Secret Invasion whispers well but moves too slow

Secret Invasion Resurrection (Disney+)

Like Nick Fury himself, the MCU’s newest series limps out of the gate in “Resurrection.”

Welcome to Moscow and my first Secret Invasion recap. Let’s don our tactical turtlenecks and dive in.

The concept behind Secret Invasion is a smart one. What’s espionage like in a world with superheroes and supervillains? Especially what is it like in a world with those costumed folk and a group who can change their appearance with a shrug and play the person they look like incredibly convincingly? Given the amount of ink on people’s—especially critics’—frustration with the usual from Marvel, going for a spy drama could be a nice swerve. Of course, concept isn’t the same as a result.

“Resurrection”—written by series creator Kyle Bradstreet and Brian Tucker and directed by Ali Selim—opens with everyone’s favorite colonizer Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). He’s heading to rendezvous with Agent Prescod (Richard Dormer), who has become consumed by a conspiracy theory. Prescod, played by Dormer as agitated but not as crazed as the scene seems to want, details the idea for Ross. According to him, various international actions and terrorist attacks aren’t the acts of several disparate groups but rather a violent conspiracy orchestrated by the shape-shifting Skrulls.

Secret Invasion Episode 1 (Disney+)
Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders catch up. (Disney+)

When Ross insists some vague notion of extraterrestrial manipulation on a global scale isn’t enough to take to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Prescod produces a drive detailing a terrorist act yet to come. The plan is to set off a dirty bomb on Russian soil and implicate an American group. Seemingly persuaded, Ross promises to take it to Fury, only for Prescod to attack him. Prescod seems to have the upper hand in the scuffle, choking Ross. However, Ross manages to reach his piece and shoots Prescod to death.

He runs from the site, a man in pursuit. Eventually, he fails to leap from one building to another and crashes down badly in an alley in front of Maria Hill’s (Cobie Smulders) car. Before she can reach him, the man pursuing Ross arrives, shape-shifting to reveal he’s Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Ross dies and shows he, too, is a Skrull, albeit one planning to do humanity harm.

The whole thing proves enough for Hill to finally persuade Fury to return to Earth from the floating defense space station S.A.B.E.R. Bearded, eyepatch-less, and seemingly limping, his arrival doesn’t provide the kind of reassurance one would hope.

Secret Invasion seems at its best when Jackson and Smulders, Jackson and Mendelsohn, or Jackson and Colman just talk.

While his reunion with Hill is rather terse and unemotional, his first conversation with Talos is surprisingly gentle. The two lean into one another, resting forehead to forehead, as Talos reveals his wife has died while Fury was away–and since Spider-ManFar From Home, evidently. Additionally, separatist Skrulls forced Talos from the Council and installed radical Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir). In the midst of all that, his daughter also disappeared.

After catching Fury up to speed, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director becomes frustrated and storms out for a walk. For the only time in this episode, the story leaves Russia to show us Jim Rhodes, aka Rhodey, aka War Machine (Don Cheadle), informing President Riston (Dermot Mulroney) that Fury and Hill have both seemingly abandoned their posts and disappeared.

Back in Moscow, Fury gets snagged off the street after an unsettling interaction with a girl and her mom. The “thugs” take him to meet Special Agent Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman), MI6’s agent in charge on the scene. Old allies, the two jaw at each other. Fury bugs her office. She points out the number of ways he seems to have lost a step. I think she wins.

Secret Invasion Episode 1 (Disney+)
That’s Olivia Colman in the corner. That’s Olivia Colman in the spotlight. (Disney+)

This scene is the best of the episode. Secret Invasion seems at its best when Jackson and Smulders, Jackson and Mendelsohn, or Jackson and Colman just talk. There’s chemistry and fun in those scenes. Unfortunately, this is a spy show, and the action does not rise to nearly the same level as those conversations.

This scene also introduces the idea that Fury is different since the Blip. I believe it only gets mentioned one more time, but having characters on-screen literally say it rather than let viewers observe it is deadly. It makes those two mentions feel like it is something stated over and over again.

Finally, we glimpse New Skrullos, the rebel Skrull camp hidden nearly 200 miles outside Moscow. There we meet Emilia Clarke’s character for the first time. The base only grows Skrull plants for nourishment and allows everyone who isn’t a warrior to walk around in their “natural” form—green with pointy ears. We see how they take people’s forms and identities and where they hold the abducted to prevent the ruse’s exposure.

The script forces Clarke to respond to a question about what is behind a door with the line, “Victory,”—which is rough stuff—before being sent into Moscow to acquire the dirty bombs. Fury’s team, acting off intel gained from the bug in Falsworth’s office, takes out the MI6 agents at the site of the money for bombs exchange. While Talos and Fury waste time with the bomb maker, Hill pursues the fleeing Clarke character. They fight briefly, with Hill ending up on the ground with a gash on her nose. Talso, however, does catch up with the escaping Skrull and realizes she’s his missing daughter G’iah. He tells her of her mom’s death and how Gravik’s allies are responsible before appealing to her to give up the bombs. She refuses but then later rendezvouses with him to tell him when and where to find them on Unity Day.

There’s still time to turn it around, but Bradstreet et al. have to find a way to make the action as enjoyable as the conversations.

While Talos does this, Hill and Fury share a drink and a chess match at a Russian bar. Hill echoes Falsworth’s concerns and invokes the “you’ve changed” line once again. The scene doesn’t go anywhere or reveal anything new. Still fun to see Smulders and Jackson play off each other, though.

Unfortunately, when Unity Day arrives, it turns out G’iah’s a big ol’ liar. She marked empty backpacks with ultraviolet paint, sending her day, Hill, and Fury on a goose chase. That lets Gravik dramatically mock Fury with various shifted identities before setting off the bombs. In the confusion that follows, Gravik guns down Hill. Just as well, one supposes, since she and Fury are so close to the bombs, the radioactive debris has likely covered them.

So far, an interesting premise has delivered little. It’s tempting to say, “Well, it’s all setup.” However, there are three action setpieces; none especially get the blood pumping. There’s still time to turn it around, but Bradstreet et al. have to find a way to make the action as enjoyable as the conversations.

Secret Invasion Episode 1 (Disney+)
Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn say sucks to your toxic masculinity. (Disney+)

Mission Debrief

  • Opening credits via AI art is a terrible idea, especially now. A dozen comic artists (at least) could’ve delivered what the studio was looking for and at a much higher quality.
  • The show sets up a bit of a dicey highwire act. While it can create an interesting/challenging dynamic between Fury and the rebel Skrulls—“I helped you!” v. “You promised us things 30 years ago that you’ve still not come close to delivering—it can also easily go awry. Too much in one direction, and you end up with, “We invited these displaced people into our lives with open arms, and they killed and maimed us.” I.e., The narrative we get about whatever group of immigrants politicians decide to target in an election cycle.
  • While the show does offer some interesting visual moments—the scene where Talos pursues Skrull Ross up the stairs in a building and we see each new flight light up as they reach comes to mind—they’re few and far between. The most disappointing is how thoroughly confused the geography of the Unity Day attack is. If you already have the element of not being able to trust your eyes caused by your shape-shifting antagonists, not giving the audience a clear understanding of what is where in the setting is a hat on a hat. It pushes “unsettling tension” into “annoyed frustration.”
  • Was the Russian girl with giant ball a Skrull and her mom a human? Both Skrulls? Did she/they let Fury get eyes on her/them that night just to spook him? To set up Gravik’s show on Unity Day?
  • While there is no Sonya Falsworth in Marvel Comics, the name Falsworth has already popped in the MCU as the name of a British soldier encountered by Captain America in World War II. Additionally, Falsworth is the surname of the British hero known as Union Jack.
  • It’s partially on purpose, but yikes, does having Jackson peer through those glasses in the final setpiece make that largely ageless man look quite old.
Secret Invasion Episode 1 (Disney+)
Emilia Clarke is a lying liar. (Disney+)

Surveillance Transcript

  • “All we can turn is the people we care about. But what if those people weren’t who we thought they were?”
  • “Oh, damn, and I was hoping for a command performance of ‘Old Man River’.”
  • “You usually only scratch the surface of mediocrity. You must finally be putting it all together. Well done.”
  • “I know a bunch of good-looking Skrulls. You ain’t one of them.”
  • “What did you get for your [midlife crisis shopping spree].” “The Avengers.”
  • “I said no.”
  • “Not people. Skrulls.”
  • “Home, in my own skin.”
Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens is a freelance writer and therapist from the Nutmeg State, hailing from the home of the World’s Smallest Natural Waterfall. In addition to The Spool, you can read his stuff in CC Magazine, Marvel.com, ComicsVerse, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. And yes, he is listing all this to try and impress you.

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