Brief Thoughts On ‘Invincible’ Episode 8

by Erik Amaya

We’ll be honest. At a certain age, even cartoon depictions of heads popping and viscera become tough to watch.

(Spoilers for the episode and the comic book follow)

Nevertheless, we totally get why Invincible had to pile on extra buckets of blood and guts for its season finale. The underlying emotional impact of what Mark (Steven Yeun) learns needs to be underscored by violence. And to the show’s credit, that violence is not funny. So much of it hurts whether or not the victims have a moment to become characters. Also, we’re going to hand it to Robert Kirkman, the episode’s writer on top of being co-creator of the comic, for pivoting from that violence to scenes of genuine grief and heartbreak.

So, as the direction of the series seemed to be leading, Mark came to understand his father, Nolan (J.K. Simmons), is an alien invader tasked with softening up the Earth’s defenses for an eventual military takeover. The rosier alien planet he’d previously told Mark and the world about was mostly a lie. Viltrum is a world of conquerors and strong men. That truth isn’t easy for Mark to take — nor is Nolan’s seeming quick disregard of his own wife — so Nolan proves his point by murdering just about any human they encounter in a scene of abuse made all the more shocking by the viscera. For reals: that subway sequence is just so brutal. But we get that for a superhero show to have a scene like this, it has to be prolonged and slightly sickening. Nolan is, on no uncertain terms, the bad guy here.

Meanwhile, Debbie (Sandra Oh), Cecil (Walton Goggins), and the rest of the world see the fight from various government and television broadcast systems. The sense of global tragedy is palpable and definitely reconnected us with the sensation of watching national tragedies and global catastrophes on television. That sense is there in the comic book, to be sure, but this is one of those places where the movement of images and the application of performances and score heighten those feelings.

At least in Invincible world, the Global Guardians could mobilize to help people.

And as Nolan continues to beat Mark, a new metaphor emerges: that of the drunken father brutalizing his own son. We freely admit that we may have missed that in the comics, but it is front and center here as Nolan dislodged teeth from his boy’s mouth and has a sudden flashback to softball game Mark played in while his two front teeth were still growing in. Knowing what’s to come, we get that Nolan needs to be softened, but there is something to seeing him as irredeemable here. As in the comics, he flies away to … well, our feelings one what he does next are complicated. In terms of the show, though, it will be hard to walk him back from this moment.

Okay, let’s move onto the grief the grief. From the musical montage to the disquieting moment of Debbie crying alone in her room, the episode hit all the right notes and made a daring choice to just be sad. That’s tough in animation, where the instinct is to pull back from that heaviness with a bravura scene of animated wonder, comical quip, or flight of fancy. Instead, Invincible sticks with it for a great deal of time. Sure, William (Andrew Rannells) appears to break the tension a couple of times, but the sadness is maintained for an astonishing length. Of course, that may be down to the runtime, which mimics the story beats of the hour-long drama. Nevertheless, it still feels pretty rare for animation and one of the episode’s great strengths.

Then there’s Yeun’s performance, which is just heartbreaking throughout. While the cast has been uniformly superb — yes, even Jason Mantzoukas — Yeun stands out for bring that sense of confusion and crushed spirit to both the fight and the aftermath. In fact, the performance makes his reticence to join Cecil’s crusade all the more understandable. It leaves us thinking the theme of Season 2 will be “Wait, he’s just a kid.”

And yeah, as announced yesterday, the show will continue for at least two more seasons. While it is possible for the show to cover most of the comic in that time, we imagine there will be a few more seasons to give it the polish and care we’ve seen so far. It is also clear we’ll see some of the comic’s great storylines in the near future thanks to that closing montage.

Oh, and as we’ve spent so much time talking about the rebuilding of Amber (Zazie Beetz), we look forward to her playing the teen detective trope next season. Sure, it may be as stock as her comic book counterpart, but considering how interesting she’s been here, it should pay off well. Also, we like the idea of Mark, Amber, William and Eve (Gillian Jacobs) becoming their own ersatz Teen Team; especially if it ties back into Mark’s stated objective of finishing high school.

Invincible returns to Amazon in the near future.

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