Episode 2 of Secret Invasion, “Promises”, deals with both the roots and the aftermath of the Moscow bombing that closed out the premiere. This episode begins the show’s exploration of its themes and their real-world parallels; and it begins moving the plot along organically, as the characters and the show’s geopolitical community react to the deaths of 2000 people.

But first, you can get caught up with our review of Secret Invasion episode 1.

Roots of the Secret Invasion

Nick Fury and Talos talking to Skrulls in Secret Invasion episode 2

The episode begins by recapping Fury’s and Talos’ stories from Captain Marvel. It’s a bit silly — I was waiting for someone to go “Last time on Dragon Ball Z!” — but it works to establish what each of them is going through in Secret Invasion: Fury is struggling to come to terms with the immensity of extraterrestrial threats, as mentioned by Sonya and Maria Hill in episode 1; and Talos is desperately seeking peace and a home for the Skrulls.

So when the episode jumps forward to 1997, two years later, to show Talos and Fury convincing the Skrulls — among them, a young Gravik — to help Fury keep Earth safe, their respective reasons are clear. Although, based on the uplifting music that plays during this scene, the show may not realize that the very skills that Fury is asking the Skrulls to learn in order to be his army of superpowered spies — like fully blending into human society — are the ones that Gravik and his group end up using against humanity.

In exchange for their help, Fury promises, he and Carol Danvers will find them a new home. Thus setting up the theme behind the primary conflict between the show’s good guys and bad guys: broken promises from the past, and what to do about the present-day consequences.

Secret Invasion and Segregation

Nick Fury and Talos on train in Secret Invasion episode 2

An old Black spy born in 1948 and an alien refugee with the appearance of a White guy board a train heading from Moscow to Warsaw. Escaping from the scene of a bombing they failed to prevent and the murder of a dear friend, the scene focuses on a conversation that begins with the Black guy telling the White guy about riding in a segregated, much more rickety train car as a child.

And Nick Fury was happier then. The cars weren’t as lavish or comfortable, the rides weren’t as smooth; but he rode with his mama. He smiles and laughs as he talks about all the homemade food and warm (if embarrassing) conversation. So when Talos reveals that he brought many, many more Skrulls to Earth than Fury ever knew because he believed that Earth could mean “peace and a home” for the Skrulls, it’s more understandable to White viewers when Fury responds, “humans can’t coexist with each other! … There’s not enough room or tolerance on this planet for another species!”

In my opinion, this is the best scene in the whole show so far; and one of the few progressive contributions the MCU has made to the mainstream US discourse on race. It hits on something that White Centrists have only somewhat begun to realize in the last 5 to 10 years: to many people of color, racial separation, at least to certain extents, has its perks. The surface-level comforts, material and socio-emotional, of ‘integration’ that many of us have today are nice; but much, even most, of the change has been limited to the surface. And even that is only true for some of us.

Martin Luther King Jr. once explained that desegregation is a politico-legal reform on the path to the social and cultural revolution of integration. But today, we find ourselves living our whole lives with an incomplete, stillborn desegregation.

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Secret Invasion’s Inconsistent Attitude Toward Democracy

I wish I could keep up the praise. Unfortunately, the MCU’s writers still don’t seem to be able to do much of anything right when Rhodey is in a scene.

Anti-Democracy: BAD!!!

Shirley Sagar in Secret Invasion episode 2

Gravik and G’iah — who began spying on him for her father, Talos, near the end of episode 1 — go to a meeting of the Skrull Council; essentially the ruling body for the Skrulls living on Earth. In this scene, the viewers find out that Skrulls hold several high-level positions: NATO Secretary-General, UK Prime Minister, a Fox— sorry, “FXN” News host.

The meeting ends with Gravik coercing the liberal-democratic Council into granting him absolute authority; and the show really botches both that moment, and the path to it. For example, Gravik, a Black man, accuses the Council members of aping human culture; but unlike in Black Panther, for example, an alternative to the ruling class’ culture — here, it would be Skrull culture — isn’t playing any role in the show. This is a legitimate critique of elites of color; but if that’s what the show was going for, it should’ve put in an actual effort.

Moreover, historically — in 1920s Italy, 1930s Germany, 1990s Russia, and 2010s US — liberal-democratic ruling classes don’t need to be coerced into fascism. The Skrull Council criticizes Gravik for the Moscow bombing specifically because it disrupted the status quo that they value quite highly. But fascism isn’t a departure from the status quo; it’s the status quo’s way of saving itself. Liberal democracy willingly turns to fascism in order to protect its interests from the Left.

But in Secret Invasion, there are no regular Skrulls fighting for freedom and equality. They’re all either foolish but well-meaning liberal elites, or goose-stepping, violent stooges following Gravik’s fascist lead.

Anti-Democracy: GOOD!!!

Rhodey threatening Slovakia in Secret Invasion episode 2

Which becomes an even bigger problem when Rhodey starts acting like the Colin Powell to President Ritson’s George W. Bush.

At an EU security summit in London on the Moscow bombing, Rhodey casually dismisses the idea that the US government was involved. Getting more and more aggravated by the EU representatives repeatedly making the accusation without, as Rhodey puts it, “a shred of evidence”, he eventually retorts that US President Ritson can’t be at the summit because he’s too busy running “the most powerful nation and most powerful military” on the planet.

Meaning, the show doesn’t seem to be aware of the hundreds of real-world examples of the US government backing Right-wing groups, like the fictional Americans Against Russia (AAR) of Secret Invasion who are suspected of the Moscow bombing. Nor, apparently, is the show aware that ‘the President is too busy being insanely powerful for democratic oversight and accountability’, is the exact same logic that Gravik used one scene ago to justify overturning Skrull democracy.

In the following scene, Rhodey accuses Fury of arrogance, and the show writes Fury to behave in such a way as to pretty much vindicate that condemnation. Accurate though it is, it’s still very much the pot calling the kettle… um, black, I guess.

One Classic Spy-Thriller Scene

Murder of Brogan in Secret Invasion episode 2

Still, the final act of the episode is pretty classic spy-thriller fare, and it’s fun enough. Disguised as a member of the AAR, Brogan, a Skrull, has convinced the world that they were responsible for the Moscow bombing. Sonya — Fury’s friendly Russian rival from episode 1 — arrives at the butcher’s shop where Brogan is being held and, after brutally confirming her suspicions that he’s a Skrull, successfully tortures him for a key piece of information on Gravik’s plans: “Dalton”, the name of a scientist couple.

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She escapes right as Gravik, G’iah, and a few other Skrulls sneak and fight their way in to free Brogan — though not for long: G’iah (for unclear reasons) has revealed the location of their safe house to the police… and they avoid capture. But Gravik now suspects that that was the intel Brogan revealed.

In the middle of a dark forest, Brogan tells G’iah to stop the car. Looking in the mirror, his eyes tell Pagon everything the lieutenant needs to know. Pagon remorsefully takes Brogan out of the car, reassuring him that yes, we’ve almost made it home, brother. As Pagon walks Brogan into the woods, the rest of the scene plays out with the camera focused on G’iah’s and Gravik’s faces — horrified and grief-stricken, versus expressionless.

They drive away, leaving Brogan’s body where it fell.


Reparations Isn’t Genocide

The New Jim Crow book cover

“40 acres and a mule” has two meanings:

  1. The broken promise of Reconstruction to close the racial wealth gap through redistribution, which the government refused to do. In relation to Secret Invasion, it may be more accurate to reference the failure of the promise of ‘64 (i.e. the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and civil rights legislation more generally) to achieve King’s desegregation and integration.
  2. All the way up until today, the phrase “40 acres and a mule” has been used as a battle cry for reparations — which, as it did 150 years ago, primarily means closing the racial wealth gap through redistribution; and as White–White economic inequality and White–Black economic inequality have become (somewhat) less different, supporters of reparations have also shifted emphasis to clearly communicate that economic equality is and has always been an implicit, often explicit, part of their calls for racial equality.

But in Secret Invasion, there is no awareness that 95% of the time someone calls for reparations, they mean redistribution and equality; in Secret Invasion, the people criticizing the broken promises aren’t social democrats or proto-socialists (or full-fledged socialists), but the Skrulls who want to exterminate humanity and claim ‘its land’ as their own. They’re fascists. And so episode 2, like episode 1 with the Great Replacement Theory, repeats another White supremacist myth: that reparations means ‘White genocide’.

It’s really quite disturbing that the two people who are ridiculing the idea of coexistence between Skrulls and humans, and who have a pessimistic view of humanity’s potential for solidarity and selflessness, are the two major Black characters: Fury and Gravik. The whole structure of this show will inevitably fuel White supremacists’ beliefs because, as is typical (see: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier vis-a-vis “They will never let a Black man be Captain America.”), it’ll probably attempt to refute that pessimism in the last couple of episodes and end with the message that coexistence is possible. But any and every White supremacist or proto-White supremacist watching will easily dismiss that (really quite lazy and annoying trope) as a contrivance thrown in because the show wanted to end things on a happy and liberal note.

And, yeah, that’s exactly what it is, actually. This show can’t end on a real happy or hopeful ending because it’s ignoring reality.

White and Black working-class socialists in meeting

In reality, there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people of color who don’t need a Nick Fury keeping his promises, and who won’t follow Gravik regardless of what he promises. We can and will continue to make a better world ourselves, side-by-side with the White people who are as serious about the cause of racial and economic equality as we are — just as we’ve been doing for centuries, before, after, and even while a different sort of White people were breaking the promise of 40 acres and a mule.

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Change comes from below precisely because the Graviks among people of color (who tend to be more like Killmonger — more complex, insightful, and altruistic than Gravik — anyway) are far, far outnumbered by the people of color who soundly prove Fury and Gravik wrong about humanity’s potential for solidarity and selflessness.


Secret Invasion Episode 2 Promises More Mysteries

Mysterious DNA samples in Secret Invasion episode 2

The Skrull Exodus and Diaspora

Besides setting up the real-world parallel of White–Black relations in the US, this episode also throws out a few fascinating worldbuilding questions. While telling Fury about all the Skrulls that have come to Earth, Talos mentions that all the other Skrulls that fled Skrullos before its destruction are in Emperor Drogge’s colony. Given that in the comics, Skrulls have always tended to be villains rather than victims, this colony will likely be a way for the MCU to continue shifting in that direction.

And speaking of Skrullos’ destruction: while refusing to cede power to Gravik and join his war against humanity, Shirley, a member of the Skrull Council, castigates the rest of the Council: “We ended up homeless refugees because we were too willing [to wage war].” Given that all we’ve ever heard was that the Kree destroyed Skrullos, and that wars and genocides do tend to have a slightly more complicated, if no less horrifying and oppressive, history than one sentence, I wonder what sequence of events and decisions — by Kree and by Skrulls — led up to the destruction of Skrullos?

The Harvest

Secret Invasion’s second episode also starts revealing details of Gravik’s master plan, which seems to center around something called “the Harvest”.

In New Skrullos, G’iah discovers Gravik seems to be searching or preparing for something called “the Harvest”; a scientist working on it, Dr. Dalton, has files on DNA from various species: Groot, Frost Beast, Cull Obsidian, human with Extremis, and potentially more.

One possibility is that it’s a sort of supersoldier serum for Skrulls. In addition to revealing the name Dalton to Sonya, Brogan also tells her that he thinks Dalton’s project is a machine “to make [Skrulls] stronger.” Maybe it’s for when someone finally pulls an Ant-Man and suggests to Fury and Talos that “our first move should be calling the Avengers” — during the Council meeting, Gravik implies that he has a plan for dealing with the Avengers if they try to stop him.

Nick Fury, Domestic Bliss

Wait, what? Yes! Fury is married.

And she’s been replaced by a Skrull.

And he doesn’t know.

And that’s the cliffhanger the episode ends on. *Face-palm*

Secret Invasion is streaming now on Disney Plus.

THE GOOD
Fury’s reminiscence about segregation was quite good
Samuel L. Jackson really sells Fury’s grief over Maria Hill’s death
THE BAD
The whole structure of Secret Invasion’s story is still promoting White supremacist myths
Fury and Rhodey’s conversation about having power as Black people is much less insightful than the subtler conversation on the train
6.5
Fair

Review Summary

With a few interesting plot and story details, some well-executed, classic spy-thriller fare, and a deeply unsettling affinity for dangerous racist and xenophobic myths, Secret Invasion episode 2 is not much better or worse than episode 1.

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