Each Saturday, Kevin from @tastienfilm_bad will be recapping the most recent episode(s) of Invincible and giving us insight into the comics on which the show is based.
102: Here Goes Nothing
How do you build a world? What makes the space the actors inhabit feel lived in and real? If you’re JJ Abrams or Damon Lindelof you employ the “mystery box” approach and start with a pinhole sized focus that eventually scopes out to a larger, maybe less-confusing picture. Classic sitcoms would build their world through the relationships and rules of the main characters, and then run those relationships through a gauntlet of farcical situations. If you’re the D&D guys from Game of Thrones you opt for setting up lots of cool things and intriguing ideas and then never delivering on them (or so I’m told, I stopped watching after The Mountain and The Viper episode)
It’s a delicate balance to strike. Too much frontloading of the rules and shape of the world and you risk turning every character interaction into an exposition dump, but spread the crumbs out too far and the show feels laborious, one of those “it’s a slow burn, you gotta stick with it, but it REALLY picks up in season six” shows that I will never stick with for six seasons. If you read the comics, Here Goes Nothing will feel like an endless merry go round of beloved characters and old friends. Though I feel like if you’re coming in cold, this episode could have felt more like a whirlwind, one where you should be keeping notes on who everyone is. Hopefully this recap can shed some context on who these characters are, and why we should care about them.
Recap (Show-Level Spoilers)
We start on another cold open with Joh Hamm’s “Steve” and his step-son, Matt (Max Burkholder) They’re on that trip to London Steve was talking about in the first episode. Outside of Buckingham Palace they have a conversation about The Queen and how behind her kindly appearance she holds a wealth of power. The conversation is thematic to what we will come to know about Nolan Grayson, aka Omni-Man. The cold open is interrupted by a nice callback to episode one as the trash Mark launched into orbit has finally come back to Earth, an ocean away.
Back at the Guardians of the Globe headquarters, we are left with the gruesome aftermath of last episode’s twist ending. A government-funded-looking cleanup crew is on the scene, investigating the grisly crime. Lots of interns vomiting here as all the king’s men cannot put Martian Man back together again. Most are lost, but I wouldn’t fully count out a guy named The Immortal…
Nolan is still unconscious through most of this episode, and at this point his family still doesn’t know where he is. We get a quiet moment with Debbie as she goes about another morning waking up alone, unsure of where her husband is if he’s even alive. The uncertainty weighs heavy on her shoulders and makes every task feel like a burden. I’m glad the show is utilizing Debbie as the emotional core of the family and the series, just like she was in the comics.
From here the show starts it’s parade of new characters. Chris Diamantopoulos, whom I know mostly as the tech bro douche from Silicon Valley, does some impressive voice work over a few new characters in the episode. We meet the first, an Agent Coulson type named Donald Ferguson, and his superior, Cecil Stedman (played here by Walter Goggins). We’re given lots of acronyms and boiler-plate facts, but all you really have to know is that the Global Defense Agency is as shady as every other government sanctioned acronym in comics (S.W.O.R.D and S.H.I.E.L.D immediately spring to mind)
Before you get a chance to really settle in with this new reality, we’re whisked away to Mark’s first big fight. Back on the streets, an alien race called the Flaxons opens a portal and invades. After we saw the violence the show was capable of in episode one, the animators don’t hold back in the destruction a space laser can cause when it hits human flesh. Lives are lost in these fights, there’s no escaping that.
Mark seems outmatched until he is bailed out by The Teen Team. Three guesses as to what they’re riffing on! In the interest of time, here’s a quick hits list of *Arnold Scwarzenegger voice* who dey ahh and what do dey do.
- Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs): Eve’s powers feel like an amalgam of a few different X-Men. Mostly Phoenix Jean Grey Scarlet Witch stuff with telepathic barriers. She taps into these powers more later on in the comics and can do some pretty world-breaking things by the end. She’s an early love interest, but I like the way the show is developing her a little bit differently than the comic.
- Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas): Like Firestorm can apply charge and energy to static objects turning them into exploding projectiles. At first he’s just written like your typical hotheaded jerk with impulse control issues, but the comics go into a backstory that hides tragedy. He and Eve are currently dating, but for how long?
- Dupli-Kate (Melise): see if you can guess what she does. As long as “Kate Prime” is safe she can spawn and kill as many duplicates as she wants. She has a brother but he doesn’t seem to be mentioned quite yet.
- Robot (Zachary Quinto): my favorite name parody in all of Invincible. Just as dumb a name as “Cyborg” when you stop and say it out loud. I wonder how deep the show will go into his backstory. Because it. Is. Wild. We get a sense of his cold, calculating leadership in all of the fights. He is the leader of The Teen Team, but seems to have aspirations much higher than his current role.
The use of the Flaxons is a smart move on the show’s part as they can do a lot with this fight sequence. They age rapidly while on our planet and finding out how to exploit that becomes the key to saving the day. The catch is that every time the Flaxons retreat to their home planet, they return a few days later. Hours for us is years for them and each time they return it’s with a tankier arsenal. Every fight sequence has multiple jobs. They push the plot forward, establish new characters, and showcase new powers. Every time they fight (three in total) we get pushed a little farther: Teen Team is enough for the first fight, but we need Mark to Hulk out and really flex for the first time to beat the second wave, and when they return even stronger it’s up to Omni-Man to fly in and put an end to it. More on that later.
The relationship between Mark and Eve exists on a few different planes. There’s the professional work relationship of superheroes on a supersquad, and the friendly relationship of schoolmates. That’s all, for now at least. But the show gives us a look at both sides of the coin.
But then we meet Damien Darkblood and that’s where I imagine some people go, “ok wtf is going on in this show?” Darkblood is two parts Rorschach, one part Etrigan the Demon; a demonic private detective that solves mystical crimes to cut down on his hell/prison sentence. As the great movie Tenet once said, “you just kinda gotta vibe with it, man.” It’s cool to see a more minor character reworked to be a bigger plot point for the show, and it’s awesome that he’s voiced by none other than Mr. Krabs himself, Clancy Brown. He, and the rest of the GDA are on the case but we’re already a few steps ahead in knowing Nolan was the culprit. Cue the dramatic irony.
It’s around here that the episode weirdly begins to feel a little sluggish. It’s just throwing so much at you it’s hard to find the main beat or thrust of the storyline. Luckily, episode three seems to allow the show to find some footing and tell a story as opposed to just setting the table. Which is good because we’re still not done introducing characters for future plot points.
The last “new guy” we meet is a personal favorite. In my opinion, just the absolute best dude. A solid guy, Allen the Alien. Seth Rogen is an inspired choice to capture the genial nature of Allen. Can’t wait to see what they do with him on the show, but so far he remains true to the comic. He’s sort of like a risk analysis guy who works for a galactic agency testing the defenses of far-off planets. He arrives at Earth Christopher Columbus style: looking for a fight and completely lost. Turns out he was supposed to evaluate Urath, not Earth. Common mistake. We get a bit of expository back and forth and as Allen flies off it feels like the last big piece is in play. Still LOADS of questions remain, mind you, but the show, in only two efficient episodes, has established the main players, settings, and conflicts for the future. It’s ready to rock.
The episode ends with the third wave of the annoying Flaxons. Fun fact, the scarred one that seems to have an Earth grudge is played by Djimon Hounsou. When I say that even the bench for the voice cast is STACKED…I’m not lying. Less fun fact: Omni-Man flies back through the portal to the Flaxxons home world this time and absolutely annihilates it. Full on planetary terrorism. That’s a bad dad right there.
It’s a nice bookend to the conversation Steve and his son have in the beginning. Omni-Man is the Buckingham Palace of superheroes as he stands as much a warning as he does a symbol. I, for one, cannot wait to see where the season goes with that metaphor, and how far they push the dynamic they’re building here.
Stray Thoughts & Theories (POTENTIAL FUTURE SPOILERS MAYBE IDK)
- Invincible was always a comic that looked at superheroes from three main vantages: the personal, the filial, and the societal. Here Goes Nothing establishes all of these. We get to see Mark deepen his connection with his first family, but forge bonds with a new one as well. We see more into the mind of Mark and the interpersonal navigation of his coming of age/powers phase. And then we see how superheroes factor into the lives of the people they don’t know, the society at large that we all live in, according to The Joker. If the episode felt like a lot it’s because it was a lot. Hopefully, the world is as established as it needs to be to really tell a story. I think it will.
- When Nolan returns to Earth we hear a news story in the background about a mad bomber being apprehended. This is probably a nod to Mark’s actual first fight in the comics: Mr Hiles, his science teacher was kidnapping students to turn into human bombs. You know, teacher stuff.
- I am a little less convinced that Steve’s step-son is actually Oliver Grayson, Mark’s half-brother and superpowered alien boy from the comics. I will say Matt (the boy in the cold open) DOES have a similar haircut to the comic character…Jury’s out on this one still.
- The soundtrack feels like it was ripped right from one of my college radio playlists. Lots of alt-grunge, post-pop, Vans-Warped-Tour-adjacent stuff. Love it. Perfect soundtrack for a violent and poignant teenage superhero story