How much longer will Simon Kinberg and David Weil deny us clarity regarding what is going on in Invasion? Because an episode like “The King Is Dead” strains both credulity and patience. A fully “humans on the ground” episode that packs on the being alive is hard, man vibes, “The King Is Dead” moves some story lines fully forward but keeps others languishing. The Maliks are still fighting. Trevante is still yelling at and threatening Afghans, whether they’re Taliban or not. And yet Casper is somehow Alex Honnold-ing himself up a cliff wall? And all the other kids are safely doing that too? Invasion is already demanding my suspension of disbelief, but this is where I draw the line!
Anyway, putting aside my desire to rewatch Free Solo, “The King Is Dead” is a worrisome episode because of how fully it pushes the alien-invasion stuff to the background and how much it commits to story lines that so far are gratingly one-note. I’m assuming that what Mr. Murai (Togo Igawa) learned about the frequency of his daughter’s final message, the one that seemed to also capture the mysterious “Wajo” communication, will connect to the Afghanistan story line. Sand in Mr. Murai’s plant, sand in the desert where Trevante is — that tracks. But does the Afghanistan story line have to be so gruelingly offensive up until that point?
Shame on me for thinking that the subtitles provided to Kuchi’s dialogue at the end of “Orion” signaled some long-awaited humanization of the Afghan characters. Nope! “The King Is Dead” is set a day or so after the events of “Orion,” and Kuchi has been leading Trevante somewhere — to a higher patch of land where goats are grazing. The goats are cute, but Trevante is furious. Why has Kuchi been wasting his time? Where are his fellow soldiers and friends? Of course, it turns out that Kuchi (whose dialogue is back to being untranslated) was helping, and Trevante’s tracker starts working again. Bye, Kuchi, you served your purpose, and this show no longer cares about you! In fact, it possibly never did!
What happens after Trevante follows the tracker signal is about as clichéd as you would expect. The signal leads to an Afghan hospital, where Trevante accuses the hospital staff of being terrorists, and lo and behold, gun-wielding antagonists show up practically immediately! And Chavez, who Trevante finds, is on the brink of death. After the two of them share a confused “no fucking idea” reaction to the alien encounter they had before the group was separated and the vast majority of their fellow soldiers went missing, and after Trevante fights off a whole group of Afghans by himself while carrying Chavez, Chavez passes away. Trevante holds onto his body and starts driving in the insurgents’ abandoned pickup truck, but where is he going? How will he get out of here, and to whom will he tell what he saw?
Everyone is on the road in “The King Is Dead.” Back on the East Coast, the Maliks are still fighting, so much so that Luke and Sarah discuss whether their parents will get a divorce. (It seems like a rapid progression for the kids, but maybe we’re supposed to take their concern as a sign that the Maliks already had friction before Aneesha learned of Amanda’s existence.) The motel they stayed in is being evacuated, a federal emergency has been declared, and the Maliks overhear people wondering whether this could be a nuclear bomb — or ISIS. How long until the Maliks learn that Luke has been carrying around some mysterious chunk of metal, which I’m assuming is part of an alien spaceship? I give that another episode or two.
Until then, Aneesha is stewing in her knowledge that Ahmed and Amanda were expecting a baby, and Ahmed is consumed with worry that Amanda is dead, since her phone isn’t working. Their preoccupation with their own drama means they don’t notice when Luke runs away, but after a full afternoon of searching, they find him taken in by a seemingly Nice Guy named Patrick Mitchell (Michael Harney), who lets them stay the night. But that slow zoom out from the locked door of the Mitchells’ house felt ominous, right? As did the way Patrick informed Ahmed that the federal curfew is now in place, and the National Guardsmen doing the patrolling have loaded guns? Maybe I’m being paranoid, but Invasion is laying down so many “average Americans think that this is a widespread act of terrorism caused by brown people” messages that I think eventually someone beyond those gas-station jerks will act on them. And why not a character played by Harney, who has a long history of playing assholes?
Speaking of assholes, in the U.K., Casper — shocked and grief-stricken by the death of Mr. Edwards, who succumbed to his injuries overnight — finally stands up to Monty by revoking his vote for leader (a little late, but sure) and climbing his way up that cliff face. And although his classmates at first act like unempathetic monsters when Monty blames Casper’s mother’s paralysis, caused by her abusive husband, on Casper, they finally come to their senses once everyone makes it up the cliff and back to the road. Why should anyone still listen to Monty? Evidence of a Russian satellite is all over the road, proving that Mr. Edwards’s distraction from “metal raining from the sky” was the cause of their crash, not Casper’s seizure. It doesn’t make sense to stay here, where no one will find them. So the kids follow Casper on the long walk back to civilization, and as one of them says to Monty, “The king is dead.” Will it stay that way once the kids learn that Casper has a sketch of Russian text in his notepad — the Russian text from the side of the satellite? Between Casper and Luke, what is up with kids vibing on the aliens’ wavelength?
A literal exploration of this mysterious frequency is undertaken by Mitsuki, who JASA fires for her locked-room stunt in “Orion.” JASA management wants to brush Mitsuki’s “Wajo” finding under the rug and doesn’t believe Murai and the other astronauts’ conversation about their seeing something outside the satellite. “Perhaps it was space junk,” Mitsuki’s boss says before kicking her out and threatening her with prison time, but Mitsuki isn’t so convinced. Instead, she feels alienated by the public outpouring of grief for her secret girlfriend, so she goes somewhere unexpected: Murai’s father’s house. Father and daughter were estranged, and Mitsuki thought it was because Mr. Murai, with his “rigid thinking,” didn’t accept or approve of Murai’s sexuality. But actually, Mr. Murai tells her, his three-year separation from his daughter stemmed from his disapproval of her hiding her sexuality from everyone else and pretending to date a man to maintain her image. “I just couldn’t take seeing her hide her heart,” Mr. Murai says, and that statement helps thaw Mitsuki’s coldness toward him. And it’s only with Mr. Murai’s experience as a radio engineer that Mitsuki makes progress in understanding the “Wajo” message and what could be hidden within it. “Does JASA have a bigger sound system?” Mr. Murai asks, and tune in next week when Invasion goes full Jaws homage. Maybe a shark will eat Ahmed. That would be fine!
We’re Talking Here About Your Future
• Is Luke the new worst child on TV? You ran away from your parents during what is clearly an alien invasion, and you have some mysterious metal chunk you found that you’re keeping to yourself? Congratulations, Dana Brody of Homeland, your watch has now ended.
• I could spend hours indulging in Golshifteh Farahani sneeringly rattling off “hip” children’s names: “Jaden, Olivia, Beckett, Madison, Theo.” I also offer up Jaxxon and McKenna for consideration.
• It is TV law that you do not cast Michael Harney unless he’s going to betray you in some way, and this is where I tell you to watch Deadwood.
• No Sam Neill this episode, either! Buddy, where are you?
• “I heard someone say Boston’s gone,” Ahmed says, and from the very bottom of my New England Patriots–hating soul, I say: Bye!
• An update on the rest of the world and potential alien attacks outside of the United States and the U.K., where we’ve spent so much time: huge explosion in Mumbai, blackouts in France and Brazil.