We – and it sounds like the Internet as a whole – weren't impressed by the premiere of Secret Invasion. While there was nothing really bad about the first episode of Marvel Studios' latest Disney Plus show, it felt plodding and rather dull despite some interesting comments on Nick Fury's place in a post-Blip world and the all-star cast’s undeniable charm.
Episode 2, titled 'Promises', takes advantage of all the setup done in the first chapter to spend time fleshing out Samuel L. Jackson's troubled portrayal of a much older – but not wiser – Nick Fury. Meanwhile, the world is reacting to the terrorist attack on Russian soil as we learn about the true extent of the Skrull menace. Secret Invasion still struggles to make an impression as the spy thriller that was promised, but its core ideas may hold our attention as long as the writers don't stumble.
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Spoilers ahead for Secret Invasion episode 2: 'Promises'
'Promises' starts off much more interesting than its predecessor thanks to a quick recap of Fury's role in Captain Marvel that leads into a key meeting which took place in 1997, when Talos and his group of Skrull refugees returned to Earth after failing to find a suitable new home among the stars. Fury's offer is simple: due to the species' unique capabilities, they could be extremely valuable SHIELD agents. Meanwhile, he vows to keep helping them look for a planet they can colonize. Also, we meet young Gravik.
The scene is shot in a way that avoids doing full frontal shots of Samuel L. Jackson's face as much as possible, but the de-aging work done here is nearly as impressive as the one we saw in Captain Marvel. Of course, the budget here is stretched across nearly six hours of television, so we understand resorting to shorter shots and other tricks, but this felt way more natural and less distracting than CG Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.
Once again, Ben Mendelsohn chews the scenery, giving a performance that feels natural and emotional in a really sincere way. You'd think he's had a major, long-running role in the MCU for as long as Jackson, but Talos has been a secondary player we barely know, so Mendelsohn's energy here speaks volumes about his acting skills.
Back in the present day, and to quote Thanos: “No resurrections this time”. It appears that Maria Hill is dead dead. You never really know with Marvel, but her demise has hit Fury hard, and his following conversation with Talos after they leave Moscow carries plenty of weight. Unsurprisingly, Fury is angry and agitated in a way we haven't seen before, and he lashes at Talos when he reveals millions of Skrulls came to Earth while he was gone.
The dilemma presented here feels more compelling than anything in the first episode and puts both characters in difficult positions even though they're allies. Every Skrull that isn't in Emperor Drogge's colony is seeking shelter on Earth. While this is highly problematic given their shape-shifting abilities alone, Fury's “doomer” vision of Earth clouds his judgment. Despite mankind's many issues and all the internal threats faced in the MCU, they have persevered. Moreover, alien refugees are already a thing – let's not forget about the Asgardians. Of course, Skrulls would seem much scarier to citizens and governments alike, but keeping all of this in the dark is creating more issues than going public with the whole crisis.
Nick Fury's refusal to face the problem head-on and his habit of working in the shadows have finally caused some major blowback, and the entire world might be in danger as a result. The “refugees tired of waiting for a definitive solution” situation rings a bell, and so far, the matter is being handled with enough care. Fury will have to regain his empathy and pray the entire Skrull population on Earth isn't too far gone.
On the bad Skrulls side of things, Gravik and his group take full responsibility for the attack on Russia when he meets with the Council, a group of high-ranking Skrulls who are already embedded deep into governments and major international organizations such as NATO, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Oh no. We don't know how long they've been holding such positions of power, but things seem pretty serious. Still, it appears they've mostly worked silently for the benefit of the Skrulls without going too aggressive, and that is what Gravik wants to change.
He makes his point (innocent deaths are necessary to solve their problems) very clear, and the entire Council bar one member – who may or may not have “an accident” in the near future – agrees with giving him emergency powers to secure a future for all Skrulls on Earth. This sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?
After his clash with Talos, Fury has a brief encounter with Maria Hill's mother, who of course blames him for her death in the name of some secret crusade that may not make sense. He was already blaming himself, so her comments seem to have a positive effect on him instead; her death – nor those of thousands in Russia – shouldn't be in vain, and this kick in the butt might set him in the right direction.
Whatever plans he might've had after the attack, they fall apart once James Rhodes turns on him after meeting with worried European representatives on behalf of the US government. Their heated argument begets the question of whether this Rhodey is our Rhodey, especially with a green cloud covering the White House in the show’s intro, but there are also plenty of reasons to be mad at Fury and his handling of the situation. He doesn't stop him by force despite his many threats though.
Olivia Colman's Sonya Falsworth makes another shining appearance as she interrogates (in surprisingly violent fashion) a Skrull that has been captured by her allies. In spite of her friendly appearance, she isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, and so far, it seems like she's on the side of humans. However, we're fully expecting some twists and turns with her character, who's perhaps the grayest we've met yet in the series.
Gravik and a strike team recover their lost brother, but not before Sonya is done with him. The scene that follows, while predictable, perfectly illustrates how far the main villain is willing to go to save countless Skrulls: putting down those who can expose weaknesses is a price he's okay with paying.
Back at his group's ruinous base of operations, Emilia Clarke's G'iah finds something to do (her character isn't too interesting so far) when she looks into Gravik's top secret experiment, which has something to do with alien DNA – Groot and Cull Obsidian are among the unsuspecting donors. It seems like the Skrulls have been gathering bits and pieces of extraterrestrials with unique abilities to upgrade themselves in the future. Big comic book aficionados already know where this is going.
The last surprise – and perhaps a huge one for the MCU as a whole despite its intimate nature – comes with the last scene, when Fury enters a peaceful house and embraces her wife: a Skrull who was part of Talos' original group of refugees. The fact alone that Fury has a wife is a huge shock, but her identity suddenly makes this whole conflict incredibly personal and meaningful for him. How does she feel about him failing to solve her people's plight for decades? Tune in next week to find out!