Spoilers for Secret Invasion episode 4 follow. If you haven't seen the episode, look away now.
One of the questions going into Secret Invasion’s fourth episode, ‘Beloved’, was whether it would capitalize on the narrative intrigue of G’iah shock death. We get the (disappointing) answer immediately: Emilia Clarke’s character wakes up – in case you didn’t know how, the episode clumsily fills in the gaps of her Super Skrull tinkering – and continues on with her mission.
As a cop-out, it’s straight from the comic book school of cliffhangers designed to get you to buy the next issue before immediately pumping the brakes. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth but, thankfully, it’s rectified by the show’s decision to finally make good on the potential of a genuine Marvel spy caper.
This is an episode laced with the sort of tense sit downs and innuendo-filled exchanges that wouldn’t feel out of place in The Winter Soldier – or a meatier, more compelling thriller. Not every moment lands, but this entry, partially due to its slightly shorter length, is finally taking the shape of an actual TV show.
‘Beloved’ is anchored by four conversations, each both furthering the story as well as fleshing out the personal motivations of each character: Fury and Priscilla’s emotionally-charged meet-up in Paris in 2012 cements their genuine love for each other (and Raymond Carver's poetry), for example – hence their refusal to shoot one another in the present-day’s terse talk.
Talos and G’iah’s discussion on a park bench, meanwhile, neatly highlights their clash of philosophies with the sort of economy in dialogue that has been rare up until now. It’s a shame that Ben Mendelsohn and Emilia Clarke have largely been kept away from each other, as their characters’ differing world views – “Don’t you want to live in your own skin?” G’iah asks curtly – is a welcome combo of intimate drama and wider MCU politics that has been so rare in these small-screen Marvel efforts.
Rhodey’s pair of skin-crawling chats with Priscilla and Fury respectively also hammer home the increasingly suffocating nature of Secret Invasion while tipping the show’s hand to its glaringly obvious major reveal of Rhodey actually being a shapeshifter in disguise.
Boom, you looking for this?
So, yes, Rhodey is a Skrull. Insert shocked Pikachu face here. The only surprise is Fury, having spent years among the stars on a S.A.B.R.E ship, hasn’t quite cottoned on yet – because you could see this coming from space. Still, it’s a tantalizing moment that finally unlocks the promise of Secret Invasion. When did Rhodey become a Skrull? Where is the real Rhodey? Who else has been replaced? All will be answered in due time – but it’s finally given us a reason to keep watching.
With all the pieces in place, the action then picks up in the episode’s final act. It’s here, sadly, where Secret Invasion lets itself down somewhat.
With the President now on UK soil, a convoy – including Skrhodey – escorts the leader of the free world to urgent talks with Russia. Gravik, though, has other plans. In a scheme ripped straight out of Modern Warfare 2’s infamous ‘No Russian’ mission, Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Skrull leader attacks the President and disguises it as an attack from the enemy, complete with speaking Russian.
As a dramatic assault, however, this is a clunker. It doesn’t help that it’s all taking place on probably the most isolated road in England – you can almost see Marvel Studios shutting down a strip of land, with how deliberately it was blocked out.
Gravik even finds time, with the President incapacitated, to show off his Super Skrull powers. Hear those alarm bells? Let’s hope Marvel avoids the temptation to in setting up another flat CGI battle in its season finale in just a few weeks. You have been warned.
Death in the family
Fury and Talos then stroll on to the attack in hilariously straightforward fashion. It’s an act that highlights the kind of corner-cutting – from AI intros to rushing through Gravik’s paper-thin plotting – that the Marvel series has been so adept at, but at least it serves its purpose; getting Talos into place for a killing blow from Gravik.
While G’iah’s resurrection dulled his edge somewhat, Secret Invasion has certainly gone all-in on making Gravik a fearsome wrecking ball, easily disposing with people who should have plot armor.
Despite that, though, it’s impossible to ignore that three of the four episodes have ended with a character death or, to go back to the start of the episode, a cheap way to get people to tune in next week. At least in this case – if it’s a legitimate death – then the way G’iah ended her final interaction with her dad is, admittedly, a suitably crushing gut punch to leave off on.
Much like the poetry of Raymond Carver that Fury and Priscilla love so much, Secret Invasion aims to be beloved. After such a stop-start first half, it appears to have finally found its footing – even if it’s relying too much on the same tricks to elicit emotion from its captive audience.