Secret Invasion Pushes the Boundaries of an Unreliable Narrator

Secret Invasion Pushes the Boundaries of an Unreliable Narrator

Secret Invasion, Marvel’s newest Disney+ series, takes notes from spy thrillers, focusing on Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury as he struggles to maintain world peace amid an alien invasion. Much of the backstory for the events in the series comes from 2019’s Captain Marvel, starring Jackson alongside Brie Larson as Carol Danvers.

All six episodes of the limited series were directed by Ali Selim, and the first instalment was written by Kyle Bradstreet and Brian Tucker. While you don’t have to watch Captain Marvel to understand what’s going on here, there is a lot of set-up done within that film to establish this series. The first episode of Secret Invasion suffers from a lot of incredibly fast worldbuilding and info-dumping, but here’s the basics of what you need to know.

Back in the ‘90s, Skrulls came to Earth as refugees from an inter-species alien war between the Skrull and the Kree. Fury teamed up with Carol Danvers — aka Captain Marvel — a human inundated with immense power after an accident, who had been taken in by the Kree to fight in the Skrull/Kree war. During the events of Captain Marvel, Danvers realises she was fighting for the wrong side, and she and Fury promise to find the Skrulls a new home. Danvers escorts a Skrull refugee ship into space, and a handful of Skrull stay on Earth to help maintain peace in exchange for Fury eventually finding them a planet to call home.

To be honest, it’s a steep bet for the Skrulls, considering that Fury had just learned about aliens earlier that month. Sure, trust the Earth man to Not Deal With Earth Problems so he can find you guys a new planet. Humans don’t even have FTL travel and y’all trust Fury to be able to figure this out? First mistake, to be honest.

Secret Invasion Pushes the Boundaries of an Unreliable Narrator

Regardless, that all happened back in the ‘90s. In the MCU’s “Present Day,” Secret Invasion opens in a classic location for the spy thriller genre it so desperately seeks to emulate: Moscow. Exterior. Night. Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) travels through darkened streets to meet with Prescott, a connection who purports to have information on an alien conspiracy. Skrulls have infiltrated… humanity? I suppose? And are committing terrorism across the world?

There’s no real explanation for why they are committing acts of violence, but that’s what the plot is for! Secret Invasion is a slow-burn spy thriller, after all. It doesn’t appear as if the Skrulls want to undermine any systems of government; what they’re doing is plain old terrorism, full of random high-density, high-visibility targets all over the globe. When Prescott realises that Ross might be a Skrull, he attacks him. Ross kills Prescott and then escapes, running through Moscow, tailed by another man.

Ross calls Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) for backup, but she gets there too late. Ross-the-Skrull jumps off a building during the pursuit and lands on the cobblestones, dying while crawling towards Hill’s car. Then, the man who had been running after Ross shows up, revealing himself to be Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), shapeshifting into his preferred human skin.

We cut to an empty field, where a beam of light delivers Nick Fury (the real one) to Earth; he’s been in space creating SABER since the events of Avengers: Endgame, as established in the Spider-Man: Far From Home end-credits scene. (It’s implied both in this series and in that after-credits scene that every time that we’ve seen Fury since Endgame has actually been Talos. It’s worth noting here that SABER is not the same as SWORD, the Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division introduced in Wandavision, but Monica Rambeau, who goes by Photon and will appear in The Marvels movie, probably works for both of these divisions. God, that’s a lot.) Hill appears at the field to pick Fury up, and she is not exactly happy with the fact that her boss jetted off to space for years. Then, Fury and Talos reunite… surprisingly tenderly.

Image: Marvel Studios
Image: Marvel Studios

Talos reveals that Skrulls have been helping Fury on Earth for years, though doing what isn’t clear. He also says that Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a young Skrull, is leading a rebellion of Skrulls who are upset that Fury hasn’t found them a home in the past 30+ years.

Then, Hill explains that Skrull physiology is such that they are immune to radioactivity — which is why they are hiding out in Russia, where there are more unregistered radioactive black sites than anywhere else in the world. This is when a lot of the plot points become clear. While it’s not laid out explicitly, one can connect the dots to assume that the Skrulls are hoping to push just enough world powers over the edge through large scale acts of terrorism to incite nuclear war, which will leave Earth uninhabitable for humans. Skrulls, however, will be fine.

Hill also reveals that there’s raw bomb material has been stolen from a warehouse in Kazakhstan, which will likely play a part in the Skrull’s next terrorist attack, this time in Russia. If we recall Ross and Prescott’s conversation, we know that members of Americans Against Russia (AAR) have been mobilizing in the city, implying that the Skrulls have infiltrated their ranks. The story has taken its full shape at this point. I’m sure everything will go smoothly.

Next, a quick scene of James Rhodey (Don Cheadle) talking to President Ritson (Dermot Mulroney) at the White House. Rhodey explains that Fury is back on Earth, and the Prez isn’t pleased that he left SABER to galavant in Russia. Truly, Fury really cannot win. Adding insult to injury, back in Moscow, Fury gets kidnapped by Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman), an MI6 agent who is, likewise, not thrilled to see Fury has made planetfall.

Image: Marvel Studios
Image: Marvel Studios

Fury surreptitiously plants a bug in Falsworth’s office. They drink, and Falsworth interrogates Fury’s intentions. He immediately starts trying to figure out if Falsworth will give him any information about the Kazak payload. Falsworth basically laughs in his face and tells him that he isn’t his old self, and we see some real vulnerability from Fury as an ageing agent. Naturally, Falsworth doesn’t give anything away and does not offer to help Fury figure out where the bomb is going.

Then, a change of pace, as we meet G’iah (Emilia Clark), Talos’ wayward daughter, as she invites a Skrull into New Skrullos, a Skrull utopia hidden in an abandoned Russian nuclear compound. The inhabitants hope to create a refuge, while also acting as the base for the Skrull resistance, led by Gravik. We get a glimpse of the rebel forces as a Skrull agent takes the skin and memories of one of the members of AAR, confirming earlier suspicions.

Falsworth gets in contact with her boss and explains Fury is back. Apparently the Kazak payload can only be made into a bomb by a few specific people in Moscow, something that Fury, Hill, and Talos overhear thanks to Fury’s bug. They now know where the bomb will be, and hope to intercept it before the Skrulls can get it. Only now, they’ll also be dealing with MI6 agents. Talos isn’t thrilled. Hill isn’t happy. Only Fury, calmly self-assured, explains that of course they can handle this. (Fury, it must be said, has made his entire career on risking his life in ever more absurd situations against worsening odds, and at this point it’s only Plot Armour keeping this man alive.)

We get our first face-to-face introduction to Gravik in the New Skrullos mess hall, where another Skrull, his second-in-command, Pagon (Killian Scott), tells Gravik that Fury has returned to Earth. This information seems to be the worst-kept secret on the planet, as most of the plot thus far has been various people telling various other people that Fury’s back in town — but don’t worry, he’s a washed-up old man with too many enemies and not enough favours to call in.

G’iah is tasked with getting the bombs from the bombmaker and heads into Moscow. The team — Fury, Talos, and Hill — head out. G’iah makes it to Poprischchin (Uriel Emil) the bombmaker, and gets the package without any trouble. Fury and Talos accost Poprischchin while Hill follows G’iah. Fury and Talos try to get information from Poprischchin, who is revealed to be a Skrull. Talos insists that fighting Skrulls is his responsibility, and when Fury shoots Poprischchin, Talos is obviously upset at the man’s death, which is a clear set-up for tension between Fury and Talos in future episodes.

Hill continues to tail G’iah, and eventually Talos catches up to them. Talos finally confronts his daughter, who insists that she’s doing the right thing. When Talos implies that the resistance is responsible for her mother’s death, she has a moment of doubt. She keeps the backpacks holding the bombs, and Talos lets her leave.

Image: Marvel Studios
Image: Marvel Studios

Fury and Hill hang out in a bar, playing chess. (This is when we really see that Hill is not exactly pleased with Fury’s disappearance.) The big reason he’s back is that he “owes it to Talos” to help out. Hill reveals that she really didn’t want Fury back; she’s now the second person we’ve seen telling Fury that he hasn’t been the same since the snap. But then, for some reason, she says that Fury doesn’t risk lives or take uncertain bets — when we’ve seen quite clearly how excited he is by bold swings and big sticks. I don’t agree with the writing here, but we’re moving on.

In New Skrullos, G’iah hands the bombs to Gravik and says maybe they should postpone the strike. No dice. Then, G’iah secretly meets up with Talos, who tries to convince her to leave Gravik and New Skrullos. G’iah reveals that there are hundreds of Skrull operatives in the field and that’s how they know that Fury’s team will be trying to stop the bombs. She agrees to mark the backpacks with the bombs in infrared paint so that Fury’s team can identify them in a crowd. She’s not complying, but she’s giving Fury’s team a chance to disable the bombs in the future.

The next day, Fury’s team follows the bags through the Unity Day celebrations as Skrulls disperse throughout the city parades. Fury follows a child he saw earlier in the episode and she transforms into a man he saw at the bar with Hill. The Skrulls are playing with him. The Skrull continues to transform, taking the shape of a mysterious woman. Then the woman transforms into Gravik, revealing that he’s been following Fury the whole episode.

Meanwhile, Hill and Talos both follow bomb backpacks, but once they catch up to them, they’re empty; the backpacks are decoys and the bombs had likely been planted before the celebration entirely. The bombs go off, and Hill is caught in the blast. She attempts to leave the scene when she spots Fury, who shoots her. The real Fury finds Hill, but it’s too late, and he watches Gravik flee the scene. Talos pulls Fury off Hill’s body, and Hill dies in the courtyard.

It’s a pretty unceremonious end for one of what is (was, now, perhaps) longest-enduring supporting characters of the MCU, but it is a great hook for the next episode. Overall, even though Secret Invasion wants to go for tightly-plotted, grounded spy thriller, it still can’t escape the fact that shapeshifting aliens, any spymaster’s wet dream of an agent, are propelling the drama.

Fury lays out the problem of this conceit when he’s talking to Poprischchin, saying everyone gets one lie, nobody gets two. That’s kind of the problem. The Skrulls can lie over and over and over again. With no way to quickly identify the differences between a Skrull and a human, even among other Skrulls, the tension bleeds out of the first episode. If you can’t trust anyone is truly themself, what is the point in trusting any character? Starting with Ross turning into a Skrull set the tone of the episode, but it’s a difficult line to walk between asking the audience to question everyone and also asking the audience to trust the vulnerability, emotions, and connections between any two characters.

It’s an interesting direction for Marvel, and while Hydra 2.0: Skrulltastic Boogaloo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, it is taking steps towards something new.

Secret Invasion episode one is now streaming. Episodes will be released every Wednesday on Disney +.