You’d be forgiven for missing out on the first season of Invasion, the Apple TV+ series that explored a harrowing alien invasion from a humanist perspective. The 10-episode epic combined the ground-level terror of War of the Worlds with the day-to-day melodrama of something like The Leftovers, following pockets of humanity as they fight to survive a threat they don’t understand.
Aside from a rogue crop circle or an alien vessel hiding in plain sight, few characters in the series are aware they’re even dealing with an extraterrestrial threat. Invasion chooses instead to focus on an estranged husband and wife working to keep their family together, a group of middle school kids weathering a mysterious meteor shower, and an aerospace engineer investigating the disappearance of her lover. It certainly made the series’ central mystery all the more compelling. But when Invasion wrapped its first season on a baffling cliffhanger, it failed to deliver the answers that most were expecting.
As Invasion returns for its second season, expectations are higher than ever. Of course, that’s one of the perks of creating on a streaming platform. The freedom to build a world on one’s own terms allows for the kind of storytelling few have the patience to commit to anymore. And while Season 2 makes an admirable effort to expand on this world, Invasion can’t shake the issues that have plagued it from the beginning.
Invasion Season 1 went to lengths to give us a feel for its endless scroll of characters — often at the expense of thrills — but that more or less pays off in Season 2. Four months have passed since the eponymous invasion began, and while humanity might have won their first battle, the war is far from over. Aliens have taken over 30% of the planet, while the newly-formed World Defense Coalition work to protect what remains (and eventually strike back against their rapidly-evolving enemies).
The series’ five protagonists have each had to adapt to this new reality. Once a self-denying housewife with a wayward husband, Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani) has gone full Sarah Connor. She’s been on the run for months, zigzagging across the U.S.-Canada border with her two kids — and an ominous alien artifact — in her sights at all times. Down South, Navy Seal Trevante (Shamier Anderson) is struggling to get back to his old life. He can’t shake his guilt upon abandoning soft-spoken schoolboy Casper (Billy Barratt) to fend for himself in London. Casper, meanwhile, is now the property of the WDC, one of a handful of kids that can communicate with Earth’s hostile visitors. Then there’s JASA officer Mitsuke (Shioli Kutsuna), who’s been recruited to establish communication with the aliens’ felled mothership in the Amazon.
Surprisingly, Invasion keeps all these disparate threads from intersecting too often. While the series is finally circling back to a one-off plotline from its very first episode (remember Sam Neill’s meddlesome midwestern sheriff?), everyone remains on their own path. Some perspectives are more compelling than others: Mitsuke’s arc feels like a mixture of Annihilation and The Abyss — and it’s by far one of the best parts of the series. Invasion also takes a page from angsty YA dystopia by checking back in with Casper’s classmates, who are trekking across Europe to spring their friend from a WDC facility. The effort is spearheaded by Casper’s one-time crush, Jamila (India Brown) and even involves school bully Monty (Paddy Holland, relishing in a redemption arc).
While Invasion is finally wading into the war between humans and aliens, it’s still rooted in the perspective of the former. The melodrama of the first season has more or less burned off, leaving room for a lot more action. But the mysteries posited before are still unraveling at a frustrating pace; in spite of the rising stakes, there’s no sense of urgency to the proceedings. It doesn’t help that Invasion has introduced a handful of new allies and enemies: there’s a hyperadvanced coalition on the front lines, led by a slightly sociopathic tech guru, and a group of resistance fighters that go where the U.S. military cannot. Slowly but surely, the world of the series is getting bigger. But for all its focus on character, Invasion is still spreading its plot way too thin.
Invasion’s issues, as well as its merits, begin and end with its production value. The series clearly benefits from a bonkers budget: Season 1 was produced for a whopping $200 million, and Season 2 is clearly sharing the wealth. But slick visuals and crisp cinematography can only take this series so far. Invasion is still suffering from relentless pacing and a contrived script. The cast does what it can to pick up the slack — and each double down on the performances that kept Invasion on our radar — but there’s still so much missing in the second season.
Invasion comes close to resolving one mystery, only to save the reveal for an episode further down the line. And for those looking for a slower mood piece, that’s not always a detriment. Denser sci-fi epics totally have a home in this new age of streaming. And while this series certainly seems to fit the bill, it’s actually hiding a hollow core, and no amount of human drama can help fill it.