It’s hard to watch Secret Invasion without thinking about the planning that goes into nefarious schemes and savvy counter-schemes concocted by characters in a Marvel-level universe-builder — not to mention the behind-the-scenes planning that goes into making the movies and shows themselves. The MCU has been seeding mega-events like the Battle of New York and the Snap and the Battle of Earth for years, carefully constructing interconnected narratives with glorious payoffs.
Some of this is just fan hype, of course, that I imagine even Kevin Feige might freely admit does not reflect the flukier reality of how these movies and shows are made. But I also imagine that this season of Secret Invasion was, to some extent, outlined and maybe even written before any of it was shot and has some designs on taking Nick Fury from his preshow starting place to wherever he winds up at the beginning of this fall’s The Marvels. So it’s especially vexing that the show doesn’t appear to be applying clever plot twists so much as rewriting itself as it goes along; sometimes an inadequate blueprint is considerably worse than no blueprint at all, which can at least allow creators some freedom to surprise. The penultimate episode of Secret Invasion calls so much attention to its characters’ plans that its makers’ plans start to seem pretty harebrained, as if Marvel shows are simply where plots too dumb for Marvel movies get their day in the sun.
To wit: In “Harvest,” Gravik makes one of his trademark pivots. Before, he was hoping to use his secret Skrull army to kick-start a conflict between the U.S. and Russia that would lead to World War III, distracting the planet for long enough (and killing enough humans) to facilitate a Skrull takeover. Engineering World War III has been a bad-guy dream for decades at this point, so presumably Gravik has been absorbing a lot of Earth culture during his time on this planet and probably finds this plot much fresher than the rest of us.
However, in the wake of the Skrulls’ failure to carry out the presidential assassination that was going to be blamed on the Russians, Gravik decides that he will instead use his Skrull-soldier version of Colonel Rhodes to reveal to the still-living U.S. president that Skrulls have begun their infiltration and fabricate a working relationship between the Skrulls and the Russians. This, he explains, will give him “leverage” with Nick Fury. Fury won’t want a bunch of Skrulls and humans to be killed in the panicked U.S. response and will therefore be more willing to give Gravik what he really wants: Avengers DNA, courtesy of superhero blood spilled during the Battle of Earth (also known as the climax of Avengers: Endgame), retrieved at Fury’s behest by Skrull agents led by Gravik.
Gravik explains this to some of his discontented Skrull revolutionaries, who are demanding to know why he hasn’t yet obtained this genetic material (which presumably holds the key to making Skrull that imitate superheroes’ power sets, rather than just their appearance). But does this plan, and explaining it as such, make actual sense as anything but a way to foment further Skrull unrest and make an extratextual #NotAllSkrulls point about Gravik being especially bad and ruthless? To convey this ruthlessness, he again turns to the big book of action-movie clichés and dispatches an ally who questions his leadership. He also attempts to put the other Skrulls in their place, deriding them as “faceless, nameless” servants of his grand scheme. This leads to an attempted mutiny at Skrull central, rapidly quelled by Gravik’s physical prowess in what is, admittedly, a pretty cool fight scene. It leaves several of his trusted soldiers dead and other Skrulls concluding that Gravik is a “monster.”
It’s all pretty much by the book: Take a villain with a vaguely sympathetic point of view and make it clear that his true-believe bona fides don’t necessarily extend beyond bolstering his own power. It’s so familiar, in fact, that Nick Fury intuitively understands Gravik’s plan and explains it to his ally Sonya, using almost the exact same language as his enemy: Gravik is exposing his Skrull force “for leverage.” (Maybe if the show says “leverage” enough times, it will simply become a brainy thriller by sheer insistence.) But while Fury obviously doesn’t want harm to come to Skrulls or humans, how does potentially betraying some Skrulls on the way to World War III give Gravik much additional leverage over Fury? Fury was already worried about the possible casualties in a Skrull-instigated war and was already trying to expose the Skrull threat. While there’s surely potential for a mess if it’s falsely attributed to Russia, the final outcome of war seems unlikely to change.
Even the personal threat to Fury feels a bit misplaced. When Fury angrily confronts Skrull Rhodes at the president’s hospital where Fury has been loyally, angrily guarding the injured POTUS, Rhodes gets him to back off with something more likely to impact Fury directly: He has circulated footage falsely implicating Fury in the death of Maria Hill. But he’s not threatening to do this; he’s already done it. (Also, I raised this in a past episode, but is either Fury or Maria Hill famous enough for this to have much impact? Didn’t Gravik step on his own moment by already implicating Fury in the Russia attack, albeit vaguely and nonsensically?) It’s starting to feel like maybe no one in Secret Invasion has even seen the show Leverage!
Secret Invasion is trying to play around with Fury’s sense of guilt and culpability, both in his general neglect of the Skrulls (which has yet to be really explained in a meaningful way) and in the specific revelation that the Avengers DNA Gravik knows about was collected by Fury himself. This ties into his conversation with Sonya, where she asks the No. 1 smarty-pants question for any non-Avengers MCU project: Why isn’t someone calling up the other, more powerful Avengers to solve the problem? Fury’s answer is a thin gruel of characterization, essentially about how he needs to reclaim his own power by not relying on those with godlike superpowers. But that the question is asked and answered at all offers a sliver of rumination, hinting at the power-behind-the-powers show that could have been.
With one episode to go, that thornier and more complex story, one more focused on character than plot, seems unlikely to materialize. There are more moments in “Harvest” that hint at something more character-driven, like G’iah’s story line as she grieves the death of Talos, her father, and visits Fury’s wife Varra, who assists her with a Skrull burial before they both fend off Skrull agents sent by Gravik to kill Varra. Hell, Olivia Colman brings whatever humanity she can to a cornball faux-woke Sonya line like, “If they’re not busy gaslighting you, they’re threatening you with murder. It’s what all the podcasts are about.” (Slay, Sonya! Literally, because you’re a government agent who shoots people!) She seems appropriately amused by Fury’s secret cemetery stronghold, where he keeps, yes, the vial of Avengers DNA (going to need a bit more of a citation on how that works), along with a bunch of his Nick Fury accessories. This stuff is silly; it’s also more convincing, in its way, than the idea that anyone inside or outside of this show has a legible master plan.
Secrets, No Lies
• Fury Fashion Watch: At Fury’s very silly and cool Finnish cemetery hideout, he retrieves his signature overcoat, eyepatch, and maroon skulking cap. The fashion watch is over; regular Nick Fury is back, baby!
• The aforementioned Finnish cemetery confirms that when Disney bought Fox, all rights to the Fox Forest were included.
• I admit I was mildly pleased to see the cameo from Rick Mason (O-T Fagbenle) — the guy who tells Fury that the helicarrier has been mothballed and makes some wan cracks about Fury being old and cranky — sheerly because he’s a character from Black Widow, easily one of the best MCU movies of the past bunch of years.
• Lots of bad dialogue in this one, friends. Gravik actually says, “I’m raising the stakes, Fury”; no word on whether he’s taking things to a whole new level. Fury, for his part, offers an “It’s time. Let’s finish this” to close out the episode. He also fondly recalls the time his wife said, “If you keep spending all your time chasing aliens, you might lose the one you married.” I really hope he was paraphrasing.
• Okay, one good line, or at least a line that Sam Jackson makes good: “You must be out of your Skrull-ass mind.”