Warning: The following contains spoilers for Secret Invasion through episode two and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Analyzing Secret Invasion’s second episode, Promises, is difficult because like episode one, Resurrection, it’s hard to judge how well it’s handling its mysteries until all mysteries are finally revealed. So once again we are in the land of looking at an episode of Secret Invasion in and of itself and asking does it make us want to keep watching the show?
Or me. Do I want to keep watching the show? I’m not reading your mind, I have enough on my plate.
For me the answer is still firmly in the yes column. And I could do a brief introductory overview of why but may as well get into it directly.
What Did and Didn’t Work in Secret Invasion: Promises
Samuel L Jackson’s monologue in the train was a thing of beauty. If the entire episode had been nothing but those few minutes I would’ve been entirely content with zero notes. It was written well (teleplay by Brian Tucker and story by Brant Englestein and Brian Tucker this week though IMDB credits Kyle Bradstreet as the writer) and director Ali Selim clearly understood that in some scenes when you have amazing actors the thing to do is get out of their way and let them do what they do best.
Or, to be fair, know how to let them shine. Fury’s story could’ve easily been ruined by too many edits, the wrong kind of framing of the shot, and cuts to Ben Mendelsohn that ruined the flow rather than enhanced it (and shout out to Ben Mendelsohn for silently conveying Talos taking all this in and thinking about it without needing to make broad gestures to drive the concept home).
In a different scene but also on the same topic, once again Olivia Colman is clearly having the time of her life. Sonya Falsworth is a delight and I want so much more of her in the MCU in general (though sadly suspect that they were only able to cast Oliva Coleman because they could promise her it was a limited amount of her time.)
There was much more going on in the back room scenes than the train scene, at least in terms of things that needed to be coordinated, but it was in the same range of the train scene in that Olivia Coleman got to do what she does best with nobody getting in her way. Also I didn’t catch the name - character or actor - but shout out to the guy in charge of the torture group for some beautiful details like wiping his hands on the other guy’s coat. I’d love to know how much of that was in the script vs what the actor brought to the part. The physicality felt like something the actor might have come up with and I absolutely loved it.
While we can look at the episode as a whole and point to not insignificant developments - Fury was fired, Gravik is in charge, Fury has a wife - what struck me more about all of this was that it was a character piece. Most of the scenes involved some aspect of characters thinking, reflecting, and being allowed to sit in themselves and show layers of who they are as people. Even Rhodey got to show this in the way he reacted to that meeting, and then while sitting and talking with Fury in the restaurant. This wasn’t Iron Man’s buddy, this was a man who clearly had decades of his own history, story, and challenges and it just so happens to occasionally intersect with the paths of other MCU characters.
Assuming Rhodey is Rhodey of course.
One of the things about Secret Invasion, especially in the original story, was that known characters had been replaced by Skrulls for a long time. Now knowing how the MCU has been handled since the days of Iron Man we know better than to think that there was always a plan of which characters had been Skrulls since before they hired Robert Downey Jr. Which is to say I don’t think there’s too much to be gained from rewatching all the movies and shows and looking for hints on who was replaced and when. But it’s definitely going to be leaving a lot of potential on the table if the only reveals we get are things like Ross briefly being replaced by a Skrull in episode one. There’s got to be at least one character who has been at least semi-significant in the MCU prior to this show where a Skrull reveal would at the very least have interesting retroactive implications.
Maria Hill would’ve certainly counted here, but killing her off in the first episode reduces the potential impact of that. Her body didn’t revert to Skrull form when she died so that rules that out. There’s always something like a Life Model Decoy which is a fine old Marvel tradition, and one Maria Hill especially tends to be known to use in various incarnations from comics to cartoons. But having a scene with her grieving mother does make it being that much of a fakeout kind of a dick move all around.
Moreover, if you take Maria Hill out of the narrative then a Skrull reveal has no impact. Fury is our main character so for the reveal to matter it also has to matter to him. So it needs to be someone Fury trusts and is seen trusting repeatedly through this series.
I’m not saying that makes Rhodey a slam dunk, I’m just saying it makes me wonder.
I don’t want to zing past Maria Hill’s death too quickly though because I want to point out that Fury straight up saying she died to hurt him is a nicely succinct summary of Women in Refrigerators but as we’ve frequently talked about with certain other MCU shows just because you lampshade it doesn’t make the bad choice miraculously better.
It’s still such a random death and handled as an afterthought in many ways (she’s shot, she’s down, she gets a line, she’s dead) that part of me feels like there’s got to be more going on here, particularly as such an unceremonious way to get rid of Cobie Smulders after her years of service, but we’ve certainly seen worse in the MCU, particularly with regards to the deaths of female characters (cough Natasha and Gamora cough).
Speaking of underutilized female characters, bringing in Emilia Clarke to spend time sitting in a chair without even rising to the level of being the person sitting in the chair seems like a waste of both Emilia Clarke’s time and the money it must cost to bring in the Mother of Dragons to your show. Which only furthers my theory that G’iah is more than she appears, no Skrull pun intended. There have been too many seemingly throwaway moments of G’iah for them to mean nothing. I continue to believe she’s got her own secret plot going on that’s more than the appearance of her only just starting to wonder if Gravik is the guy she wants to give her loyalty to. For example, I’m pretty sure that moment of her talking to someone in Russian on the phone was her dropping a dime on where to find the Skrull safehouse, knowing full well that Brogan would probably get the blame.
Of course the question then becomes who is she working with? Talos would make sense given the rather odd conversation between them last week. But then Talos had to let G’iah know her mother had died which suggests they’ve been out of contact for a while (and ties with what Talos told Fury as well). There’s an implication in editing that it’s Sonya Falsworth given that the timing of Sonya leaving and G’iah getting out of the car suggested a meetup - so much so that I thought that actually was what the scene was setting up - but then we’ve had some oddly timed edits on this show before so it might be reading too much into it. (For example the cab pickup scene with G’iah and her father last week, and G’iah and Gravik getting into a car after the explosion and then driving up to the Council meeting which implied they’d been in that car for days, given all the things that happened with Fury in the meanwhile).
Plus G’iah was speaking Russian, which would be an odd choice for talking to Sonya Falsworth, not the least of which is that if you’re trying to have a clandestine conversation in Russia maybe using a language other than the native one might help that whole secrecy thing.
So once again things that make you go hmm, but in a good way.
In a bad way, or at least a Fury-style “I’ve got my eye on you” way, are things like the Skrull Council. Gravik can just roll up and declare himself in charge? What’s stopping someone else from doing the same? Yeah, I got that the burly security guy was on his side but honestly “I have someone who can punch you in the throat right now” does not sound as great a coup enforcing threat as “You do realize that since we are a species of shapeshifters who can download knowledge from other people there is no such thing as job security for your current undercover task as the head of NATO, right?” Having the security guy transform into the head of NATO would’ve felt like a more significant threat plus reinforce what’s supposed to be the leitmotif of this story which is that you never know who you can trust.
I’m also curious how all this worked. Did they replace the actual heads of state? Have they been pretending to be these people who then became heads of state? Other? Though this may be stuff that gets revealed in time.
So yeah. Things that could’ve been stronger here and there but good character work all around and enough to have me keep watching.
As always, things that didn’t fit anywhere else:
- The fight scene in the butchers was beautifully choreographed, shot, and edited. I don’t know who in particular on the stunt and editing teams to credit there so encourage you to look at them on IMDB to give them their props.
- Cobie Smulders reacting to episode one is worth a watch. (It’s quick, I promise).
- Fury asking “Who will be the first to take the pledge” would’ve had me going “Uhh, you wanna throw in something remotely resembling details there?” before making any commitments. But maybe we were supposed to assume that was discussed before the meeting.
- Fury using Skrulls as his own personal spy network also raises the question of ethics all around. For instance, why is it good when Fury does it for his benefit as opposed to the Skrulls doing it for their own? Though what I like is that so far the show doesn’t seem to be presenting Fury as someone who is morally in the right. It feels much more like someone who has lived long enough for his questionable decisions to bite him on the ass.
- Fury’s limp continues to be either missing or barely there. Continuity error or plot point? (Admittedly I’m starting to suspect the former.)
- Fury on this show is so much more physically expressive, which I like. Last week I thought it was meant to indicate one of the ways he changed after the blip. But now it looks like maybe it’s that he’s more capable of showing emotion around Skrulls, which perhaps ties to why he married one.
- The ongoing beat of “Fury has changed” is too much not to have a payoff at some point. Namely what Fury knows about why he changed that we’re not seeing.
- Also note: Most people talk about how Fury left for space and didn’t look back. The person who didn’t at all act like they haven’t seen Fury in a while? Fury’s wife. So either he’s come down to Earth more often than most are aware of or there’s something else going on there.
- Another thing that keeps getting brought up which suggests a payoff when more information is revealed: the death of Soren. It did something to change Talos which we don’t know yet. Also it happened somewhat recently, since Talos mentions it being the thing that got Fury to come back to Earth and Talos had to tell G’iah about it. We know Gravik was involved somehow but other than that it feels like there’s more to come here.
- There was an interesting theme going with who Gravik gave his gun to and then had it given back. G’iah held on to it while he was in the meeting as a sort of pacifier to keep her from complaining about being left in the hallway, then the Skrull who killed Brogan did it with Gravik’s gun and then handed it back. Feels like there may have been the intention of some symbolism there. (Alternatively they just had some scenes where there was only one gun on set for the prop).
- Though she was called Elizabeth on the show, in the credits she was listed as “Maria Hill’s Mum.” Which is kind of cute? Ish?
And that’s all we’ve got for this week! Let’s see how things go with episode three. Thanks for reading!