Secret Invasion’s ‘Grounded’ Plot Might Be Holding It Back

Secret Invasion’s ‘Grounded’ Plot Might Be Holding It Back

We’re back! It’s Secret Invasion, episode three: “Betrayed,” and I have three guesses for who is going to be betrayed, and they’re probably all right. This episode, like every episode in Secret Invasion, is directed by Ali Selim. No individual writers are credited with this episode, but the staff writers are Beto Dantas and Matt McRee, and the story editors are Jonny Hirschbein, Haleema Mirza, Jennifer Muro, and Jovan Robinson.

A recap before the recap; Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is persona non grata anywhere that might have given him a modicum of respect, power, or influence. Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) lied to Fury and they broke up over the fact that there are a million Skrulls on Earth, rather than the two dozen Fury originally knew about. Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is leading the shadow council/Skrull rebellion in an attempt to incite nuclear warfare and create a planet only habitable for Skrulls. The Skrulls are also experimenting to try to make a Super Skrull. Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is dead. Fury is married to a Skrull. He might not know she’s a Skrull. Oh, and the opening credits are AI-generated, so that sucks. I think that’s the full rundown, let’s get going!

Secret Invasion’s ‘Grounded’ Plot Might Be Holding It Back

Skrull rebels Pagon (Killian Scott) and Beto (Samuel Adewunmi) open the episode. Beto and another Skrull will take on the skins of British officers of the Royal Navy to initiate a strike on a key NATO target. Gravik goes into the experimentation room, checking out the Super Skrullification process. The council soon joins him and he outlines his evil plan, where Skrulls will have the ability to change powers as well as changing faces. This harkens back to the moment where we saw superhero DNA on G’iah’s (Emilia Clarke) computer screen last episode.

I think there’s a level of directness here that’s underwhelming, especially for a spy thriller. Everything is very clearly laid out, everything is explained in detail, and there’s very little mystery to any of this. The questions I have going into episode three aren’t particularly exciting, and a lot of them–such as what is going on with Fury’s wife–require a level of investment in the character’s relationships that isn’t quite earned, considering we just met these people and it’s difficult to care much about them at all.

We catch up with Fury in 1998 at an unknown diner, presumably in New York City. He meets with a Skrull woman, who passes him some information. This is the undercover spy ring that Fury has been leading alongside the Skrulls. Fury and the Skrull (who might be called Vara) flirt. While she is identified as Priscilla (Charlayne Woodard) in human form, it’s now clear that Fury knows his wife is a Skrull, which solves one of the mysteries from last episode.

Image: Marvel Studios
Image: Marvel Studios

In the morning after Fury has returned to Priscilla, she confronts him — she’s not upset that he left, but that he didn’t come back. She had to deal with Fury’s absence during the blip. And then Fury left again, and Priscilla had to deal with the fact that Fury wasn’t a part of her life. When Priscilla takes a mysterious phone call, Fury stares at her phone after she leaves. Betrayal number one.

G’iah — Talos’ daughter — is woken up by Gravik who accuses her of slipping information to Talos. G’iah says it was Brogan–the Skrull tortured by Olivia Colman’s character, Sonya Falsworth–who gave them away. Gravik, it seems, isn’t entirely convinced, and G’iah is told she’s going on a mission with him tomorrow.

They head to the UK, where Gravik is meeting Talos. Gravik drops some very obvious information about a missile strike while on a phone call in the car to the parley, and G’iah, an absolute dumbass, assumes it’s true and immediately sends a text with the information — a ridiculously amateur move considering that Gravik has just accused her of leaking information. Girl, that’s a lure. That’s a trap. Gravik is going to use that as proof that G’iah is working with Talos. Truly, don’t play at spycraft if you’re going to be this dumb about it. Betrayal number two.

This moment is also emblematic of one of the problems I’m having with this series. Everything is obvious. The stakes are so clear, the intentions are deliberately laid out, and there are no shades of grey. Nuclear war bad, therefore Fury good. Maybe it’s because Secret Invasion has departed so much from the source material that it feels it needs to lay everything out, but I’m not finding myself surprised by any plot points. The enjoyment comes from the individual character interactions rather than any specific story. It’s frustrating to see great actors do great work when the material is falling so flat.

To the parley. Gravik and Talos meet at a museum. Gravik is very animated. He choses soldier blood over statesmen’s ink, and the two sit down for a spot of tea and coffee. Ben Mendelsohn is absolutely wasted in this series; he’s so intense and his delivery is incredible. He has a physicality that Ben-Adir attempts to match and emphasises how Gravik is meant to be seen by the audience. When Gravik threatens G’iah and Talos reacts, every single patron in the cafe stands and turns into Gravik in a moment that is truly the creepiest and weirdest part of this episode, and something that I wish happened more often. But this is a grounded spy thriller, which means that we very likely won’t be seeing this kind of Skrull powered tension much, even as Gravik goes Super.

Gravik uses the fact that humans go to war to justify their mass genocide, which is rich considering Skrulls are refugees from a massive war. Talos threatens to expose the Skrulls — and Gravik — to every army on Earth in order to unite humanity against the Skrull rebels. Talos is really pulling some “pick me” bullshit during this meeting, but it’s not as if Gravik is doing much better. The fact is that the humans haven’t oppressed the Skrulls; it’s just that Fury’s an arsehole who has very likely decided that preventing humans from mass destruction is more important than finding a new Skrull planet for Talos and company to colonise.

Image: Marvel Studios
Image: Marvel Studios

Talos and Fury meet up in a bar. Talos is rightfully upset and annoyed that Fury is asking for his help in locating a Skrull that has infiltrated the UK government. Talos tells Fury that he can’t just imply that he needs help — he needs to actually ask for it. Fury, surprisingly, does so, and Talos, mollified and dumbstruck, touches his arm and presumably agrees to help him.

Look, I know that Talos and Fury aren’t actually in love, but the intimacy these two men show each other — the tenderness and trust and forgiveness — it gets to me. I really enjoy this relationship, and it feels like it is the core of the show. These two are fighting around each other, trying to get to the same result, and both of them are entirely outmatched by a rebellion that seems to have mustered thousands to its side. Talos and Fury, however, seem to just have each other. It’s this kind of desperation, the sort of anxiety of a drowning man holding onto a life preserver, that I really appreciate in this series, as both Jackson and Mendelsohn are incredible actors who are really bringing pathos to their characters.

Back to the episode. Fury calls up Falsworth and relates the information he received from Talos (who received the information from G’iah, who overheard Gravik talking as they drove into London) about the British submarine Neptune. If Gravik wasn’t just laying a trap for G’iah, this is where the rebel Skrulls are, and they will use this ship to escalate world tensions. For some reason, Falsworth gives Fury the name and address of the captain of the ship — Fairbanks — and off Fury and Talos go.

Fury and Talos argue in the car. We get some background on how Talos and 19 other Skrull spies were the ones who really supported Fury’s rise through SHIELD. (Talos is truly pulling kingmaker bona fides and I am here for it.) The two men infiltrate the house, Talos is made, and Nick threatens a child in order to get Fairbanks to back down. The strike order has been issued, and a non-Skrull soldier questions it, barely.

Fury and Talos are attempting to get the code word to stop the submarine’s sea-to-air missile attack. When Fairbanks insults G’iah, Talos shoots him and kills him, code unsaid. Talos calls G’iah and asks for the launch termination password. G’iah decides this is the time to reveal her true allegiances and find the code hidden in Fairbanks’ memories. She finds the code, calls Talos, and he aborts the launch. In the submarine, the Skrull attempts to re-initiate the launch, but fails.

Fury and Talos debrief. Talos iterates that he’s not with Gravik because he’s with Fury. G’iah begins her escape of New Skrullos, but Gravik stops her. He pulls a gun on her and shoots her, presumably killing her. I am so sure she’s not dead that this doesn’t surprise me or even shock me. Like, they can’t possibly kill her. Anyway, betrayal number three!

Back to Priscilla in her home lab in London. She leaves for the tram and it’s clear that she thinks she’s being followed. She goes to a bank, opens a safe deposit box, and retrieves a gun. She takes a phone call from Pagon who gives her a time and place and states “I need to speak to Gravik.” He hangs up and she looks a little pensive; another betrayal is on Nick Fury’s horizon and this time we’re not even being subtle about it. Betrayal number four!

So there we have it, episode three of Secret Invasion, in which the problems I have with this series start to crystalize more fully. There’s still time to make this a tense spy thriller, especially if we get more Skrull bullshit and less of an attempt at “groundedness” which seems to be more of a weakness than a strength. The best part of this series is Fury and Talos circling each other like best frenemies, and I am genuinely looking forward to watching them break up and get back together at least four more times.

The tension of this series is the implication that Skrulls could be anyone, at any time, anywhere, and yet at almost every turn we’ve been told, very clearly, who the Skrulls are, where they are going, and what they are doing. Thus, most of the tension from this initial premise has deflated, and Marvel’s attempt to capture the lightening-in-a-bottle rush of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has fallen, sadly, into a rut as Secret Invasion choreographs its every betrayal with an immature and obvious heavy-handedness.

Three episodes of Secret Invasion are available to stream on Disney+. New episodes release every Wednesday.