Invasion deals with the reality of an alien incursion [Apple TV+ review]

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Invasion review: At least now everybody knows we're dealing with nasty extraterrestrials.
At least now everybody knows we're dealing with nasty extraterrestrials.
Photo: Apple TV+

We’ve seen our aliens and we’ve got our heroes. Now what dreadful things await for Invasion’s terrified humans?

Apple TV+’s newest sci-fi show is having a pretty terrific season, all things considered. So now, with everyone on the same page, can the series sustain its relentless pace? Can the show’s creators continue this balancing act for the rest of the season?

Invasion review: ‘Hope’

Having survived their first encounter with the extraterrestrials, the Malik family is on the run with no destination in mind. Ahmed (played by Firas Nassar)’s wounds are going to make him a liability as they’ll have to get him help if they have any hope of surviving as a family. Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani), though, is more interested in the odd piece of scrap metal their son Luke (Azhy Robertson) has been carrying around this whole time. It stopped their house from being attacked and prevented Luke from getting a nosebleed when every kid at his school had one. Plus, it killed the alien that nearly ate the whole family. Just where did her son get such a thing?

In Afghanistan, soldier Trevante Ward (Shamier Anderson) finds some survivors (led by Ray Haratian), and they deliver even more bad news for the poor guy. The base he planned on retreating to has been destroyed. He’s gonna need to cooperate with the people he’s been policing violently for the last several years if he has any hope of finding civilization.

It’s an international occupation

In England, Caspar Morrow (Billy Barratt) and his friends find their first living soul, too. It’s a woman named Zoe (Samantha Colley) who watched her whole family (including the dog) die back in London. Zoe’s taken aback when she realizes they haven’t heard about the aliens, but she fills them in. She drives them back to town but won’t stay, leaving the kids on their own to navigate the city.

Monty (Paddy Holland) finally apologizes for being such a tyrant during their field trip. And while Caspar accepts his apology, Jamila (India Brown) kind of rolls her eyes. Regardless, it’s the end of the world so onward they go. Jamila and Caspar head toward their houses on a different end of town from the rest of the small party of survivors.

Meanwhile, Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna), Ikura (Togo Igawa) and Daisuke (Kaito Kawaguchi) undertake a clandestine research mission to uncover as much as they can about the alien attack on the spaceship that exploded, killing the whole crew a few days earlier. They let themselves into a satellite station and take over, using fake IDs, to get the technicians there to hear the alien frequencies they picked up during the attack. Mitsuki wants to use the satellite to pick up the signature left at the crash so she can try to communicate with the aliens.

Space invaders

OK, so I have to bring up the fact that during a scene where Aneesha and her family break into a diner, the camera obscenely dollies backward to show the Space Invaders video game in the diner lobby. I almost turned the show off. Come on, gang. Stop it. What are you even doing here?

Credit where credit is due, Invasion may make a few big slip-ups like that every episode, but it also nails some stuff I would never in a million years have pictured working. The scene where Zoe tells Caspar’s crew about the alien invasion should never have played, but it’s just amazing. Part of that comes down to Samantha Colley’s performance. But part of it is that the show’s creators laid the groundwork for this so the kids’ skepticism seems both rational and harsh. Why would the kids believe aliens over terrorists, having been raised in this world?

The Trevante stuff remains the weakest link, as we have to painfully watch the military man start treating Middle-Eastern refugees like people instead of a threat. I get that this is probably realistic. But it does feel rather patronizing this long after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. We know Trevante has trust issues, but you know what? They’re his fault. It’s not very satisfying to watch.

In praise of camaraderie

The scene with Mitsuki at the satellite station, on the other hand, evokes a pleasant “first season of Star Trek” quality as the assembled lab geeks start piecing together what the signal could possibly represent.

In fact, I like Invasion’s version of camaraderie in most senses. Trevante’s storyline becomes tolerable when he’s got other people to talk to who aren’t soldiers, but it’s still not perfect. There’s kind of a gross scene where he helps his new friends onto a plane at the Kabul airport while dozens of other people aren’t let on. He sells his gun to the soldiers guarding the plane for their safety. But he’s super-cool letting everyone else die, despite the fact that there’s ample room on the plane. This show’s view of Afghanistan continues to rankle.

The kids are all right!

The young actors playing kids from Caspar’s school are all great performers, so it’s been good fun — and reasonably tense — watching them interact. The writers finally pulls the trigger on the Jamila-Caspar romance, which we all knew was coming. (Perhaps this proves my point that Invasion is executive producer Simon Kinberg rewriting his childhood through violent fantasy. I have to once more ruefully admit it’s actually the coolest thing you can do with a trillion dollars of a network’s money.)

It’s perhaps unfair week after week to talk about how good Golshifteh Farahani is, and how she’s dominating this show, but uhh … the scene where she and the family break into the diner is marvelously subdued, even though her resentment over her husband’s affair is obviously still present.

There’s a great scene where she runs into the doctor (Noah Bean) she assisted in surgery last week, and he must piece together what she was lying about in a hurry so as not to make Ahmed think they were having an affair. Nicely done.

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.