Discover more from Episodic Medium
Review: Secret Invasion, "Resurrection" | Season 1, Episode 1
Samuel L. Jackson leads Marvel’s uneven new spy thriller
Welcome to Episodic Medium’s weekly coverage of Secret Invasion, which debuted today on Disney+. As always, the first review is available to all, but subsequent reviews will only be available to paid subscribers. You can check out our full Summer schedule here, and learn more about the site and its mission on our About page.
It’s fair to say Marvel is in a bit of a state of crisis at the moment. For every high point of Phases Four and Five, there’s been a disastrous low. And without the momentum and cohesion that once guided the MCU through its rough patches, the sprawling cinematic universe no longer feels essential in the way it once did. Though I’ve enjoyed plenty of post-Endgame projects, in retrospect that film marked the turning point where Marvel went from cultural juggernaut to something more akin to colorful, well-cast background noise.
The studio’s latest pitch for relevance is to take global superstar and Marvel Cinematic Universe OG Samuel L. Jackson and place him in a dark, paranoid spy thriller with some decidedly grown-up themes. So is Secret Invasion enough to right the Marvel ship? Eh…maybe?
At its best, this premiere reminded me of the sleek fun of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and at its worst it called to mind the messy lows of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Marvel has truly run the gamut when it comes to espionage thrillers, and it remains to be seen exactly where Secret Invasion will ultimately fall on that spectrum. It doesn’t help that this premiere feels like a solid second episode of a series that could’ve used a stronger, more character-driven pilot.
But then again, a lot of these Marvel Disney+ shows have started strong only to peter out in the end. (I’m looking at you Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel.) Perhaps Secret Invasion’s more relaxed debut suggests the best is still yet to come. Or maybe that’s exactly the kind of wishful thinking that’s propelled the Marvel Cinematic Universe into its current all-hype, no pay-off predicament.
We’ve got five more episodes to figure that out, but first it’s time for a Nick Fury recap!
As we learned at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, the erstwhile S.H.I.E.L.D. director left Earth shortly after the Blip in order to work out of a space station as part of the government’s aerospace defense organization, S.A.B.E.R. (a new group for the MCU).
Secret Invasion recontexualizes Fury’s new assignment as an act of abandonment. If putting together the Avengers was Fury’s mid-life crisis—as he jokes to Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos—the Blip was his psychological breaking point. For all his gruff exterior, Fury has always been an optimist when it comes to the idea that the right team of people can save the world. The Snap shattered that confidence and forced him to reckon with his own limitations (not to mention his own mortality, as an eerie flashback to his dusting reminds us). Even the eventual righting of Thanos’ wrong came at a huge cost, not just in the five years lost to the Blip but also in the deaths of two of his closest collaborators, Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff.
While the 1990s-set Captain Marvel showcased a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Fury at the start of his S.H.I.E.L.D. career, Secret Invasion leans into the idea that he’s now a jaded, past-his-prime spy—not just physically, but emotionally too. Fury’s now as much of a Cold War-era relic as Steve Roger was a WWII-era one. And that lends a welcome sense of melancholy to this premiere, particularly as Fury reconnects with the old friends he left behind, like Talos and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).
But where Fury’s melancholia feels earned thanks to the 15 years and 11 films Jackson has devoted to the MCU, Secret Invasion struggles to make the rest of its gloomy world as lived-in. The exposition comes fast and loose as this episode tries to catch us up on the 30-plus years of Skrull history that have unfolded since we first met the pea-green aliens in Captain Marvel, the movie that subversively recontextualized the classic comic book baddies as a group of intergalactic refugees.
Because Fury and Carol Danvers failed to find the shape-shifting aliens a new homeworld, the Skrulls have splintered into various factions. While some, like Talos, have held out hope for peaceful co-existence, a radical rebel group have come up with a new idea: get humans to destroy one another with dirty bombs so the Skrulls can inherit the Earth.
Skrulls, you see, are immune to radioactivity, which is why they’re able to set up “New Skrullos” in an abandoned nuclear power plant outside of Moscow. It’s one of several clever ideas packed into Secret Invasion’s thriller premise, particularly in a Martin Freeman-led opening sequence that evokes contemporary issues of misinformation, manipulation, conspiracy theories, and fake news—all while leaning into the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia evidence board/“Aliens” meme of it all. (Secret Invasion is created by former Mr. Robot writer Kyle Bradstreet, and you feel that most in this opening.)
But there’s also a lot in the Skrull set-up that’s a little too much like a reheated take on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s nebulously anarchistic Flag Smashers. Marvel’s pattern of depicting displaced refugees as villainous terrorists is, uh, certainly something. And though Secret Invasion tries to pack a punch with the reveal that Talos’ grown-up daughter G’iah (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) is one of the militant radicals, the twist doesn’t really land when we barely know these characters in the first place.
Still, the fact that Secret Invasion is willing to detonate several bombs and kill off Maria Hill in its first episode suggests the series isn’t afraid to go all-in on its darker political themes. Indeed, the brutal town square bombing is one of the most unsettling sequences Marvel has ever delivered. And though the show’s good guy/bad guy set-up seems a little too simplistic at first glance, moments like Talos’ quiet condemnation of Fury’s “shoot-first” approach add at least a little nuance to the proceedings.
The other thing Secret Invasion has going for it is the caliber of its cast—and, no, I’m not just talking about Dermot Mulroney as the President of the United States, although that’s an absolute delight. Even when the writing falters, the always committed Jackson conveys the sense that he’s having a blast in this role, whether he’s munching on potato chips or cracking jokes about Louis XIV’s comfortable chairs. And it’s a particular treat to see him paired with Mendelsohn, another actor who’s spent his career elevating genre fare with his committed performances. Fury and Talos’ sweet reunion is an early emotional highpoint, and they’re a promising buddy cop duo to anchor the series.
Elsewhere, Oscar-darling Olivia Colman brings her signature off-beat comedy to the otherwise rote role of Sonya Falsworth, an MI6 agent trying to keep an eye on the increasing Russian/US tension. And maybe most intriguing of all is Kingsley Ben-Adir as Gravik, the stone-cold Skrull resistance leader who’s got some sort of personal connection to Fury. Ben-Adir doesn’t get a ton to do in this premiere, but he gave my favorite performance of 2020 as Malcolm X in One Night in Miami, and I hope he gets the same opportunity to shine here.
That all remains to be seen, however. Despite its (literally) explosive climax, this premiere mostly eases audiences into its murky, morally grey world. The mention of over 100 undercover Skrull operatives working in the field teases the idea of a series full of shocking, potentially game-changing reveals for the MCU (which was very much the hook of the comic run this series is based on). But it’s going to take a minute for this modern-day Cold War to heat up.
Welcome to weekly coverage of Secret Invasion! I’ve been recapping Marvel television since back in the Netflix Defenders days (with some CW/DC interludes in-between), and I’m thrilled to be able to continue the superhero TV discussions with such a rad community here at Episodic Medium. Come say hi in the comments, and let me know your guess for who is going to be revealed as a secret Skrull.1
The Everett Ross cold open into those pulpy animated credits into that cool shot of Fury exiting his spaceship is some damn great television. If only the rest of the episode had lived up to it.
Speaking of which: Are we meant to assume Everett Ross has been a Skrull this whole time? Or that the real Ross is locked up somewhere? Or was it more of an opportunistic impersonation?
We’ll see how the series handles it from here, but Maria Hill’s death is definitely bordering on a fridging. Especially on the heels of killing Talos’ wife Soren offscreen.
I’m digging Fury’s no eye-patch look.
The fact that the militant Skrull operatives strategically maintain their human form, even at their basecamp, is a savvy bit of genre writing to allow the main cast to act without being buried under pounds of prosthetics.
The idea that Fury promised to find the Skrulls a new homeworld is a bit of a retcon (or an expansion, if you prefer) from Captain Marvel, where that promise was made by Carol Danvers alone.
“You can’t say that.” / “No, you, can’t say that.”
MM here to note it’s gonna be Donna Bowman, just you watch.