Monday 8 January 2024

Invasion, Season 2 by Simon Kinberg, Dan Dietz, et al (Apple TV+) | review by Stephen Theaker

As season two of Invasion begins, it is 121 days since the alien invasion began (though you would think it at least a year or three from how much the children have grown), and humanity is losing the war. Benya Mabote, World Defense Coalition President (played by Moshidi Motshegwa), leads the war effort. The aliens, of whom we've seen nothing but their killing machines, have already transformed a quarter of the planet to suit themselves and show no signs of stopping. Weird new plants are growing and their spores make the air unbreathable for humans. Millions are dead.

In season one our Japanese, English and American protagonists reached their various destinations, and helped to bring down an alien ship. Unfortunately an even larger ship arrived soon after, and so they must return to the fray. The most significant character is Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna), who is abducted to the Amazon jungle to communicate with a downed alien ship. The man responsible is tech bro Nikhil Kapoor. Apple TV+ shows often seem to feature a Steve Jobs visionary type, and this one is played by Shane Zaza, whose line readings are peculiarly reminiscent of Commandant Lassard at the podium.

English teenager Jamila (India Brown) has been fairly safe in rural Wellborough, but she's been dreaming of her friend Caspar. She's convinced he needs her help, and when everyone is told to evacuate she heads for London, and then Paris, via episode four's thrilling hike through the Channel Tunnel, in search of him. She's joined on her quest by two of Caspar's friends, and then the school bully Monty (and his little sister). The bully is rather less intimidating now the other kids have grown up a bit, but he has an interesting and unexpected arc: he's often the voice of reason.

Over in the United States, Aneesha and her two maddening kids are on the run, hunted by soldiers who want to know how they killed an alien, while soldier Trevante is in Miami, obsessed with Caspar's drawings. She gets involved with a resistance movement, he follows clues in the pictures, and they'll both end up in the town from which Sam Neill's sheriff went permanently missing in the show's very first episode. There, Nedra Marie Taylor makes a fine addition to the cast as Rose, trying in vain to get the police to search for the sheriff and all the other people who have unaccountably disappeared.

I quite enjoyed season one of this without adoring it, and season two is more of the same: a bit slow, but moody, tense, beautifully shot, full of great actors and with a nice score (Bobby Krlic replacing Max Richter this time around). Season one was so incredibly similar to the 2019 War of the Worlds (the version starring Gabriel Byrne and Daisy Edgar-Jones) that I often struggled to remember which events happened in which programme. Season two covers ground that's very familiar too, from Falling Skies, V, the X-COM games, etc. There have been a thousand cop shows, so there should be room for a few more alien invasion shows yet, but a novel twist or two would have been welcome.

Another issue that for me held it back from being a top-class science fiction programme was how much of the plot progression relied upon people, especially but not just kids, constantly choosing to do completely irrational things. Like Aneesha's son trying to steal petrol from the army in broad daylight, with soldiers nearby, or Nikhil stupidly risking Aneesha's life and sanity, even though he'd have no way forward without her and she's already making great progress. Or worst of all, literally everyone, when they see alien killing machines in hibernation, standing around to gawp instead of taking the opportunity to escape.

Even the characters who don't often make such silly mistakes, like Jamila and Trevante, are still guided at heart by faith and belief rather than rational thought and tactical good sense. The angry bully types, like Monty the schoolboy and Hanley of the resistance, ask sensible, pertinent questions, but events always end up showing that the protagonists were right to act on faith. I think it's a common problem in American science fiction television: they give us fantasy heroes, pilgrims, disciples, guided by prophecies and dreams, rather than the practical, hard-headed, problem-solving heroes one finds more often in science fiction books.

I can't complain too much, though. I enjoyed watching it, and I'll enjoy watching season three if they make one. I just wish it were that little bit better. Stephen Theaker ***

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