Apple TV+’s new sci-fi series occasionally relies on well-worn tropes, but is never anything less than gripping and unsettling.
Invasion, Apple TV+’s newest foray into sci-fi television, follows “ordinary” people around the world as an alien force, well, invades. Created by Simon Kinberg (who writes and directs several episodes) and David Weil (who also created Amazon’s Hunters), Invasion is an engaging slow-burn of a thriller series, building character and atmosphere with the ever-looming threat of an unforeseen enemy.
It’s important to note up top, however, that the titular invasion itself, with spaceships and explosions, isn’t the focal point of the story. The aliens take their time revealing themselves to both the characters and the audience. Much like Signs and Close Encounters of the Third Kind before it, Invasion interests itself in the people who aren’t (for the most part) battling with aliens, but rather battling the breakdown of the world around them.
In New York, Aneesha Malik (Golshifteh Farahani), her unfaithful husband Ahmed (Firas Nassar), and their children Luke and Sarah (Azhy Robinson and Tara Moayedi) take to the roads to look for safety. Aneesha is a survivor of the first order, broken but determined; Farahani has been the face of much of the show’s marketing, and rightly so. Outside of London, Casper (Billy Barratt) and his classmates fend for themselves after an accident; and in Oklahoma local sheriff John Bell Tyson (Sam Neill) stumbles upon a burned truck and a crop circle on his last day before retirement.
In Japan JASA (the show’s stand-in for JAXA) engineer Mitsuki (Kutsuna Shiori) is one of the first characters to suspect what’s really happening as she investigates a tragedy at work. Trevante Ward (Shamier Anderson) encounters some form of alien…something whilst deployed to Afghanistan. The initial signs of attack are a series of weird occurrences in an otherwise ordinary day: a classroom of children all simultaneously get nosebleeds, a pair of small-town meth dealers go missing. When the attacks become more obviously deliberate, the majority of the world explains them as terrorist attacks, though no one takes responsibility.
As the attacks increase, society almost immediately falls apart, with looting and roving trucks full of men with guns almost before the week is out. In an updated take on “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” when aliens attack the Maliks’ neighborhood and their home appears untouched, their neighbors almost immediately grow suspicious of the family. Separated from the outside world and thusly the news, both Casper and Trevante are initially clueless as to what is happening, emerging from their respective situations to find arguably the most extreme frying pan to fire scenario imaginable.
Though perhaps not as creature-heavy as some viewers might want, Invasion has no lack of tension and nightmare-inducing moments, both of the alien and manmade variety. The first three episodes premiere at once, creating the perfect binge and the worst cliffhanger when you realize you have to wait another week for the next episode.
That said, Invasion is not without its flaws. While its references and homages to previous alien invasion narratives are, for the most part, subtle and endearing, (in later episodes there’s a sweet little Close Encounters of the Third Kind Easter egg), when Invasion leans on tropes it leans hard. When a character reveals their tragic backstory, it’s almost laughably predictable, as is the religion-tinged breakdown another character experiences. Of course that’s happening, it’s what’s done in these scenarios. Trevante’s storyline is also a damper on Anderson’s excellent performance; having a military character whose initial plot consists mainly of pointing automatic weapons at civilians and a sequence of people desperately trying to flee Kabul Airport is never a good look, and particularly not in 2021.
There will likely be grumblings that a certain musical cue is too on the nose, but your reviewer cried, so it stays on the highlights list. Invasion is a delightful television experience full of pitch-perfect performances and well worth making it Friday night appointment television
The first three episodes of Invasion are now streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes following weekly.