We knew it was going to be bad. Mark Grayson was never going to turn his back on humanity, and when his father asks him to do that so they can conquer Earth, Mark responds by doing everything he can to stop him. And it’s not enough. Not even close. “Where I Really Come From” is one of the most harrowing episodes of superhero TV ever produced, with half of its runtime dedicated to a fight that matches extreme, spectacular violence with a devastating emotional conflict. It’s a very satisfying season finale that highlights how well Invincible develops its core relationships, and the action wouldn’t have the same impact if there wasn’t such a deep sense of loss behind each punch.
The betrayal Mark and Debbie feel only intensifies as Nolan reveals his actual origin story, his intentions for Earth, and his true feelings about not just humanity, but his family. Debbie is little more than a pet, a companion that temporarily joins Nolan during this miniscule period of his millennia-long life. Mark would have been the same if his powers didn’t kick in, but he is Viltrumite so he matters. Viltrum isn’t the benevolent savior Nolan painted it out to be, but a militarized empire that wants to prove its supremacy over the entire universe. Survival of the fittest is the guiding principle of Viltrumite civilization, and they became an unstoppable intergalactic empire by wiping out the weakest from their society, cutting their population in half.
The Viltrumite slaughter sequence emphasizes the ruthless frenzy of this culling process, showing a variety of Viltrumite killings in quick succession. They are completely desensitized to the most brutal violence against their own people, so when it comes to conquering others, there’s absolutely nothing Viltrumites won’t do. I expected waves of blood and punches that shake mountains, but there’s an extra layer of sadistic psychological torture in this family feud. Nolan needs to convince his son that humans are worthless and expendable, so he keeps killing them in ways that will scar Mark for a long time.
When Invincible saves a fighter pilot after his dad flies through his jet, Omni-Man meets them on the ground and crushes the pilot’s head with his hand, getting brain all over his son’s face. When the battle moves to Chicago, a punch from Omni-Man turns Invincible into a human wrecking ball, crashing through buildings and a busy city street, killing anyone who is unlucky enough to be in his way. Mark tries to save a mother and her daughter inside a collapsing building, but he’s not strong enough and they’re both crushed in the rubble. We’re back in the war zone mode of episode two, and Mark’s father is the person responsible for all the carnage.
The most savage moment comes in the Chicago subway, when Omni-Man grabs Invincible by the head and charges through a subway train, ripping people apart with his son’s flailing limbs. It’s deeply disturbing seeing Mark’s body used as a weapon by his own father, but this is what the Viltrumite people do. Viltrumite can only exist if they’re willing to give up their bodies to the empire, and the penalty for breaking rank is execution. Viltrum’s philosophy isn’t all that different from a significant swath of humanity who believes in their inherent superiority and doesn’t want to jeopardize that by helping people who are struggling. Empathy opens the door to assistance, which leads to people becoming stronger, and strength is a threat. For his entire life, Nolan has been told that others are less than him so that he can be the best soldier possible, and now he wants to force that worldview on his son.
After knocking Mark’s teeth out, Nolan has a flashback to a vital moment in his understanding of humanity, when he and Debbie watched Mark play baseball as a child. Nolan feels like he’s wasting his time watching this stupid game, especially when he could have a much better view from the air. This is clearly a situation Debbie has been in before and she puts on a teacher voice as she gives him another lesson in humanity, explaining how parents find comfort in their children because they remind them of life’s joys, which can be easy to forget when the weight of the world bogs them down. Nolan finally understands it when Mark hits the baseball and slides into home plate, and it’s telling that Nolan only connects with humanity when Mark is victorious. What would have happened if Mark struck out, or if he didn’t make it to home plate before the ball?
This memory sparks some compassion in Nolan, and he stops thinking like a Viltrumite conqueror and looks at his beaten, bloodied son through the eyes of a father who is directly responsible for his child’s suffering. He stops punching, but he tries a different tactic: yell at his son and try to convince him that, in the grand scheme of a life that will go on for thousands of years, his relationships with the humans he knows now will mean nothing. It’s not a successful tactic, and emphasizing the loss Mark will feel in the future ends up backfiring as Mark shows his father what he’s lost right now. It’s too much for Nolan to take, and he flies off into space, burning off the mix of his son’s blood and countless human casualties as he moves through the atmosphere.
The back half of the episode focuses on the fallout of Omni-Man and Invincible’s fight. Mark spends two weeks healing while his mother has a very justified emotional breakdown, and the Guardians decide that it’s finally time to wash off that big blood stain in their headquarters. Debbie and Mark’s anonymity is preserved via a cover story about Nolan dying when the neighbor’s house exploded, but Detective Amber puts it all together and rushes to Mark’s side when he gets back home. No one can comprehend the trauma Mark has been through, but his friends know that he needs them by his side. The quartet of Mark, Amber, Will, and Eve really comes together in this episode, and now that everyone knows everyone’s secret identities, there are much stronger ties between them all.
A news report reveals the world’s response as people wonder how the man they trusted to protect them could hurt them so badly, and there’s definite social commentary in there about the corruption of those in positions of authority. And Viltrum’s not the only militarized force to worry about. Toward the end of the episode, we find out that the U.S. government has put chemicals in tap water that prevent people from seeing specific frequencies of light. And the GDA has an entire army of cyborg soldiers created by a mad scientist. There’s plenty of shady stuff happening on Earth too, and I’m curious to see if Mark’s disdain for Viltrumite authority will cause him to look at the GDA through a new lens.
The episode ends with a lot of set up for the second season, which was confirmed this week along with a third. Allen the Alien returns to announce that the coalition of planets is trying to assemble an army big enough to take on the Viltrumites, and Mark is a cosmic asset as the only Viltrumite who won’t fight with his people. This narrative alone is enough to drive an entire season given that it would take Mark (and friends?) to the far reaches of the universe, but there are a lot more story seeds planted during a montage set to The Hives’ “Hate To Say I Told You So,” a music choice that does a lot to shift the tone away from the crushing sadness of the last 40 minutes.
As distressing as this show can get, it still has an exuberant spirit that makes it fun to watch, and this montage is a reminder of that. Invincible’s first season did excellent work creating a rich superhero universe with many different corners to explore, and this montage promises even bigger things to come. But that’s not the final note of the season. Writer Robert Kirkman understands that a huge part of Invincible’s appeal is the contrast between superhero spectacle and the mundane aspects of human life, so when Allen asks Mark what’s next, he goes to his top priority: finish high school. The beat reinforces that Mark is about to enter another major transitional period of his life after graduation, pulling the character back down to Earth as he chats with an alien on the moon.