What to Watch Verdict
The weakest episode so far but does leave us with a big conflict going forward.
💛 Zazie Beetz and Gillian Jacobs are brilliant but brief
💛 Give Sandra Oh's Debbie her own mystery series
💛 Great looking animation as always
💛 Too many loose ends to be tied up makes this feel like a rush job
💛 A lack of balance in story and action
💛 Erratic editing
This post contains spoilers for Invincible.
Check out our last review here.
Mark Grayson (Steven Yuen) has moved fully into superhero mode this week, and like every teen caped crusader it's impacting his normal life in a very bad way. Until this week, I've been genuinely surprised by the skillful pacing, thoughtful storytelling, and balance between superheroics and story. But this episode begins with an erratically edited series of action that doesn't live up to the first four chapters of the series. But if you can get past the jarringly edited collection of fights, deaths, and people trying to quit their jobs, you'll likely get some enjoyment out of the fifth episode of Invincible.
As we begin, a new kind-hearted but stone-skinned villain for hire called Titan (Mahershala Ali) is on the rampage. But his sweetness means he'd rather not kill someone innocent if he can help it. It's the kind of quandary that can make comics so engaging, and while Invincible has a little bit of an on the nose approach to the tale, Ali's performance adds gravitas and empathy to the stone-skinned super. While we first meet him taking down a series of villains, it becomes clear he's working off a debt to a nefarious masked man, Machine Head (Jeffrey Donovan). But even as his debt is paid, his boss reveals he has no plans to let Titan go. Instead, he wants him to be his henchie forever. But Titan has hopes that Mark might be able to help him escape from his criminal indenture.
But it turns out that it's Titan who's actually helping Mark. Because, surprising no one, Mark, the son of a legacy hero--and the series' biggest bad--is actually working from a place of privilege and has been allowing his ego to ignore the struggles of street level people. His father taught him how to save the world but it's been at the cost of saving the city he actually lives in. The unexpected team up could have big ramifications for the teen, especially when his superheroic father Omni-Man (JK Simmons) doesn't want Mark wasting his time helping the little people when there are universes to save.
As you can imagine, this doesn't leave Mark with much time for school work or his burgeoning relationship with Amber (Zazie Beetz). The humanity of Invincible is where much of its power comes from, but this week it seems to struggle slightly with that balance. It's likely because there are only three episodes left and a lot of loose ends to tie up, but it does leave the 45 minute runtime feeling a little overstuffed and undercooked. Amber is one of the best characters in the series and up until now had been getting a solid amount of screentime for a non-super teen. But this week she's mostly relegated to nagging girlfriend, which is a shame even though it's a classic comic book trope. Beetz does a great job of making her relatable, and Mark ends up coming off as a total jerk for the very first time.
Even though we know that Mark is trying to be a hero, the lack of care he shows for Amber and the lies he constantly has to tell make him a far less empathetic hero this week. It could be that this is the point, as in comic book stories we're constantly encouraged to relate or empathize with men who wrong those in their lives for the greater good. Perhaps Invincible is trying to teach us a lesson about that? If so, it works as Mark just keeps letting down the one person in his life he can probably truly trust. And it only gets worse when his mission with Titan goes wrong and he misses helping Amber out at a community kitchen.
The other arm of this story--and the most interesting in the series--is Debbie (Sandra Oh) and her quest to find out the truth about her husband and his involvement in the murders of the original Guardians of the Globe. We know that he was the culprit and that bit of dramatic irony brings much of the intrigue and weight to the season. We've been watching Omni-Man play the perfect hero and family man knowing that he brutally killed his teammates. Sadly, we don't get enough of Debbie's quest this week but there are some great moments with Omni-Man where she demands credit for the unrecognized work that she's done: teaching him humanity, cultural understanding of Earth, and being a support network for the world's strongest superhero. It's a subtle but powerful exchange that hints at the best of what Invincible can be when it dissects the reality behind superheroics.
Just like the very first episode we end here with a massive action sequence and a huge fight. But to get too deep into them takes away some of the episode's biggest surprises. While it never quite reaches the lofty heights of the pilot, it does add some much needed impact and weight to an uneven episode. But as we watch Debbie strive for the truth and Amber get abandoned again while attempting to understand the strange behavior of Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs) and Mark, I wanted to know more about Amber and what it's like for her to live in a world of superheroes. So often we get these grounded stories through the eyes of the heroes. But what about those who love them? Or who don't even know that the person they care about is working as a hero at all. There seems like a space for those stories. And I think for me personally, that might be the more engaging take for these brutal and gruesome superhero tales going forward.
Invincible hits Amazon Prime Video every Friday at 12AM PT.
Rosie Knight is an Eisner-winning journalist and author who's been writing professionally since 2005. Her career has taken her around the world and, although she hails from London, she currently resides in Los Angeles where she writes full time. She began as a professional poet but transitioned into journalism, starting at the Eisner-winning WWAC in 2016. Since then she has written over 1500 articles for digital media sites including What to Watch, Nerdist, IGN, The Hollywood Reporter, Esquire, Den of Geek, DC Comics, /Film, BuzzFeed, and Refinery29. She also writes comics including The Haunted High Tops and Cougar and Cub. When she's not writing she spends far too much time watching horror movies and Hallmark films.