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Marvel’s Secret Invasion is a dud

We are halfway through the season or series, and it just has not been good.

Samuel L Jackson Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Warning: this is a spoiler-full review of the first three episodes of Marvel’s Secret Invasion television series starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn.

Marvel’s Secret Invasion was always going to have a tough hill to climb. Samuel L. Jackson is a beloved actor and Nick Fury has had several fun moments in various Marvel media but Fury hasn’t exactly been a character so much as a plot-mover for most of his existence. Seriously, try to recall a time in a previous Marvel show or movie where Nick Fury had a character beat instead of just an expository moment. Outside of Captain Marvel, I can’t think of any. And even then, his character was pretty much a cardboard cutout of movie special agent tropes. He can fight, he can quip, and he can help save the day. Growing and changing? Expressing personality outside of his job? Not so much. And that was fine for who the character was and the role he was in, but this show tasks him with leading.

To its detriment, this show pretty much immediately isolated Fury. An isolated character is a difficult one to work with in film even in the best of times and given how little there was to build on as a foundation, this was not the best of times. Fury has always been taciturn but one easy way to help expand his breadth would have been to give him a confidant to explain his inner thoughts to. However, the best candidates for that were Agent Maria Hill and his Skrull partner, Talos.

Unfortunately, the show chose to have Hill - always Fury’s most loyal and capable subordinate - doubt his capabilities from the very beginning and then unceremoniously murdered her in order to make Fury feel things. Things that, two entire episodes later, we still haven’t seen Fury feel. Talos, with whom Fury had developed a camaraderie and fellowship in Captain Marvel is now completely antagonistic with Fury, both of them are miserable because of the way things have gone and are eager to blame the other.

Buddy cop movies have been a staple of cinema for decades. These are defined by two unlikely protagonists who initially dislike each other learning to work together and eventually developing a mutual respect and admiration for the skill their partner brings that they don’t have. As such, there’s is often conflict and even occasionally anger between the protagonists early in the story. It seems like Secret Invasion is trying to go for that dynamic between its stars. Unfortunately, both actors are playing things so angrily that rather than being amused by the conflict as would normally be intended, it causes a sense of unease and an audience member would be forgiven for wondering if they’re going to shoot each other. It doesn’t help that the only skills the two men seem to bring to their mission are guns and anger issues caused by emotional trauma.

An attempt was made to further humanize Nick Fury by introducing us to his romantic partner. Unfortunately, she was only finally introduced at the beginning of the third episode after having never been previously mentioned. She vanishes from the story after complaining at Nick for him leaving her only to reappear again at the very end, seemingly primed to betray him. I already touched on how poorly the show handled Maria Hill and the only other woman of note to this point is Talos’ daughter G’iah, played by Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame.

However, she’s primarily been used as an exposition device so that the viewers can understand the plans and actions of the show’s antagonists. The third episode culminated in a moment where Talos was forced to blow her cover to prevent terrorists from using a British submarine from destroying a US delegation and kicking off World War III.

Small tangent: The show behaves as if this act would guarantee WWIII. However, I find it very unlikely that the US would simply kick off a war with one of their oldest allies without first trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. At which point they would have realized they were being played.

I knew from the moment she answered his call that she would attempt an escape, Gravik would catch her, and he would inform her that he never really cared if that plan succeeded because all he really wanted to do was catch the traitor in his midst which he had already assumed was her. The only surprises for me were in how long the show allowed her to run before he stopped her and in the fact that he immediately shot and killed her. I doubt very seriously that she’s dead - you don’t cast someone like Emilia Clarke for a role as small as the one she’s played to this point - but the rest of it was so predictable as to be insulting.

The show did have one very intense, dramatic scene where Nick Fury confronts Don Cheadle’s Colonel Rhodes. The two men have a passionate discussion about what it means to them to be black men in power. I can’t speak to the authenticity of their positions, but the raw emotionality and the inability to say who was “right” made for terrific viewing in a show that has otherwise been pretty lackluster.

There’s still time for the show to improve. It’s only halfway completed. But to view it another way, there are only three episodes left. That used to be 11% of a TV show’s season instead of 50%. The writers have also put themselves squarely behind the eight ball with some of the choices they’ve made to this point. They’re so busy trying to build an air of mystery for the spy thriller that they forgot to give viewers anything concrete to latch onto and enjoy.