Secret Invasion – Episode 2
Marvel’s Secret Invasion continues with a declaration of War and Nick Fury rapidly running out of support in his battle against the Skrulls.
The MCU has had a variable relationship with the concept of moral ambiguity. At its best, it was delivering stories like Captain America: The Winter Soldier where the murkiness of morality in a complicated world is the baseline of the film and at its worst it was absolving Natasha Romanov of any guilt she is holding onto after being ordered to do terrible things. Characters like Nick Fury lend themselves naturally to operating in moral grey areas where the greater good is used to justify awful deeds. Secret Invasion is certainly open to the idea of Nick Fury being such a person and the audience is left questioning whether he’s a protagonist worth rooting for.
Fury’s questionable morality is laid bare early in the episode. A flashback to 1997 details him making a deal with the Skrulls to act as his agents in exchange for him working with Carol Danvers to find a new home for them. The tradeoff is simple – they keep their promise to blend in and protect Earth and he’ll keep his. If this deal was too ambiguous then the scene introduces a young Gravik who Fury recruits as an agent. He does express reluctance before agreeing but takes almost no convincing to enlist Gravik. For those keeping score; Nick Fury recruits shapeshifting agents to do his bidding in keeping Earth safe -one of which is a child- while holding himself to a promise that he ultimately won’t keep. The Devil’s Advocate argument excuses him slightly as it’s feasible that he believed Carol would be able to find them a home but the benefit of hindsight shows that he was incapable of keeping his promise and the resulting mess is his fault.
The previous episode had questionable messaging in regard to refugees. It posited the notion that refugees will eventually violently take over. Granted that was an interpretation based on only one episode of the show but the optics are less than ideal, particularly when considered in the context of the world the show is being realeased in. The questionable messaging continues in the pledge Fury has them make. They have to promise to blend in and never present their authentic selves. Taken literally, it’s easy to understand why as in 1997 the general public had no idea aliens exist and revealing that to them would create panic but in the context of comparison to the world outside of the show it points to the idea of refugees and foreigners only being welcome if they look like those in the country they’re entering and blend in so that people don’t feel uncomfortable being presented by something different to their norm.
It’s not something the episode treats as a good idea as it accompanies Fury recruiting a child agent and making a false promise so it’s impossible to dispute that everything Fury is doing in the flashback is the wrong approach. This deepens the character of Nick Fury by showing him to be someone comfortable with compromising morality in the face of what he believes to be the greater good. The trouble the show will have as it progresses is keeping the audience on his side though it does appear part of his purpose in the narrative is accepting responsibility and working to deal with a problem he created through some major errors in judgement.
In many ways, it seems like part of the point of this show is to challenge Fury’s outlook and force him to do things differently. The death of Maria Hill feeds into this idea with it being caused by a colossal miscalculation on Fury’s part. Her mother, Elizabeth (Juliet Stevenson) reminds him of how loyal she was to him and to make sure that she didn’t die for nothing. Her loss signifies Fury losing a significant ally in an episode that is partially about him realising how few he actually has. Maria Hill’s death should act as an example of how little control Fury has of the rapidly escalating situation and it’s a sign of how unsafe everything is.
This episode tries to flesh out the motivation of the Skrulls in more detailed terms and a big part of their desire to make Earth their home is the lack of delivery of Fury’s promise. Decades later and they are still without a home even though they have fulfilled their part of the bargain and that frustration has evolved into violent retaliation. Gravik being established as a young agent working under Fury creates a personal connection between them and suggests corrupted innocence as he believed in Fury when he was younger then grew bitter when he realised that belief was misplaced. He’s very much a demon that Fury has created and the consequences of that are now global.
The meeting of the Skrull Council is significant for a couple of reasons. One is that it establishes Skrulls have infiltrated some of the highest offices on Earth which means they command a significant amount of power. They are still bound by international law and the people they are accountable to so they can’t simply wipe out humanity without getting around the various systems that are in place. Another reason they haven’t managed to wipe out humanity is that there isn’t an agreed approach on the next steps to take. This meeting has them acknowledge that they are now at War and that means a change in approach. Action will have to be taken quickly so there will be no time to democratically debate every development. It’s suggested that a general be nominated to take charge during this time and Gravik is the one put forward for this. It’s an unexpected development considering Gravik was initially brought before the council because Shirley (Seeta Indrani) wanted to punish him for the attack on Russia.
Gravik’s motivation is simple. He feels betrayed by Fury and has seen more than enough suffering in his time to condemn humanity for the way they treat each other. He wants to eradicate them and allow the Skrulls to take over the world that Humans don’t seem to value anyway. It’s brief but it counts as an environmental message as well as a commentary on the needless conflicts that Humans constantly engage in. The only one not to agree with Gravik’s appointment is Shirley because she doesn’t see another War as being the best way to secure the future of their people. She makes the comment that they are in the position they’re in because they were too willing to wage War which suggests that she sees history repeating itself and is worried that the outcome may be far worse. Gravik lets her go because he’s impressed with her principles which suggest there is an as-yet undefined underlying morality to him that may be explored in future.
It’s clear that the Skrulls are already very far along in their plan to take Earth from humanity. Work is underway on a project to make them stronger which strongly hints that various MCU elements are going to be brought together to give birth to the concept of Super-Skrulls. Quite how this will factor into a show that has no superheroes to combat the Super-Skrulls is currently unknown though it’s possible that Rhodey will don his suit of armour to face down this threat when the time comes.
Shirley allows for a natural connection between the two sides of the conflict. She contacts Talos who asks her to set up a meeting between him and Gravik to discuss his daughter. This serves as a reminder of the potential battle for G’iah’s soul that may factor in as the conflict escalates. This episode does very little with her but her continued presence and reinforcing that she is Talos’ daughter suggests that she will be important in some way as the series progresses.
Her peaceful mantra also links to Talos who has a similar outlook. The flashback also establishes that Talos trusts Nick Fury and believes that he will make good on his promise to find them a new home. Establishing this fact adds extra weight to his conversation with Fury on the train. This scene is another example of excellent actors elevating the material they’re given and it’s also a well-written scene to boot. Fury offering something of himself to Talos unprompted before asking him to do the same is an excellent tactic as it exploits the friendship that has built between them while also showing that Fury respects him enough to not demand answers without offering something in exchange. It shows their connection is a complex one and Fury’s anecdote about his childhood offers a rare insight into his true self, assuming the anecdote is true.
Talos gives Fury the information that there are a million Skrulls in hiding on Earth, something Fury wasn’t aware of. When confronted, Talos argues that Fury his people were being hunted across the universe and summoning them to Earth was the only way to keep them safe. Another consideration is that Fury was blipped so it was impossible to collaborate with him on that decision since there was no way of knowing he would return. Talos was left on his own and had to make decisions without Fury’s help. He sees the Skrulls being on Earth as an opportunity for them to co-exist peacefully with Humans but Fury points out that Humans can’t even co-exist with themselves so there’s absolutely no hope of them accepting one million aliens in their midst. The contrast between Talos as the hopeful one and Fury as the cynic creates a simple yet effective ideological conflict to act as the baseline for the current version of their relationship. Notably, Fury’s outlook is similar to Gravik which creates a barrier to a peaceful resolution. The tension is heightened because both sides of the conflict only see violence as the next step with outliers considering a peaceful outcome.
The above-mentioned anecdote helps humanise Fury. This stands out as most of his appearances in the MCU characterise him as enigmatic. He has previously been interesting because so little is known about him. This is fine for a supporting character but it isn’t sustainable when he’s in such a prominent role on a series like this. This episode offers some interesting insights into the man behind the mystery and it delivers them in different ways. The train anecdote is insight into his childhood while setting up the difficulties he encountered being black. This feeds into his conversation with Rhodey when he tries to weaponise the fact that they’re both black to encourage Rhodey to side with him. He talks about the struggles they will both have endured in order to reach the position of authority and respect in contrast to all the white people who didn’t have to work nearly as hard. He does this to present himself as a kindred spirit who should be trusted for that reason but Rhodey is too savvy to fall for that and turns his point against him.
Rhodey states that all the effort put into gaining that power means that it should be respected and that he has to follow his best judgement in a given situation. He sees Fury as a dangerous loose cannon who has put America’s international position in a tenuous state so he is now a problem that needs to be removed. Fury’s declaration that the invasion has already happened falls on deaf ears as Rhodey’s focus is on the Moscow attack but it’s abundantly clear that Rhodey was the last ally he thought he had and now he has nothing.
Fury counters this with false bravado, declaring “I’m Nick Fury. Even when I’m out, I’m in.” before breaking down in private knowing that he has nothing to back that up. It’s a rare position to see Fury in and Rhodey’s perspective outlines the political complexity of global politics made more difficult by Fury’s actions. Rhodey’s very specific focus also establishes that the Skrull will be more difficult to deal with as so many people are looking in the wrong direction when it comes to facing the threat.
Further insight into Nick Fury’s inner life comes at the end of the episode with the reveal that he’s married to a Skrull. Priscilla (Charlayne Woodard) welcomes him home but only after he puts on his wedding ring. It’s a great beat as it suggests she is content to live in secret as long as Fury is fully committed to her behind the closed doors of their home. It reinforces how personal this is for Fury and how connected to the Skrulls he is as he is married to one. This will no doubt complicate matters in the coming episodes.
As good as this episode is, it was oddly structured. Many of the scenes don’t come across as organic narrative progression. Part of the problem is Fury’s radical shifts in location making his various scenes feel less than joined up. It’s also clear that Fury is being used as a vehicle to either deliver or receive exposition depending on who he’s talking to which makes the storytelling come across as somewhat stilted. It’s less noticeable as his scenes are being shared by excellent actors and there’s enough intrigue to carry the episode on the whole but it’s undeniably noticeable that a lot of information is being thrown at the viewer and it isn’t always well delivered.
A strong episode that offers a fascinating insight into Fury’s inner life while exploring the complexity of the conflict at play and not shying away from moral ambiguity.
- not shying away from the moral ambiguity of Nick Fury
- establishing that this is a mess of Fury’s making
- the Skrull Council meeting as a showcase of Gravik’s motivation and methods
- Shirley offering the counter argument and a different perspective on the Skrulls
- Shirley’s morality connecting neatly with Talos’
- Fury and Talos’ compelling ideological conflict
- Fury’s anecdote on the train offering something of himself to Talos before demanding the same in return
- the complexity of Fury and Talos’ friendship
- various examples of Fury being humanised
- the complex tension in his conversation with Rhodey
- Fury trying to weaponise race in his conversation with Rhodey and having it thrown back at him
- the episode being generally oddly structured
- still doing very little with G’iah
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