It’s Time for Secret Invasion to Stop Trying to be a Marvel Movie

The varying runtimes of the new series are working against it.

Marvel Studios
Secret Invasion

In the streaming era, runtimes are now as much a creative expression as title sequences and color grading. Without the restrictions of a programming schedule, a show can fluctuate from half an hour to an hour within the same season — just look at The Mandalorian Season 3. But while longer episodes allow some stories to breathe, others actually do well with the structure of a time limit.

Secret Invasion is the perfect example. Though the “six-episode television event” was previously described as having hour-long episodes, the four chapters have varied from 58 minutes to a half hour. The shortest episode was the best, and the reason why is counter-intuitive.

Marvel shows often try to — and are expected to — replicate what’s in the movies. Occasionally, a show can avoid this expectation with a major tonal shift, like She-Hulk, but even the most stylized MCU shows, like WandaVision, end with the same Marvel action.

We see Nick Fury and his wife talk in both the past and the uneasy present.

Marvel Studios

Secret Invasion began that way, with trademark Marvel action punctuated with downtime full of one-liners. However, Episode 4 began with something completely different. After learning Priscilla Fury was actually a Skrull secretly working for Gravik, she has some tense conversations — one with James Rhodes, also clearly a Skrull, and another with her husband Nick Fury, both in the past and the present.

It’s an element Secret Invasion has been sidelining in exchange for the more MCU-friendly spy action scenes. But a quiet conversation, if done well, can be just as exciting as the most budget-bloating fight. Both are essential in a spy show, where identities are carefully teased and loyalties are often uneasy.

The climax of Episode 4 was almost unnecessary given how much tension was present in the previous scenes.

Marvel Studios

Secret Invasion is a Marvel show, so these conversations have to be counterweighted with a massive fight scene that shows the president maimed and Talos fatally shot. But because the episode is so short, there’s no temptation to constantly interrupt the emotional tensity with bloated action. The action ending may feel tacked on, but it’s not a distraction from the subtler thrills.

Maybe short chapters are what Secret Invasion really needs. A time restraint can promote effective and economical storytelling, the kind that can really only be done with the cautious and carefully worded conversations of people who may or may not be enemies. No matter how exciting the hails of bullets in the finale were, the climactic shot by Nick and Priscilla was even better. Sometimes one brief, interpersonal moment can do far more than any fight scene.

Secret Invasion is streaming on Disney+.

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