Invasion Creator Simon Kinberg Is Still Learning Lessons from the X-Men
As the Apple TV sci-fi series wraps up its second season, Simon Kinberg reflects on 25 years in the industry.
Invasion is not your typical alien-centric series. If anything, it’s a slow-burning character study set in the midst of an alien invasion. And as enticing as that can be on paper, the Apple TV+ series represented a test of patience for traditional fans of the subgenre — and even fans of showrunner Simon Kinberg’s more recognizable work.
The filmmaker has been a staple in geekdom for decades, from Fox’s longstanding X-Men franchise to beloved Star Wars series like Rebels, so it’s safe to say he knows his way around an ensemble. The cast of Invasion, by contrast, is scattered across the globe, connected only by the threat that the series’ unnamed aliens pose to their shared home. Season 1 found clever ways to connect a few of its disparate plotlines, but it’s in Season 2 that Invasion delivers the real payoff.
“Season 2 certainly requires less patience than Season 1,” Kinberg tells Inverse ahead of Invasion’s season finale. “These characters, the connections, and the threads do start to weave together this season.” It’s a kind of sprawling storytelling that Kinberg has done before: “My training for this, in many ways, was with the X-Men movies. You got a lot of characters in those movies, and they’re growing from film to film,” he says.
Bridging that gap was one of Kinberg’s bigger challenges when building out the series. As Season 2 comes to a close, the filmmaker hopes to continue this sprawling story with a third — and maybe even a fourth — season. Inverse chatted with Kinberg about how Season 2 improves on its sprawling first season, when he hopes to begin shooting a third season, and the vital lesson he learned from the X-Men.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Invasion Season 2 is so much bigger this time around. How did you balance so many threads, especially with characters as rich as yours?
Balancing for me is not that hard, I guess because in Season 1 we really got to know the characters. My training for this, in many ways, was with the X-Men movies. You got a lot of characters in those movies, and they’re growing from film to film. There were more characters, I would say, to service in X-Men than there are in Invasion. It really is about designing with a great writing staff. I was showrunner this season and worked with a really good writers room, putting cards up on the wall, using different-colored cards for each of the characters, making sure we’re telling their stories in a fulsome enough way that is going to be satisfying to the audience — and challenging in a good way for the actor. It’s looking at cards up on a wall and making sure that you don’t have too many colors in a row.
I love that you mentioned the writers room — I was so curious about the writing process. Do you guys just riff? Do you consult your show bible or the lore?
Both Season 2 and Season 3 really started with weeks of just “blue sky”: What do we want to see? Where would we want to take these characters? I am someone that likes to know what people are saying about the show, for good and for bad. I’m like a glutton for punishment on Twitter, but you learn a lot. You have to filter out a lot, but you learn a lot. I bring that to the room as well.
Once we start to nail down the big blue-sky ideas, then we get into arcing the characters before arcing the story. I really wanted to figure out where the characters would evolve from before we constructed the story. In my experience, when story comes first, you start to feel like the characters are being dragged by the story and doing things that aren’t organic to them.
Invasion is a lot more intimate in scope than your average alien story. But in Season 2, we’re finally getting to step into the alien world in earnest. You built out a lot of the lore in Season 1 — was this season just about having fun and letting the homework speak for itself?
I love “letting the homework speak for itself” as a phrase. Yes. Season 1 was definitely Act 1 of a movie where you’re setting up all the characters, and Season 2 is where you get to see what happens to these characters when they’re under incredible duress. I didn’t want to show the hand of the aliens too much, so Season 2 was like, “Let’s jump months later and really dive into it.” I think that’s certainly what a genre audience is looking for from an alien invasion show. But a drama audience can also follow along, because they’re now invested in these people as human beings.
I know getting a big team-up is not the goal for Invasion, but is it difficult resisting the urge to end this season with a big team-up? Or are you kind of just like, “This is what I want to do. I’m cool with it. Fans, you’ve got to be patient”?
Season 2 certainly requires less patience than Season 1. These characters, the connections, and the threads do start to weave together this season. It isn’t really hard to resist a full team-up, because I do think there’s an element of that by the end of the season. It’s a team-up that is happening on all kinds of different planes.
Trevante’s and Aneesha’s storylines come together. But then, from a downed alien ship in the Amazon, Mitsuki has a hand in what’s happening in Oklahoma. And Caspar has a hand in it from a church in rural France. We don’t need every character to physically be in the same place, standing in a circle like the Avengers. But they can still, in wild science fiction ways, be connected. That was the goal to me, to get these people all working together, whether they know they’re working together or not.
You mentioned working on Season 3. Has it gotten the green light?
It has not been officially greenlit, but we were working on all the scripts before the strike. We continue to tweak them now poststrike. Season 2 has thankfully been a very successful show for Apple, and they’ve been really supportive. It’s been a much bigger audience than Season 2, because people discovered Season 1. So fingers crossed, we would be shooting it next year.