Episode 3 of Marvel Studios Secret Invasion certainly doesn’t ascend to the heights of the previous installment but it does share the same strengths. “Betrayed” follows the same recipe for success as “Promises” by giving stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn plenty of room to riff off one another but fails to deliver the payload due in part to a fairly uninspired and less-than-surprising series of “twists.”
Billed as a paranoid spy-thriller, Secret Invasion hasn’t really been steeped in much paranoia and the outcomes of this episode’s spy games were all too predictable. The Skrull plot to blow up the UN plane didn’t work?! G’iah got caught!? Rhodey is a Skrull?! When compared to similar projects within the genre, the attempt to thrill and surprise the audience not only doesn’t live up to Mission: Impossible standards but also does not even to the MCU’s espionage goalpost, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The good news, however, is that the series is only at the halfway point and hopefully ups its game during the second half.
Whether the series ever lives up to the billing of a high-stakes spy thriller or not, it’s clear that Kyle Bradstreet, Ali Selim and the team of creatives behind Secret Invasion knew where their bread would be buttered and gave the supremely talented duo of Jackson and Mendelsohn room to work. When watching the two playfully barb one another, it’s impossible not to think that the two veteran talents either had some input into their dialogue or did a fair amount of ad-libbing. Either way, the result continues to be some of the MCU’s best character work. And on that note, using the series to draw out the idea that Nick Fury’s reputation as “the spy” of the MCU was built on the backs of Talos and his Skrulls is a wonderful bit of retconning that truly changes the world we thought we knew. Maybe the second half of the series will allow Gravik and his extremist Skrulls the same opportunity.
As for Gravik, he’s given some real bite by Kingsley Ben-Adir despite being written into some corners. Now that his Super Skrull plan has been revealed (as well as the fact that he’s already powered himself up), that will seemingly become Fury and Talos’ primary problem. How can two non-powered folks take down an army of Super Skrulls? They certainly can’t expect help from War Machine now that we know Rhodey is a Skrull and Fury has already made it clear he’s not calling The Avengers for help. So, perhaps his best bet is a Super Skrull or two of his own? While Marvel Studios has been known to waste a talent or two over the course of its 15-year history, it’s hard to believe they just Quicksilvered Emilia Clarke, especially when promotional footage for the series has shown her character in several key scenes that haven’t made their way into the show yet…including one in which she appears to be in Gravik’s Super Skrull maker. Of course, that could all have been subterfuge by the studio but given the myriad ways Gi’ah could still be alive let’s hope it’s not.
While it’s a bit concerning that Secret Invasion only delivered one truly strong episode in the first half of the series, it does actually feel like the best is yet to come. Through visual cues, the audience can track the “return of Nick Fury” and so far, he’s not quite there yet. Once Fury resumes being Fury–and what will it take to finally push him to that point?–the series could become something else entirely as well.