Invasion finally gets to the aliens [Apple TV+ review]

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Invasion review: Golshifteh Farahani remains the most interesting performer in this sci-fi series.
Golshifteh Farahani remains the most interesting performer in this sci-fi series.
Photo: Apple TV+

Civilization is collapsing, the adults in the room are dying, and the aliens are starting to reveal themselves. Does anyone stand a chance? Apple TV+’s pulp sci-fi series Invasion encounters new hurdles and reaches paranoid heights this week.

Both Monty the school bully and Ahmed the cheating husband near the limits of their likability and desperation, while Caspar, Aneesha and Mitsuki find new stores of courage and resolve to combat their horrible new realities. And everybody’s fates rest upon what happens next.

Invasion review: ‘The King Is Dead’

 A bully takes control

In the episode, titled “The King Is Dead,” Mr. Edwards (played by Tom Cullen), the chaperone on the school field trip who drove the bus into a ravine, has finally died after a few days pinned under the steering wheel. That leaves bully Monty (Paddy Holland) firmly in charge.

Of course, it’s easy to say you’re in control — but the kids are literally trapped in a hole. Monty doesn’t want to leave (after all, his power trip ends if they find help). So when Caspar (Billy Barratt) finally says he’s had enough, Monty tells everyone about Caspar’s dad throwing his mom down a flight on stairs. That finally snaps Caspar out of his fear, and he starts climbing the rock face to safety.

Once he’s topside, Caspar finds a piece of a shuttle, the thing that actually caused the bus crash to begin with, and something strange and near-miraculous occurs. The writing on the side of the debris? Caspar drew it in his notebook days ago. It’s almost like he knew somewhere, unconsciously, it was going to crash-land.

… and a wife gets suspicious

Elsewhere, Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani), Ahmed (Firas Nassar) Luke (Azhy Robertson) and Sarah (Tara Moayedi) are being evacuated by the national guard. They don’t know where they need to go, but they know they can’t stop. And that’s just not metaphorically speaking. Every time they slow down, Aneesha gets suspicious and curious about what her no-good, philandering husband is up to and divines some new horrifying detail about his affair. She looks at his phone while he’s trying to get info out of some troops, and finds pictures of an ultrasound. She almost doesn’t let him back in the car.

Still, they must work together when Luke goes missing after a road-side bathroom break. Could his disappearance have anything to do with the piece of weird scrap metal he keeps in his bag? Or the fact that he alone among Earth children seems to be repelling the effects of alien technology?

Meanwhile, in Japan …

At JAXA, Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna) manages to sneak a look at encrypted files containing the last minutes of the spaceship upon which her lover, Hinata Murai (Rinko Kikuchi), died. She can’t see much, but she knows that what took that shuttle down was an accident. Hinata’s last words are tough to make out, but her final recorded moments seem like sufficient evidence that the ship was attacked by someone or something.

The authorities don’t want Mitsuki telling people and causing a panic, but that part may be out of her hands anyway. Her colleague Daisuke (Kaito Kawaguchi) saw the footage, too. And he lies so he can try to save their jobs (although that may not matter in a day or two).

Mitsuki goes to see Murai’s father, Ikura (Togo Igawa), lying about her relationship to Hinata to gain access to her room. Ikura doesn’t ask questions when he finds her lying in his daughter’s bed looking forlornly at the ceiling. But he’s put out when she accuses him of keeping her memory over the real person she grew into being. Of course the opposite is true. They had a falling out when Ikura realized his daughter would be hiding her sexuality from the world.

… and Afghanistan …

Navy SEAL Trevante Ward (Shamier Anderson), who loses his whole unit after an encounter with the aliens, now has only farmer Zemar (Shamail Ali) for company. They don’t speak each other’s language, which makes their trip a little difficult. But Zemar isn’t the dumb peasant Trevante assumes he is based on his positive attitude.

The herder gets Trevante close enough to start reading a signal from one of his guys, and he traces it to a hospital where one of his men, Chavez (Alex Hernandez), is resting. Unfortunately, a group of insurgents — and something else inhuman but just as murderous — shows up, cutting their reunion short.

Problem solved, innit?

Jamie Payne, a veteran of British TV staples like Luther and Dr. Who, returns to direct this week’s episode of Invasion. The show is starting to feel more of a piece, formally, with his other work. The fluid digital photography, and the sleek framing and blocking, pick up the slack in the script department.

Having said that, nothing yet has proven lethal to the show’s credibility or interest. This is a very exciting show and an affecting one, mistakes and all. Payne and the team of editors keep everything moving at such a pace that you don’t want, necessarily, to wreck the party by asking questions. You just want to know what happens next.

Only in hindsight, for instance, does it seem a little silly to have spent an episode watching kids decide who’s in charge of their little group. I like the Caspar plot line, and the child actors are all superlative, but there’s no denying that it feels weird to spend time with kids on a walkabout in the C storyline when we’ve got government conspiracies and aliens laying waste to hospitals in the D and E storylines.

A frustrating affair

The same ultimately holds true of the Malik family saga. Actor Golshifteh Farahani remains the best thing on Invasion four episodes in. But unfortunately, the writers haven’t found much to do with her beyond having her mournfully stare and shout at her husband.

I’m fairly certain the dynamic is going to be important at some juncture coming up (why have a divorce narrative at all unless you know where it ends for all concerned?). But as of now, there’s no little frustration watching her come to the same conclusion once an episode: Ahmed is a bastard.

The highlight this week was the narratively discursive but deeply felt meeting of Ikura and Mitsuki. Not only does it end in a stunning little scene where the sound of the spacecraft produces a bizarre effect on the plants in the old man’s house, but the show puts the story on hold for these two poor lost souls to have a discussion about the person they mutually miss.

Stuff like this rescues Invasion from its less graceful moments, and gives me hope that this will end someplace satisfying. Even if it doesn’t, I’m enjoying the journey.

Watch Invasion on Apple TV+

New episodes of Invasion arrive on Apple TV+ on Fridays.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.