I think we can all agree that at this point we should take alien invasion off the list of things to be worried about. Malignancy, disruption and chaos are not going to come from strange little critters from space or super-smart superior beings from another planet intent on colonizing Earth. Nope. The malignancy, chaos and disruptions to worry about are here among us already.
From H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds to the film Arrival, some themes remain constant in the genre: The enemy is out there, possibly on the brink of invasion, and we should be prepared and ready to fight.
Thus, I was wary of Invasion (streams AppleTV+) and expecting spectacle and terror. Was I ever wrong. The first three hours available – new episodes will stream Fridays – are utterly engrossing, tender, passionate and deeply humane. The drama so far is uninhibitedly about people under pressure but in love, in some way, and the fragility of love is the theme. It is at times an enchanting, moving drama about love’s mysteries, not at all about the gross, fear-inducing spectacle of monstrous invaders.
This puts me in a small but growing minority. Many reviewers began with a “yeah, right” approach: yet another sci-fi extravaganza made with Apple’s vast resource of money, and that money probably on display is lavishly made scenes of an alien invasion. Upon watching, they found no pay-off, or a pay-off delayed. The genre and its adherents will not suffer the pay-off delayed or unseen.
But Invasion posits something different in the genre. It suggests there’s something more terrifying than global chaos caused by an alien invasion, and that something is heartbreak.
If you watch, pay close attention to one scene in the third episode. An American soldier stationed in Afghanistan (wonderfully played by Canadian Shamier Anderson) is a man of action and used to fighting and intimidating others. In the scene he’s isolated, with only a local Afghan man for company. Neither speaks the other’s language. Still they talk, telling stories of separation from loved ones, and you can’t help but be moved by the grace and carefully emotional heft of the scene.
What is happening in Afghanistan is just one piece of the spread-out storyline. Something’s going wrong with the world and nobody knows why, yet. The characters are just trying to live, love and understand their lives.
In small-town Oklahoma, a long-time sheriff, John Bell Tyson (Sam Neill), is on his last day on the job before retiring and regretful that in his career he never made any real difference.
In Long Island, N.Y., a Syrian immigrant woman, Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani), who gave up her medical career to be a full-time mother and wife to her husband, Ahmed (Firas Nassar), learns in the most cruel and crushing way that Ahmed is having an affair with a woman who is her opposite in every possible way.
In London, England, a much bullied, sensitive boy, Caspar (Billy Barratt, who won an International Emmy Award for the British drama Responsible Child), is very tentatively making a connection with a girl in his class while on a field trip with his classmates, one that goes horribly awry.
Meanwhile in Japan, in what is the most tender and least emotionally circumspect story-thread, astronaut Hinata (Rinko Kikuchi) is about to launch on a mission to the International Space Station. Her partner in what is a secret relationship, Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna), works in mission control, and Mitsuki’s devastation, when things go wrong, is a heart-scalding portrait of a woman deprived of affection and ardent physical contact.
Such is the force of these depictions of love’s mysteries that the alien-invasion theme lingers in the background. Oh, there are hints of spectacle when some ugly force is being unleashed, seemingly at random, against Earth. The tropes of the genre are touched upon: an unexplained circle in a farmer’s field, the puzzling corruption and failure of computer systems, inexplicable explosions as objects fall to Earth from the heavens. But, so far, that’s background noise. Invasion is about people whose love and sense of empathy are trammelled more by human frailty than by monsters from space.
Out of 10 reviews you can find online, this positive review l’m writing might be one of just three that is confidently affirmative. So be it. The series (from co-creators Simon Kinberg and David Weil) is a retort to the entire alien-invasion genre before, in the end, it moves a bit closer toward the orthodoxies of the genre. Until then, with great sensitivity and some great acting, it says that love and honour are more bewildering than the mystery of what’s out there on other planets.
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