Where Is This Show Going?

Invincible: Season 2, Part 2

The second half of Invincible’s second season dropped back in March and, with an Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. account back in my hands to watch their programming, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it. Not to beat around the bush, I really just wonder what the heck the point is for this show. Season two isn’t necessarily bad, but it also isn’t really good. It just kind of exists in this midpoint between where the show started and where it could be going, but it’s hard to really say that the show accomplished much in the second half of its second season, and, more to the point, that it even really managed to go anywhere either.

Let’s be clear, I think a big part of the problem with the season is the fact that Amazon elected to break it up into two, four-episode halves. The season was clearly meant to tell a larger story about hero Mark (Steven Yeun) dealing with the aftermath of his father, Omniman (J.K. Simmons) revealing himself to be a supervillain, and all that comes from that. Had the season been a single, eight episode arc I think I would have still had some issues with it (which we’ll get to in this review), but the cohesiveness of it would have felt better. It would have been one long story as opposed to two smaller sets of episodes. It could have spooled out and let viewers see the whole picture. That’s now what happened.

Because the season was divided in two, we have to judge each part on its own. We had to take the half of the season where Mark prepares to go to college and tries to be a hero and a student at the same time, as its own story. Then we had to take Mark coming back from an alien world, breaking up with his girlfriend, and trying to find his place as a hero, as its own story. These clearly weren’t intended to be two chunks. The writing of the show was designed, obviously, to be a single, contiguous series of episodes. But the episodes were released three months apart, as separate segments, with enough time in between that they feel like different seasons. Amazon forced a break where one didn’t naturally fit, and it ruined the flow of the show.

So what actually happens this season? Well, Mark comes back from the planet his dad was living on, with his baby half-brother, Oliver, in tow. Mark passes his brother off to his mom, Debbie (Sandra Oh), and she agrees to help raise the boy (who isn’t her own kid, showing she’s mother of the year). Then Mark heads back to college so he can try and reconnect with his girlfriend, Amber (Zazie Beetz). Things are strained between them, since Mark was gone for two months, but they both want to try and make it work, if they can.

Standing in the way, though, are all of Mark’s superhero commitments. He has to help protect the globe, and when a threat big enough arrives, only Mark can handle it. Time and again dates with Amber are interrupted, and it seems like the world is conspiring against them. And that doesn’t even take into account the Viltrumites, who want to conquer Earth and expect Mark to act as their representative on Earth. And the Guardians of the Globe keep getting into trouble and Mark has to assist them time and again. There’s never enough time for Mark, and Amber, and everything else. Maybe Mark can’t be just Mark and also a superhero.

This all, mind you, would be compelling stuff for an entire season of television. That’s enough story to fit eight, maybe ten episodes of a TV series. Instead it’s all crammed into four episodes of the back half of the season. That’s around three-and-a-half hours of content covering so much character development, and drama, and action. It’s moved through at a blisteringly fast pace so that even character moments that should be huge, that should get weight and development, are rushed past so that the next threat can be addressed instead.

This isn’t technically anything new for the series, mind you. Invincible, the TV series, has always struggled to pace itself well, breezing quickly through huge swaths of the comics series to try and cram in as much of the books, and as many of its storylines, as possible. If we compare the show to the comics, two seasons (of eight episodes each) have burned through four-plus trade paperbacks worth of story. Considering pace, just one trade could have been enough story to fill an entire season on its own (especially when you consider that the show has to find a way to adapt inner monologue and long stretches of dialogue that can fill a single panel of the comic). We’ve gone through a lot of content, too much really for the time given to the parts.

That leaves us less connected to the characters and the world. The first season of the show did end at the proper place, with Mark having to confront his dad for the fate of the world. That’s a natural cliffhanger for the series to lead into season two, and I understand, that impulse. Two trades worth of story in an eight episode season. Even then, though, it felt rushed. Wanting to end at that place is one thing, doing it organically is another. Even if that was going to be the stopping point for the season, a lot of the character development that was glossed over should have been moved and adjusted into season two so we could learn about, and bond with, the characters. Instead, we’ve continued to rush and rush.

Mark getting called to the alien world to help his father fight against the Viltrumites should have been the end of the second season, not the midpoint. It should have paralleled the first season, giving us a contrast from the Omniman we saw at the end of the first season against a new version we’re seeing at the end of the second. In the interim we should have gotten more time with Mark being a student, more time with Amber, more time with him being a hero. We’re two seasons in and it feels like we know less about Mark now than we did when the show started. That’s a bad way to move the character forward.

Essentially the show is prioritizing plot over characters. It wants the big swings, and the major beats, of the story without actually putting in the ground work. It’s hard to care about events that happen in the show, from Mark and Amber’s break up to the defeat of the Guardians of the Globe, to the return of the Viltrumites, when every one of these stories is given half an episode at best and then moved past just as quickly. Hell, Rex Slpode loses a hand in combat in one episode, and then by the next they’ve already given him a robotic one and sent him back in the field. Dupli-Kate dies in the second episode of this half season and by the fourth episode she’s back, too. No one is ever given time to process or move on.

It’s hard to care for the characters when the show doesn’t seem to care about this either. I was excited for Invincible when it first debuted, and I wanted to really like it because I loved the comics. The art style matches, the actors are great, and the creative team behind the comics was attached to the show as well. You’d think that would lead to a good adaptation. Instead, though, this feels like a dull, lifeless copy. It’s rushed, it’s unfeeling, it doesn’t know what it’s doing. I struggled to even want to watch this second half of the second season because the previous half felt rushed and boring all at the same time. We have the same issue here, and it’s hard to imagine that’s going to change in the future. The one bright spot of the whole series has been the Atom Eve episode, which was fantastic, but that was on a one off and there is no indication they’re going to do anything like that again.

The show needs to make me care. Right now it doesn’t, and until it does it’s hard to call Invincible anything other than a total failure.