were working with. I’ll cite Hawkeye as a perfect if not the perfect example of a Disney+ MCU show which understood the assignment: Don’t aim for blockbuster, don’t aim for god tier with resources and budget that will never let you get there. Understand you can do a solid B effort and commit to it.
The result of which was that Hawkeye was a consistently good show. It wasn’t the greatest show to ever grace TV screens since the dawn of time, but it was a good show. It knew what it was working with and it worked with it well. Beautiful, well done, sets an example the rest should follow.
Secret Invasion could have done this by thinking comparatively smaller. Move away from the idea of replacing world leaders and nuclear war and all that and stick to the concept that Fury promised to find these people a home, he lied, and on a small scale nobody knows who you can trust.
Frankly, the paranoia the show needed to have would’ve worked better by taking world leaders out of the equation because there are plenty of people in the real world right now who don’t feel that their leaders have their best interests at heart. You don’t need to throw in the “And they might be aliens!” on top of it. On the other hand the idea that the friendly bodega owner you’ve been getting your morning coffee from might not be who he seems - or might have been changed one day and you didn’t notice - that gets creepy.
Secret Invasion didn’t do that, though. And I’m sure that this was in large part due to the interference from above that insisted on Big! Huge! Make it like a movie! Which gets into a suspicion of mine that Secret Invasion was pitched as a movie but then made into a series. Because in a movie you can get away with things like repeated references to Talos’s wife’s death as being significant without getting into the details because hey: you’ve got two hours and change and clock is ticking.
In a show, however, there’s no excuse for avoiding deeper dives, particularly when the back half of your series clocks in at a scant hour and a half including the time for the opening and closing credits. There’s no reason to bring up the wife’s death as Something Hugely Significant without then explaining why it was significant. You don’t have to even spend the money on the flashback. Have it covered in dialogue with Talos and G’iah and you’re good!
Which brings me to part of my suspicion which is that in addition to not realizing that you can’t skip over these details when you have the time to get into them, likewise I feel like too much of what ended up on the screen was things that in a movie would’ve fallen under “Hey we shot this footage because it was part of the original plan but by the time we got to the final cut we realized it didn’t belong anymore.” One obvious example being that random scene of military guys with a classified document which… did what? Was about what? For who? Where? Huh?
Sure we can guess it was about launching the nukes but we shouldn’t be guessing in what’s meant to be a sequence of increasing tension.
There were other things as well that weren’t as obviously “No, really, why was this here?” as that moment but when you look at them in the aggregate you realize chopping them out would’ve not only not hurt the show but probably improved it. Things such as the repeated mentions of the wife’s death being significant but no explanation of why. The confusing references to G’iah’s time with Gravik which made it difficult to understand if she’d only just recently fallen out of love with Gravik’s mission or had been slowly working against him the whole time.
Even things like the repeated mentions of “Fury is different! He is Not The Same [tm]!” which went nowhere, much like that limp the show forgot he was supposed to have. If Secret Invasion was about a character - which it should have been - that character should have been Nick Fury. And I think it wanted to be about Fury. Samuel L Jackson was certainly making a meal of those monologues, but now that we’re at the end can we say what Fury’s character arc was? Where was he at the beginning of the show and where was he at the end? Yeah there was development between him and Varra but there wasn’t enough commitment to the problems with him and Varra for the audience to fully appreciate what that development was or what part of it we were supposed to be especially invested in. Case in point how I’ve chatted with multiple people who have differing views on if Fury was racist against Varra and that’s why she was always in human form around him, or if Varra stayed in human form around Fury to specifically manipulate him. Of course the answer could also be a bit of both but the point is when the culmination is Fury kissing Varra in her true skin we should know why this matters beyond “Well it was some kind of a problem and I guess it’s fixed now?”
There was certainly a bigger character issue on offer which was Fury’s inability to find the Skrulls a home - which I’m getting to in a moment. It was actually spot on Fury characterization that he would’ve focused on using these people in need for his own needs and not worried overmuch about what that did to them, both in terms of their being without a place of their own and in terms of the impact it had on them as individuals to be his secret army. But the big speech there was ultimately done by G’iah, so we have no idea if that was Fury’s actual sentiments that she was conveying, what she wished he would say, or what she and/or Fury knew Gravik would want to hear.
(I’m not getting into the multiple ways the plan for G’iah to also become a super Skrull could’ve failed. Obviously it relied on a lot of things that were highly unlikely, up to and including the likelihood that Gravik would turn on the machine while Fury was in there with him. But to me this is being overly nitpicky when it can even in character be explained as a long shot G’iah was willing to take.)
While we’re on the topic of Skrulls and home, again I’m going to point out the giant elephant in the room that is New Asgard. You cannot hinge your conflict on the idea that Earth would not accept alien refugees when not only is there a place for refugees from multiple planets but it’s so beloved it’s a popular tourist destination. You can’t even argue that it’s the issue that the Skrulls don’t look human when you’ve got folks like Korg literally rocking up to people to say hi.
Now this isn’t an insurmountable problem. It could’ve easily been folded into the plot and, as with many things, made it better. You have thirty years of Fury swearing he can’t find them a home yet just before the Blip New Asgard gets formed no problem. That’s the perfect reason for the Skrulls to go “Hey, wait a minute - “ and start challenging Fury’s claim that he can’t find anything for them and the assumption that they need Fury at all. Throw in the Blip where Fury vanishing means they have to find their own way regardless of their feelings about him and it’s the perfect setup for why there’s so much tension now that Fury is back.
I realize that part of the argument could be that there are far more Skrulls to whatever smaller population New Asgard has, but the number was never an issue. The only time it came up was when Talos revealed he snuck in about a million Skrulls without telling Fury. We didn’t get the vibe that Fury’s problem with that was that Earth couldn’t handle that number but that he was pissed that Talos thought keeping that many secret was not a big deal. Whenever the question of the Skrulls being at home on Earth came up, it was always that they wouldn’t be accepted because they were aliens. Even Talos made that argument with his co-dependent style belief that if the Skrulls were super nice and helpful enough maybe people would like them.
This problem gets added to when Ritson does things like declare war on anybody not from Earth because, uhh, did you just declare war on Valkyrie? Dude, good luck.
Ritson brings up another issue which is that far too often the show felt like it lacked someone paying attention to the details. This was obviously filmed before the strike but I was reminded of why it’s important to have writers on set. Because somebody should’ve been pointing out that Fury warned Ritson not to trust Rhodey. Which doesn’t mean that Ritson should’ve immediately had Skrull Rhodey arrested. But it should have meant at the very least some thoughtful moments from Ritson when Skrull Rhodey was going whole hog on trying to push him to launch a nuclear attack without thinking about it.
(We’re not getting into all the ways that this is not how launching a nuclear war works. It’s a show, we’ll just relax.)
If it was just that moment I wouldn’t complain so much but Ritson acting like he’d been given nothing to make him have a second thought goes into the pile with things like Talos’s wife’s death, G’iah’s motivations with Gravik from the start, and on and on and on. Once is an understandable mistake. Multiple times is sloppiness in production.
Speaking of sloppiness, the horrendous edits in this episode serve as fairly good proof that the problem with editing all along has not been the editors but with something going on before they even got the footage. That hideous ADR work of Fury coughing when Samuel L Jackson was acting no such thing, to say nothing of the random cut to a shot of Gravik clearly not talking while Kingsley Ben-Adir was otherwise doing a beautiful job with Gravik’s speech are such amateur hour mistakes that they can’t be the editor’s fault. You don’t get hired on a Marvel Studios project if you are that bad at your job. You simply don’t. Something was fucked in production and the editing team was doing the best they could.
So yeah. Secret Invasion happened. It wasn’t the worst thing the MCU has ever done but it’s definitely not the greatest. Ah well.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- I refuse to start speculating about when Rhodey was switched for a Skrull when we all know damn well he was never written as such. At best he may have been replaced before Falcon and the Winter Soldier given that when that show was filming they had a vague idea Secret Invasion was on the horizon. But assuming the MCU ever specifies - which by the way is not something I’m holding my breath for - anything prior to FAWS is going to be a retcon and gets a hearty “Meh” from me.
- I realize the reason is “Because Fury is the lead and needed to have his moment” but there was no reason for Sonya Falsworth to not shoot Skrull Rhodey in the leg during that standoff. Especially since she’s had no compunction about doing such things before.
- Sonya and G’iah’s teamup at the end immediately made me wish I’d spent the past six episodes watching a show about the two of them. Throw in G’iah and Varra’s teamup last week and make it a three female lead like The Marvels with no complaints from me.
- I did appreciate how much G’iah used Captain Marvel’s powers at the end there. Both as a Carol Danvers fangirl and from the symbolism of it.
- I’m fully on board for the super Skrull fight just looking and being cool. I also liked the strategy shown by G’iah calling on Mantis’s powers. I did have a moment of wondering how the DNA instantly tells you how to use said powers though. Like Mantis is not going to have a lot of news footage about her the same way there is of Carol blasting through a space ship, you know?
- Gravik and G’iah-as-Fury’s speeches were great but it was a bit weird that Gravik didn’t lead with “So did you bring the DNA like I asked for?”
- So Maria Hill is really dead, huh? Unceremoniously and fridged to boot? That’s insulting both to the character and to Cobie Smulders.
- I feel like so much of the audience’s belief that Fury and Varra had a history was helped by how Samuel L Jackson and Charlayne Woodard have a history of working together. They were bringing so much more to the relationship than the story provided.
- I’ve talked about how Fury’s beard was an abomination, and it was right until the end to be sure. But I wanted to clarify that at no time did I mean that as a slight on hair and makeup. This is my bad because I’m so used to it being understood that wigs and beards are one of those things that hair and makeup gets screwed on by people above them refusing to spend the money. I assumed it was a given that if I said Fury’s beard was awful it would be known that the blame was strictly with executives and not the hair and makeup team. Not that anybody accused me otherwise but I still wanted to clarify all the same. Particularly since Black actors in particular are notoriously screwed by production’s refusal to hire the appropriate hair and makeup people for them. So much so that it’s one of the things SAG-AFTRA is fighting for as part of the strike.
- To that end, I will once again state my support for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes and say if you’d like to do the same one such method is contributing to the Entertainment Community Fund.
And that’s all she wrote! As always, thanks for reading.