In the case of all things which have several parts and in which the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something besides the parts…Aristotle
It’s safe to say Aristotle wasn’t talking about Episode 2 of Secret Invasion when he wrote those words in his principal treatise, Metaphysics, but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply. “Promises”, the second of six episodes in Disney Plus’ latest Marvel Studios streaming series, is a coruscating collection of incredibly well-written scenes, made great by a set of colossally talented actors, that when viewed holistically appear as one of the finest episodes of television from the studio to date. Bookmarked by some damn interesting retconning that gives fans a lot to chew on when it comes to what they thought they knew about Nick Fury, “Promises” delivers a perfect follow-up episode to its more slowly-paced predecessor and provides hope that Secret Invasion could be full of surprises.
Short of the awkward scene in which we learn that Maria Hill had a mother, “Promises” provides the audience with the necessary exposition to understand precisely what Gravik’s Skrulls are up to AND why Gravik is up to it. Kingsley Ben-Adir‘s air of nonchalance as the character proves a compelling choice in relaying to the audience that–in his mind–the war he wages on Earth is already won. As seen in the episode’s opening flashback, his shared history with Fury has put a chip on his shoulder that can never be repaired. And as Gravik’s impressive vibe check of the Skrull Council shows, he will find a way to get his way. As the newly minted War Time Skrull General, Gravik will now have the (almost) full support of the Council to carry out his plan to create an army of Super Skrulls. That plan, revealed via one of Marvel Studios’ coolest Easter eggy scenes since Iron Man 2‘s “map scene”, involves using the work of human scientists to bind the DNA of a collection of powerful beings, such as Groot and Cull Obsidian, to that of Skrull warriors. As promotional footage for the series has already revealed, Gravik’s plan will be successful which makes you wonder how Fury, who won’t call in The Avengers, can save the day.
The strength of “Promises”, however, lies not in the revelation of a pretty comic book-y plot by the bad guys, but in the strength of the individual performances given by the ensemble cast. One episode after some heavy-handed writing bogged down the series debut, Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn’s Tarantino-esque train car scene should be the gold standard for how dialogue can be enjoyable and move the story along. The two stars share such chemistry that you wish they’d had a longer train ride. Next, it’s Don Cheadle‘s turn to star, including an especially powerful conversation with Fury that makes it clear–if it somehow wasn’t already–Rhodey is nobody’s sidekick but rather a force to be reckoned with in or out of the armor. And if you didn’t enjoy Olivia Colman‘s display of her massive talent while she tortured the captive Skrull…masterful. And the episode’s final scenes provide one of the MCU’s biggest jaw-droppers to date…and jaws will drop even further before it’s over. Scene after scene after scene, “Promises” delivers a series of moments that ultimately do coalesce into a damn good episode of Marvel TV that gives the series some necessary momentum.
The stage is set for the series’ second act, one that will certainly see the “old Fury” find his way back to take on his “wayward son.” Gravik may think he’s already won the War for Earth but this is Fury’s war, too, and he hasn’t even started fighting yet.