“In Marvel Studios’ new series, “Secret Invasion,” set in the present day MCU, Nick Fury learns of a clandestine invasion of Earth by a faction of shapeshifting Skrulls. Fury joins his allies, including Everett Ross, Maria Hill and the Skrull Talos, who has made a life for himself on Earth. Together they race against time to thwart an imminent Skrull invasion and save humanity.”

Official Synopsis for Secret Invasion

(Spoilers ahead for Secret Invasion episode 1, “Resurrection”.)

Marvel Studio’s Secret Invasion is shaping up to be both more and less than what I let myself hope for. So follow me down the rabbit hole as I read way too deeply into one 55-minute episode of a Marvel Disney+ show.

Going Beyond Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider Man: Far From Home tormenting illusions sequence

“Imagine a world where information can’t be trusted. Not very hard, is it? … All we can turn to are the people we care about. But what if those people weren’t who we thought they were?”

Agent Prescod, “Resurrection” opening narration

Spider-Man: Far From Home set up Nick Fury’s venture into space onboard SABER and Talos’ role in playing Fury on Earth. But more interestingly, Secret Invasion seems like it might also extend that film’s engagement with real-world anxieties around misinformation. Episode 1 begins with the quote above, evoking the same real-world concerns around misinformation that inspired Mysterio’s scheme in Far From Home — but also clearly signaling that Secret Invasion might go a step beyond that into challenging the very nature of how we define truth and knowledge.

In Far From Home, after Mysterio torments him with illusions and hits him with a train, Peter Parker starts his act 3 comeback arc by testing if Happy, his friend of many years, is an illusion. Only the real Happy, the thinking goes, will know a particular fact from their shared past. But, what if there’s more to defining knowledge and truth than simply differentiating ‘consensus’ reality from fake news? What if our very definition of “fact”, and our assumption that our minds operate on factual information and rational thought processes, are themselves suspect?

Granted, I’m not expecting Secret Invasion to take Descartes to task and go full-tilt Foucault and Stuart Hall (meaning, this). Still, though, this show could be a fascinating excavation of how today’s topical anxieties around misinformation are actually rooted in the Big Lies of imperialism, patriarchy, and more — misinformation that has been around, and has been dominant in the West, for centuries or even millenia.

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Anti-Imperialism vs. McCarthyism: Secret Invasion’s Inheritances

Talos and Skrulls in MCU Captain Marvel

Part of the reason I even have such high hopes for Secret Invasion’s thematic complexity and insightful social commentary is Captain Marvel. With this show, the MCU could finally walk through the door that that film only opened: seeing Skrulls as a colonized people, instead of through the lens of anti-Leftist paranoia so common during and even after the Cold War. But, I’d be lying if I said “Resurrection” didn’t dash my hopes almost to the ocean floor.

In 2008, the same year that the original Secret Invasion storyline debuted in the comics, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reiterated classic anti-Leftist paranoia about being controlled by a manipulative, external collectivism (the bad guys even praise the idea of a “hive mind”). Similarly, earlier this year, the final season of Star Trek: Picard centered on a plot by the ‘collectivist’ Borg to brainwash all the young people of Starfleet and the Federation into becoming Borg.

G'iah in Secret Invasion episode 1, "Resurrection"

Fast forward to Secret Invasion:

  • The beginning of episode 1 prominently features an article on Agent Prescod’s conspiracy-theory bulletin board about a “huge rise in young voters” supporting real-world Gustavo Petro — a Leftist, and the president of Colombia since 2022. Everything on this board is seen as part of a rise in “chaos” in the world, and part of the Skrull faction’s exterminationist scheme.
  • That Skrull faction, the primary antagonist of Secret Invasion, is led by Gravik, a member of the Skrulls’ governing body who is also a populist that, according to Maria Hill, “preys on the collective rage of young, displaced Skrulls.” Skrulls like, for example, G’iah, Talos’ “young, angry” daughter. As in other media with similar anxieties about young people taking action to change the world, there aren’t any young Skrulls who don’t side with Gravik’s fascism — implying that all real-world young people who are discontented with the status quo are unthinking fools who can and will be easily duped into being a violent, cult-like, goose-stepping horde.
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Even more disturbingly for me, the Skrull faction’s saying — “Home in my own skin.” — is one of many ways that the show’s plot mirrors the White supremacist Great Replacement myth: a racial minority exterminating a dominant race, typically by populating and quietly taking over the country (or countries) where that race is the majority. Secret Invasion has a lot of work to do if it intends to subvert the racist, adultist, and McCarthyist fears that “Resurrection”, in isolation, seems to promote.

But That Intro, Though!

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

For all my concerns about how “Resurrection” is or isn’t setting up the overall direction of Secret Invasion, the Surrealist art style of the opening credits sequence is hauntingly beautiful, visually and musically. Granted, it’s probably intended to be more menacing and unsettling; that perspective doesn’t really hit me, personally, mostly because I generally love Surrealist art — and, especially, the original, revolutionary intentions behind its anti-Kafkaesque, anti-war, and anti-capitalist ethos.

Counterintuitively, episode 1 of Secret Invasion, through Agent Prescod, claims that the world is becoming more chaotic, and treats that “chaos” as a bad thing. But a Surrealist or Dadaist (predecessors and contemporaries of Surrealism) from a little over a century ago would’ve pointed out that a less biased, and more accurate, term for that “chaos” would be “change”; and that given the world we live in — whether in the time of the Scramble for Africa, rapacious industrial capitalism, and World Wars, or in the time of cyclical global recessions, oil wars, and neo-fascism — change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Conclusion: What’s a Spymaster Without Spies?

Nick Fury in Secret Invasion episode 1, "Resurrection"

“Thanos’ snap … taught you that no matter how hard you fight for what’s right, there’s always someone stronger to undermine you.”

Sonya to Fury, “Resurrection”

Much frustration has been had about the MCU’s inability or unwillingness to change its style. But it seems even the trailers and official synopsis for Secret Invasion reveal that the show is trying hard to incorporate classic spy-thriller tropes and atmosphere. Billed as a show about four spies working together in the shadows of our world to fight a shadowy enemy, two of those spies — Maria Hill and Everett Ross — have seemingly already been removed from the board.

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So where does Nick Fury, spymaster without spies, go from here?

Well, maybe the new Nick Fury isn’t supposed to be the old spymaster at all. In the rendition of the Secret Invasion storyline that appears in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Fury’s spy game fails to stop the Skrulls; and in the MCU, his directorship of SHIELD ended with the organization having almost fully succumbed to a “secret invasion” by Hydra.

Not “Chaos” — Change

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Lots of recent media — Agents of SHIELD, Star Trek: Lower Decks, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Last Jedi, and much more — has been engaging more and more with questions about conflict between generations: patronizing attitudes, proving one’s capabilities, differing perspectives on societal issues. Fury’s crisis of confidence as he ages, if artfully and imaginatively combined with the young G’iah opposing both Gravik and Talos over the needs and future of Skrulls, could lead Secret Invasion into a complex take on when, how, and why older generations should and must ‘pass the baton’.

In the quote above, Sonya interprets the “crisis of faith” that Fury tells Hill about as him realizing after Thanos that he’s in an impossible fight. But maybe it’s not impossible; maybe it’s just not a fight for Nick Fury — or at least, not for the old spymaster he used to be. In the real world and fictional ones, events like the Snap are always treated as catastrophes; but as Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers argued in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, they can also open up opportunities for fixing what was already broken.

Secret Invasion is streaming now on Disney+.

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