“I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, and I’m the only one of us who can’t fly.”
Debbie Grayson knows something is wrong. Her husband’s behavior has changed since their son’s superpowers kicked in, and a demon detective showed up in her house insinuating that her husband had killed his superhero comrades. Debbie’s suspicions grow when Red Rush’s widow asks for help selling her house, putting Debbie in a headspace that’s fixated on Nolan’s role in the massacre. “Neil Armstrong, Eat Your Heart Out” gives Debbie more attention than any chapter of Invincible has thus far, adding a lot of complexity to her relationship with Nolan by defining more of their past.
I should have known Sandra Oh wouldn’t have signed up for a thankless wife role, and this episode establishes that Debbie is as key a cast member as her superhero husband and son are. The line quoted above, delivered while Debbie and Nolan are re-creating their first date at a café in Rome, is a succinct, powerful summary of both her tense emotional state and her relationship with the rest of her family. Yes, it’s a scary, uncertain time with the murder of the Guardians of the Globe and Mark learning the superhero ropes, but Omni-Man and Invincible are genetically programmed to withstand whatever comes at them. They don’t live with the same mental stressors as Debbie, who has clearly had to work to get her husband to understand her perspective.
We saw some of that in last episode’s conversation after the Guardians’ funeral, but it becomes a bigger issue this week when Debbie is reminded of what a blowhard her husband used to be and the ways his old behaviors are returning. When Nolan tells Debbie she doesn’t need to worry about work when she’s the wife of the most powerful man on the planet, she reminds him that she’s more than just a superhero’s wife. She works because she likes it; later in the episode, we see the satisfaction she gets from preparing a home and putting it on the market. Like the morning-routine scene in episode two, this sequence showing Debbie at work reinforces certain aspects of her personality without using any dialogue, which I find very refreshing in a genre that tends to hand-hold its audience through the emotional beats.
The strength of Oh’s delivery gives Debbie a forceful personality that puts her on an even playing field with her superpowered husband, and when they’re in Rome, we learn she has been in a position of power for a long time, having dumped Nolan after their first trip to Rome because he expected her to worship him. Omni-Man’s heroism eventually won her over again, but, deep down, this guy is an asshole. He forces Debbie to say she trusts him by refusing to act when a dragon attacks Rome, but even after she says it, he still won’t budge because he’s on vacation. There’s no real trust there, and even though they have some intense makeup sex, they have just put the whole “my husband murdered seven people” thing in a box on the top shelf of the closet, out of sight and out of mind.
This episode juxtaposes Debbie and Nolan’s relationship with the budding romance of Mark and Amber, who have their own first-date experience. The banter between the teens continues to work really well, largely because Steven Yeun and Zazie Beetz are so charismatic, and Mark’s endearing awkwardness makes up for his shifty behavior when he has to lie to Amber about his two-week mission to Mars. The music cue for their front-door kiss, Bazzi’s “Paradise,” works a lot better than the one for last episode’s scene with Eve and Rex, and this whole episode uses music effectively to set the tone, like using Run the Jewels’ “Don’t Get Captured” for a montage of the Mauler brother creating a new clone of himself.
“Neil Armstrong, Eat Your Heart Out” opens with a scene teasing some sort of ancient evil rising from a desert tomb, going for a very old-school, pulpy adventure-horror vibe. It’s a moment of high drama, setting a point of contrast for the following scene, which shows Invincible and Omni-Man racing around the globe while Vampire Weekend’s peppy “Sunflower” plays in the background. That dynamic between classic and modern is one of the things I find most engaging about Invincible, and while the show taps into tried-and-true genre tropes, it surrounds them with relationships and themes that highlight the ways superhero stories have evolved over the years.
The connection between Invincible’s father-son heroes is very much rooted in toxic masculinity. Nolan keeps Mark at an emotional distance and physically overpowers him so he can toughen up, presumably so he can join in the conquering of Earth. That’s not who Mark is, though. He’s sensitive and cares about other people, taking after his mother. As the parents’ characters are fleshed out, the tension between their ideologies grows within their son. We see how each parent chooses to raise him, and at a certain point, Mark will have to make a choice about whose footsteps to follow in. Is there a world where the Viltrumite side wins out? Right now, it seems unlikely because Mark is such a bright, optimistic figure, but a lot can change by the end of your teen years.
Omni-Man’s killing of the Guardians of the Globe has wide-reaching consequences and has endangered the planet from multiple angles. The biggest threat is Omni-Man himself, and everyone knows it. Damien Darkblood says it to his face, and Cecil and the GDA are investigating in secret, trying to piece together the bigger picture before they take any action against a superpowered murderer. Damien’s actions get him banished from this dimension because they draw too much attention to Cecil, but it’s not as though Omni-Man isn’t aware that he’s the prime suspect. It’s probably why he refuses to go to space when Cecil asks for his help guarding four astronauts on their way to Mars. The GDA can investigate only so much while he’s still on the planet.
But Omni-Man should have gone to Mars. Invincible is a rookie, and, as this episode proves, his father’s worries are well founded. Nolan thinks Mark isn’t ready, and when he lands on Mars, he falls asleep and leaves the astronauts vulnerable to Martian abduction. Sure, he eventually finds and rescues them, but he creates an even bigger problem in the process. One of the astronauts is now a host for the Sequids, a symbiotic alien hive mind that just needs a host to activate its catastrophic power.
The Martians want to kill the human before this happens, but Mark saves them all, something his father wouldn’t have done. Yes, it would have resulted in the deaths of four humans, but that doesn’t matter to Omni-Man. What matters is that Sequids are conquerors that pose a threat to Viltrumite rule, and now Mark has brought them to Earth. I really appreciate how each episode of Invincible reveals some new aspect of the show’s larger superhero universe so there’s always a sense of discovery. This week, we get deeper into the space stuff, and though I wish there were some cooler action sequences with the shape-shifting Martians, there’s very compelling design work done on the alien creatures and their underground environment.
The death of the old Guardians also gives rise to a potential villain in the form of the team’s new leader, Robot. His motivations are unclear, but whatever he’s doing is definitely creepy. He pulls a blood sample from Rex during a Guardians meeting, and he’s going to use it on some sort of deformed creature he’s growing in a pod. The earlier Mauler scene suggests this creature is a clone, but it may be a Frankenstein situation in which a bunch of different superheroes’ DNA is being used to create a new kind of superpowered being. There are a lot of moving parts heading into the back half of Invincible’s first season, and however they collide, one thing is certain: It’s going to be a bloody mess.