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.
105: That Actually Hurt
Stakes in superhero shows are tricky. The more powerful you make your main character, the stronger and more devastating you have to make the things that hurt them. Making your enemies just always a bit stronger can be tempting but eventually leads to Dragon Ball Z levels of power creep (I haven’t seen the show but I’ve heard it gets over 9000). Another way to do that, and something the Invincible comics and show both do well, is give the decisions and choices our heroes make actual consequences and fallout. That way the next time Omni-Man levels a city, or hides a bloody cape from his family it won’t be hand waved away. When things matter, it’s easier to get invested.
Recap (Show-Level Spoilers)
The cold open reintroduces us to a familiar face (and adds a point to my “Kevin Properly Predicted Something From The Show” column) with Mahershala Ali’s Titan. I knew that voice was too big to waste on a cameo. Titan’s backstory gets fleshed out more as we see him as more than just some muscle for higher. But in this scene? All muscle. He tears through some gang activity to grab some mcguffin of sorts (an “important” computer chip in this case) It is an extremely gory, one-sided fight and I was almost caught off guard by how gratuitously the lackeys were torn apart. I think it sets up a great double standard we have as an audience that will be explored and exploited later in the ep.
The episode spends most of its time setting up the extremely different circumstances that make up the backgrounds of Invincible and Titan. One is the genetic lottery winner with a comfortable home life and the other has been trying to use his powers to finally get one over on the systems that have kept him and his family in poverty. So while we start with Titan literally caving in skulls to meet the demands of his crime-lord boss, Machine Head (played here by Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovon) his plight only grows more endearing when we see how much easier Mark has it in many ways.
Mark’s consequences are shown in how he balances the new responsibilities both of his public and personal personas. The more he trains for battle with his dad, the more prepared he will be for any threat (and the more he can protect everyone on the planet) but the more he remains true to his human nature, as opposed to the Viltrumite one, the better his relationships are. The episode showcases the importance of teamwork (seen in the Guardians scene where Black Samson gets pissed at their unprofessionalism) and how Omni-Man, being all powerful, sees no value in it whatsoever. In this episode Mark does just enough to be fully punished and hated on BOTH sides. It’s well done and heartbreaking.
An example of Nolan and Titan having different approaches is in the way the two dangle villains off of high up ledges. Mark is too nice to consider dropping them, Titan has a change of heart when he sees the victim has a kid, but Omni-Man is cold and calculated at all times. It’s played for a laugh here, but does double duty in deepening that character development. We also see that Titan is just an enforcer, one of many under Machine Head’s control. He sets the fires that Mark eventually puts out. And while Mark is fighting for new things he doesn’t know enough about (responsibility of being a good partner in a relationship, showing up for the people you love) Titan moves solely to keep his family provided for and safe.
Mark piles up a lot of points in the “bad boyfriend” column in the episode. It’s the type of cliched dramatic irony that I really hate to see anymore. I love Spider-Man but there’s only so long he can stand up and lie to MJ before you start to think he should be voluntarily celibate for everyone’s good. I will allow a little (about one episode’s worth) leeway if they really go somewhere with it after today though. And judging from the events of the final scene, that’s just what they plan to do. It’ll be hard to hide the scars left from the climactic battle with Battle Beast, and I have a feeling the whole episode has been about setting up the breaking point Mark was hurtling towards. This is more like the nuke that broke the camel’s back as opposed to the straw, but Invincible was never one to be subtle. I love it for that.
Eventually Titan’s path intentionally crosses with Mark’s again, as he calls upon Invicible for some help taking down his boss. Mark wants to help this guy and sees value in being a moral, personally attentive superpowered demi-God. But when he brings this up at the dinner table we get two very different reactions from two very different vantage points. Nolan’s argument is that helping this low-level bruiser to beat up his slumlord boss is beneath Mark. An argument that isn’t without a little twinge of genocidal indifference (all earthlings are the same to Nolan). But for Debbie, who doesn’t have powers and understands what Titan’s family is going through better than Nolan ever could, it’s a matter of principle. The two shift further out to the poles of Mark’s conscience.
Debbie, as usual, gets one of the best scenes in the episode, and it’s pulled off without much dialogue. Her suspicions of Nolan have been festering, and this episode she plans a little distraction of her own to make sure she has the house to herself. A twenty minute window is all she could afford herself, and she does that by sending Nolan to Italy for some good wine. It’s a tense, well-crafted scene that had my chest tight and my butt on the edge of the couch. Just more good storytelling. I love how the show gets its best points across by having us spend time with one of the only non-powered characters on it.
Mark decides to help Titan and it becomes a choice that we will see the ripple effects of for the rest of the series, I’m sure. He’s basically set up to get his skull caved in by Machine Head’s rogues gallery for hire. By helping Titan he also ends up canceling important plans on Amber again, something she won’t stand for, and now the jilted lover suspects that Amber and Mark are up to something nefarious. Even more, he skips out on volunteering at a shelter with her and Eve, something that was really important to Amber and also something that will have big implications for Eve’s character arc going forward.
OK let’s talk about that fight. Mark and Titan face off against a slew of bad guys, all of whom are on Machine Head’s payroll. Mark thinks he can handle the fight himself, but when Battle Beast shows up the tides shift violently. In the comics the bipedal liger/warrior/space conqueror is a larger than life character whose only goal is to best the greatest fighters from every planet in mortal kombat. He does just that here. There were a couple of shots from this fight when the trailer dropped a few months ago, but to be honest I wasn’t sure if that would be from a dream sequence or something as it seemed too bloody to recover from. Nope. “Real” life. Cross your fingers that The Guardians have good insurance.
The last four episodes have done a great job of laying down puzzle pieces and rules of the universe. There are consequences, the gore is bloody, nobody is safe, and you should care about these characters. The first sequence is just as bloody and over-the-top, and gratuitous,but I found myself cheering along with Titan for the most part. We didn’t know the foes, and Titan is an anti-hero of sorts that you can have fun watching. Since there is no empathetic weight attached to the characters, their demise is played as entertainment. But when the same gore and splatter and physics happens to the Guardians of the Globe, a group we’ve come to know and understand more, it’s a totally different story. Now I feel sick watching, and hope the intense physical trauma caused to them is hand-waved away. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, and this show, this episode especially, knows that and exploits it beautifully. I felt BAD about MYSELF once the credits rolled!
That said, this is a superhero show, and while there can be consequences, there will always be a super smart cyborg robot computer that can make a secret super serum to reverse any and all injuries or irreversible changes. And it seems that’s just what Robot has been working towards in the shadows and B-plots of these past few episodes. Tune in next week to see just what he and The Mauler Twins (and, differently, the CIA) are cooking up.
Stray Thoughts & Theories (POTENTIAL FUTURE SPOILERS MAYBE IDK)
- The chatty bad guy Mark is seen destroying in a YouTube clip at school goes by KillCannon. Here they make him out to be one of Mark’s haters, but he was Atom Eve’s nemesis (or so HE claimed) in the books. Kind of like when a reply guy claims to be actual friends with an e-girl (Does this reference track or have I spent way too much time rotting my brain on Twitter?)
- The quitting scene is almost shot for shot from the comics and looks so good on the small screen!
- Speaking of the BM Boss, this episode was a big episode for veteran voice actor Fred Tasciatore. I would list some credits but it‘s easier and more efficient to close your eyes and imagine three of your favorite cartoons growing up. He was probably on two of them.
- Love the voice work on Machine Head to make him sound like Kanye left the autotune on. It’s funny but also unnerving at some points. Who, or what, is in that head machine of Machine Head?
- Titan’s wife AND daughter are both voiced by the incredible Nicole Byer. What a talent!
- We linger for a bit on Amber’s phone background and it really piqued my curiosity. It looks like it could have something to do with that Egyptian tomb that was raided in the last episode? Maybe there is more to Amber than the comics let on…
- Love how playful and flexible the title card drop is. We didn’t get the Invincible card until 16 minutes in!
- My biggest qualm with the episode is the voice acting for Battle Beast. In the comics he is shouting or growling every word. No exceptions. But here they play him closer to Shere Khan than Ghengis Khan. He’s too suave and sophisticated when the comics paint him as a fun psychotic tiger bent on beating you up. No fun!
- That’s definitely made up for by casting Reginald VelJohnnson as Principal Winslow at RVJ High. Just a big ol chef’s kiss of an inside joke right there.
- Still loving that Run The Jewels is the personal soundtrack for the Mauler Twins.
- Cannot wait to see what the fallout from this episode is like. Whatever happens, I hope to see you back here next Saturday!