Spy thrillers are based on paranoia. The allure of stories like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is on never quite knowing where anyone’s loyalties truly lie. In the latest Marvel Studio’s TV series, Secret Invasion, we are introduced to a spy thriller/action series steeped in rampant paranoia. The first episode, titled “Resurrection”, sets the stage early on and ends with one of the more heartbreaking endings in the MCU up to this point.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched the first episode of Marvel Studio’s Secret Invasion.
A loose adaptation of the comic book crossover with the same name, Secret Invasion deals with a splinter faction of the Skrulls working toward a doomsday scenario. First introduced in Captain Marvel, the Skrull refugees that did not depart with Carol Danvers have been waiting for 30 years to find a new home. In a post-Blip world, we as the audience are shown Everett Ross (played again by Martin Freeman) meeting up with a CIA analyst who has clearly been at the job for too long. Agent Prescod lays out an idea that five recent terrorist attacks aren’t the work of five separate groups but one group masquerading as each individual group.
When Prescod attacks Ross, we know something is off with one or both of them but we’re not sure who just yet. What follows is one of the better foot chases in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before we reach the reveal that the Everett Ross we’ve seen so far is just a Skrull impersonator. The board is set up within the first 10 minutes that the audience will not be able to trust who we see on screen for the duration of this story.
I want to address the opening credits next, since it has kicked up a fair amount of controversy. The decision to use A.I.-generated artwork for the opening sequence does add the element of otherworldliness to the credits. However, I can’t help but feel that it’s a distraction that was unnecessary and a bad decision on Marvel Studio’s part. AI-generated artwork has kicked up a lot of justifiable concern among creative artists over the potential illegal usage of copyrighted materials. Marvel should have gone a different way with the title sequence, if for nothing else than to save themselves a massive headache.
Back to the episode recap.
The reveal that a group of Skrulls is going to attempt a planetary coup is enough to bring Nick Fury (a returning Samuel L. Jackson) back down to Earth from the S.A.B.E.R. space station. S.A.B.E.R has been mentioned before, mainly during the events of WandaVision, as a defense platform meant to protect Earth from extra-terrestrial threats. Fury is reunited with Maria Hill (again played by Cobie Smulders) and Talos (portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn). While Fury’s interaction with Hill is brief and curt, Fury and Talos show that a deep bond has developed between the two since the events of Captain Marvel. We soon learn that Soren, Talos’ beloved wife, has passed away in the interim and it is a sore subject for Talos. We also learn that Talos’ daughter G’iah has fallen in with the rebel faction of the Skrulls. It turns out that the Skrulls are immune to certain forms of radiation, which allows them to survive in places where humans cannot, such as abandoned nuclear power plants.
We cut to one such nuclear plant outside Moscow where a young Skrull has found his way to a guarded gate. Emilia Clarke (most notably from Game of Thrones) makes her MCU debut as one of the Skrulls staying at the plant. As we will soon learn, this is G’iah, and she has become a firm believer in Gravik, the rebel leader of the Skrulls. The shots of the Skrulls living, working, and playing is beautiful, in a macabre way. Out of the decrepit bones of an abandoned nuclear base, the Skrulls are trying to eke out an existence where they won’t be persecuted by humans but that isn’t enough for quite a few of them. Gravik intends to unleash a dirty bomb in Moscow in an attempt force a confrontation between the United States and Russia. The plan is rather simple at face value: create enough enmity between the major nations to facilitate a nuclear war. Since the Skrulls are immune to the radiation from the fallout, humanity will die out and the Skrulls can then claim Earth as their new home.
Before we get to the finale, though, we get introduced to another player who will be a part of this story: Sonya Falsworth (portrayed with aplomb by Oscar-winner Olivia Colman). I’ve been a fan of Colman’s since watching Broadchurch and she does not disappoint in her MCU debut. Falsworth is an old-school MI6 spymaster and her scene with Nick Fury is crackling with unresolved tension. Falsworth’s concern is that Fury has lost a step after the Blip and his time spent off Earth with S.A.B.E.R.
She’s not wrong, either, since we see just how off his game Fury has become by the end of the episode. This sentiment is echoed by Hill during a sit-down with Fury at a pub. There are elements of disappointment and resentment that Hill presents when she talks to Fury in that scene. The two have been partners since The Avengers, with Hill serving as the solid back-up Fury needed at times. His decision to go no-contact after returning from the Blip (which Hill also was taken out by) damaged the trust they shared in a profound way.
We also get a pair of scenes between Mendelsohn and Clarke where the reveal that Clarke is playing G’iah is shown. Clarke and Mendelsohn work well off each other as a daughter and father who can’t quite see eye to eye just yet. Talos states that Soren was killed by Gravik and his extremists, which G’iah finds hard to believe initially. With that being said, G’iah agrees to help prevent the bombs from going off during Unity Day in Moscow.
This is a spy thriller, however, and nothing goes according to plan. It’s unclear if G’iah was merely a pawn in the ending sequence of events or if she was a willing participant. With that being said, Gravik (portrayed by Kingsley Ben-Adir) is a mercurial villain. We soon discover how much Fury’s skills as a spymaster have atrophied during his absence. It turns out that Gravik has been keeping an eye on Fury since his return to Earth, assuming the guise of several individuals that have crossed Fury’s path. When Fury confronts Gravik, there’s no grand villain monologue, no chewing the scenery. Gravik simply produces a detonator and presses the button, instantly killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds (potentially thousands more).
And then Gravik assumes Fury’s form before shooting Maria Hill dead in all the confusion.
Now, there can be a complaint levied that this is a case of fridging. For those not aware, fridging is an overused storytelling trope where a character is killed (usually a female character) solely to provide motivation to the main character (usually a male character). The death of Maria Hill can be considered a case of fridging and I wouldn’t say that anyone making that claim is wrong to think so. Given the amount of time Cobie Smulders has played Maria Hill (first being introduced in The Avengers), I would disagree with this being an example of fridging. The stakes of this miniseries are high and the death of an established character like Hill sets the tone for the rest of the series.
I’m intrigued to see how Secret Invasion moves forward from this point. The first episode establishes quickly and decisively that no one can be trusted. The performances from all the lead actors are spot on, particularly the newcomers Ben-Adir, Colman, and Clarke. It’s rather apparent that Clarke’s G’iah is going to perform a Heel-Face Turn at some point to assist her father and Fury in taking down Gravik. Given that Secret Invasion only consists of six episodes, that character turn will most likely happen in the next episode. I’m definitely invested in the series so far and I look forward to seeing how the show carries the story forward.
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