Photo: Macall Polay / Apple TV +
The first episode of Invasion, the new aliens-attack-Earth series premiering today on Apple TV +, makes you feel like it’s going to be a pretty classic entry into the genre of Devastating Alien Crisis Inspires Global Panic and Individual Resiliency. Sam Neill plays a small town sheriff who leaves for his last day of work before retirement. He is sad. He wonders what life will be like now that he’s out of the police force. But wait – what is this inexplicable circle in the cornfield, and why are the crows acting so strangely? Meanwhile, somewhere on Long Island, a harassed suburban housewife played by Golshifteh Farahani runs on a treadmill and prepares school meals. Later in the day, all of the kids in the music class – all but her son – will spontaneously experience intense nosebleeds. Weird!
Invasion hits those beats with heavy skill. Here is the city dweller who doubts. Here is the guy in a desert in Yemen, drawn to a mysterious funnel in the sand. This is the story of a major Japanese space launch, certainly not meant to be derailed by any extraterrestrial interference, no sir.
What is slowly appearing to you like Invasion Continuing, however, is that the story this show wants to tell has remarkably little to do with the alien invasion of Earth that kills thousands (millions?) of people. From a generous standpoint, this is a bold and unexpected stance for a show titled Invasion. Intellectually, there is some appeal to the idea of an alien apocalypse story where none of the individual players ever really know what’s going on, there is little to no attempt at a higher level summary of this. what aliens do to the world, and small personal problems continually eclipse the urgency of human extinction.
You could even argue that there is a certain realism to this. It seems entirely possible that if aliens began to wreak mysterious and widespread havoc, the individual experience of this event would be confusing, vague and frustrating with the details of what was going on. Maybe you would have continue to worry a lot more about your husband cheating on you than the aliens destroying the planet. Maybe it would be very difficult to see past the pain of your relationship with your half-estranged wife so that you can devote your full attention to the end of humanity. And it seems entirely reasonable that there is a series of sometimes provocative discoveries about aliens, but because of international mistrust and the collapse of global communications, no one would ever connect the dots into a cohesive concept of extraterrestrial infrastructure.
But the thrill of returning that to your mind as a storytelling experience is very different when it becomes a real TV show. Invasion is a ten-hour season devoid of almost any humor, where characters from around the world continually hum in their own misery, resentful that aliens continue to interrupt their tragic lives. It’s possible that the resentment is more on the viewer’s side than actual text on the show – the characters including Cheated-On Mom (Farahani), Anger-Issues American Soldier (Shamier Anderson), Bullied Sad British Kid (Billy Barratt), and Grieving Japanese Comms Expert (Shioli Kutsuna), are not explicitly irritated with aliens, but they are surprisingly resistant to showing any curiosity about them. Even more frustrating, everything is happening very, very slowly. It’s as if the show was written by someone with a fetish for the show; Invasion takes longer than the entire running time of the movie Independence day before anyone actually utters the word “aliens”. Even after this point, the characters keep coming back to the same grueling interpersonal traumas, rather than stopping to ask, for example, Hey, should we find out what’s going on with this kid who didn’t have a nosebleed? Or maybe, how many people have actually died at this point? Or even, oh my god, aliens !!
Stop thinking too long about the many questions Invasion the prompts and refusals to answer can be a dizzying sensation. What are governments around the world trying to do to communicate with aliens? Has there been any scientific research into what could stop them? It seems like radio communications still work sometimes – wouldn’t someone try to describe what all these various disasters really look like? Or is it impossible? Why is this not possible? How long does it take, because at one point a guy has a really bad chest injury and soon after he leaps into the woods like it’s okay. Are we talking about days, or weeks, or…?
Throughout the first few episodes, it seems like Invasion just hangs out on it all, stuck in an excruciatingly dilated experience of that initial alien shock. But as he nears the end of the season, it becomes clear that his small-scale perspective on the global catastrophe is the entire design. At no point does the show shift to relief of clarity on everything that happened regarding: the invasion, and there is such undue attention to exactly how angry Cheated-On Mom is with her. husband, and precisely the ways in which Bullied British Kid was traumatized by his father, that endless and overly detailed personal material can only be the result of Invasionintention, not its accidental result. In some ways it’s not that different from Leftovers: Something beyond human understanding is happening, and the show is more about how people cope than the event itself. Except it’s one thing to watch humanity grapple with the nature of life after a one-time spontaneous mystery; it is infinitely more infuriating and incomprehensible to see people whose ability to cope with an existential crisis begins and ends with “why are you so mean to me?” rapidly developing alien calamity.
Invasion is Apple TV + ‘s second big budget sci-fi series this fall, but at least for the premiere, Foundationit is very obvious where exactly all this money has gone. Foundation has its flaws, but it’s pleasing to the eye and at the very least it’s a reasonable attempt to grapple with the difficult qualities of the source material. As for the aliens themselves, Invasion is fairly circumspect. It is best to draw a curtain on the mysteries which are best left untouched. And yet, it’s very hard not to sniff in dismay as the horror music swells in the background – not for aliens, but when Cheated-On Mom slowly scrolls through the Instagram feed belonging to the mistress of his son. husband, loving every post.
The few clear shots we get of extraterrestrials are admittedly cool; someone has spent a lot of time thinking about the mechanics of their movements, and they are awesome beasts. Given how exhausting the rest of the series is is, however, it looks like an insult added to an injury that much of it is shot in gray tones or even in black. I wanted to see more aliens, because by the time I had finished the series, I had decided to support them. Please take these people out of their misery, I was thinking, they are therefore no longer so painfully focused on their own problems. It’s probably not a huge spoiler to say that my wish doesn’t come true, but the ending makes a clear gesture towards what could happen in a second season. The hope for the success of the alien apocalypse is eternal.