Review: 'Invasion' Focuses on the Human Factor

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 22, 2021

Shamier Anderson in 'Invasion'
Shamier Anderson in 'Invasion'  (Source:Apple TV+)

There's supposedly an alien invasion going on in the new Apple TV+ sci-fi drama "Invasion," which is the brainchild of Simon Kinberg ("The Martian," "The Twilight Zone") and David Weil ("Solos," "Hunters"), but, for the first half of the season, you'd barely know it.

Rather than adopting an action-oriented global perspective or following military operations in direct conflict with the aggressors, the series chooses a handful of human protagonists and sticks close to them. They're an international lot, spanning continents and cultures, but they have certain things in common.

Dissatisfaction is one of those things. In Oklahoma, Sheriff Jim Bell Tyson, facing retirement, reflects on his tenure as the lawman of a small town that's been hard hit by poverty and drugs in recent years, and wonders what his life's work has amounted to. A Long Island housewife, Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani), comes to regret having given up a promising medical career for her unreliable husband, Ahmed (Firas Nassar). A bullied English school kid, Casper (Billy Barratt), lacks the confidence to stand up to the school bully, a nasty twerp named Monty (Paddy Holland). An American servicemember on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Travante (Shamier Anderson), rages at his inability to protect the men in his unit from a menace he can't comprehend. And in Tokyo, a communications specialist with the Japanese space agency, Mitsuki, probes the mystery around a catastrophic incident in Earth orbit, only to run up against the incompetence of her craven superiors. Clearly, we don't really need space creatures to threaten us and make us miserable; we do all of that quite nicely all on our own.

It's not such a strange message to put at the heart of a show that's purportedly inspired by "War of the Worlds," the classic science fiction novel by H.G. Wells in which Martians drop down from the sky and rampage across the globe in three-legged war machines. "Humans are the real threat" is the point of monster fiction, whether the monster in question comes from underground, the deep blue sea, another dimension, or the stars above.

But if this is really is a series inspired by Wells' tale of extraterrestrial conquerors, shouldn't the titular invaders play more of a part? In the 2019 Epix series "War of the Worlds," also inspired by Wells' classic, survivors of a brutal alien onslaught band together, battle robotic dogs, and set about working out who the invaders are and how to stop them, showing that it's possible to combine the archetypal alien invasion tale with the long-form "Walking Dead"-style drama in which people divide into feral factions after a social collapse.

But the aliens in "Invasion" are a slippery presence; they are either invisible, or else very good at concealing themselves. We get glimpses here and there, but very rarely; much more is intimated than shown, and while that's usually the smart move (imagination is always scarier than anything a filmmaker can conjure up), there are too many times in this new series when global chaos is reduced to snippets of imagery on the television news.

The new series takes its time, but does eventually reach a point where it feels true to its title. Until then, the series can feel like a bit of a slog: The world's escalating crises are seen, at first, as a series of odd, but unrelated, incidents; as the chaos continues, the official story evolves into one of coordinated terror attacks. Meantime, the show's cast flail and clash like scorpions in a bucket, and it's hard not to pine for a heat ray blast to sweep in from the 1953 Byron Haskin movie version and take the whole lot of them off our hands.

The Man vs. Monster story gets going in earnest in the season's back half, with a rather abrupt (but gratifying) change in tone that involves a dark and stormy night, panicking humans, and a creepy house without much in the way of lighting. It's here that the seres' promise begins to be fulfilled; the horror tropes are hoary, but handled in a way that makes them feel classic instead of tired. Even the globe-hopping, as we check in on various bands of human survivors, takes on fresh momentum and feels more tightly executed.

It's a slow build, but then "Invasion" really starts to boil.

"Invasion" premieres on Apple TV+ October 22.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.