Last week’s episode was loaded down with exposition, but gave us very little in terms of what it all means. This week, we ground the story a bit with a series of flashbacks — first to the events of Captain Marvel, and then to two years later, when Nick Fury meets a serious-minded young Skrull named Gravid, who recently lost his parents in their ongoing war with the Cree, Captain Marvel’s surprise villains.
Last week, we learned that Marvel and Fury promised the Skrulls a new home and failed to deliver. Here we get a little more — the Skrulls tried to find a new home on their own, and found “only violence and hate.” Fury promises them protection on Earth and a safe new home in exchange for helping him by working undercover for S.H.I.E.L.D. They all agree and take human form, apart from the two youngest — suspicious Gravid and difficult-to-read G’iah.
Twenty-five years later, those two have detonated several dirty bombs in Moscow and killed Agent Hill, who’s been Fury’s underutilized assistant through most of the MCU. Someone also throws Fury into the back of a van, but it turns out to be Talos, who helps him escape Moscow by train.
But all is not well between the two of them. Fury promised to help the Skrulls and disappeared into space for years. Talos smuggled every Skrull he could onto Earth, without telling Fury, and now there are as many as a million of them living among us. Talos hopes they can simply co-exist peacefully with humans. Fury, who grew up under segregation, is incredulous. “Humans can’t co-exist with each other, Talos! There is not enough room or tolerance on this planet for another species!”
Gravik joins in on a meeting with a secretive Council that includes the UN Secretary-General, the British Prime Minister, the director of NATO, and more — all Skrulls. They don’t approve of Gravik’s methods; he thinks they’re foolish for not wanting to get their hands dirty. The fake world leaders have been working to keep peace and stability, but Gravik hasn’t forgotten Fury’s promise or forgiven. As he mentioned last week, he wants to wipe out humanity so Skrulls can have the planet to themselves. Despite not approving of his methods or goals or seeming to like him, the Council appoints Gravik as their leader. Because the show can leave no spy movie cliché unturned, the lone dissenter is allowed to go in peace, but looks over her shoulder the whole time. She warns Talos about Gravik, and he wants a meeting.
It’s still not clear what side G’iah is on. She gave Fury information on the bombing that led him into a trap, but was it her trap? Or Gravik’s? We see her snooping around Gravik’s operation — she overhears scientists at Gravik’s base working on something called The Harvest, and sees some sort of machine they’re working on — but it’s not clear whether it’s because she’s secretly loyal to the good guys, or simply doesn’t trust Gravik and his methods.
There’s a lot of that going around. We see Rhodey again, facing a tribunal of angry EU leaders who are blaming America for the Moscow bombing. But Rhodey blames Fury, and tells him that to his face. Fury explains the Skrull connection, but Rhodey and the vague branch of the government he works for already know about them. And while we get the obligatory “we can’t call in the Avengers because reasons,” he also doesn’t trust an apparently washed-up Nick Fury to handle things on his own. He fires Fury from whatever his post-S.H.I.E.L.D. job has been, and tellingly, tries to get a DNA sample while tossing him out on his own.
Is Rhodey a Skrull? The conversation works either way — it’s believable that either faction of Skrulls would want Fury out of the way, but also that Rhodey (and the U.S. government in general) blames Fury for the Moscow bombing (or for trying to stop it himself without calling in backup). Our theme across two episodes is that the few friends Fury thought he had are abandoning him, just when he needs them the most.
This episode at least draws a few lines for us. While the X-Men comics are built around the conflicting worldviews of Professor X, who believes in peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans, and Magneto, who doesn’t think humans can ever put their bigotry aside and must be fought, Secret Invasion gives us three factions. Talos believes in co-existence; Gravik wants war; but Fury’s in the middle. Gravik may be overtly dangerous, but he sees Talos’ naivete as also dangerous.
What Fury doesn’t have is a clear way forward. Both in terms of a solution to the broader Skrull problem and to the more pressing problem of Gravik. Alienated from his friends, surrounded by enemies he has no idea how to fight, we’ve spent two of our six episodes putting Nick Fury into a hole. Now let’s see how he gets himself out.
• Captain Marvel did a decent job digitally de-aging Samuel L. Jackson, but he looks a lot more video-game-cutscene-ish in the flashback scenes here. In hindsight, they would have been smarter to forego the CGI route and cast William Jackson Harper as young Fury. He has more than a passing resemblance to Jackson and can harness the same intensity.
• Gravik’s group are harvesting human DNA, as the Skrulls seem to need a DNA sample to take human form… except when they don’t. Gravik turns into several people, including Fury, in rapid succession at the end of last week’s episode. Perhaps there’s a rule that got spelled out and I missed it, but it seems like the Skrulls’ limitations change depending on the whims of the writers.
• Speaking of writers, Fury’s dialogue often reads like every line was written to be in a trailer. (“I’m Nick Fury. Even when I’m out, I’m in.”) But his scene with Rhodey, where he tries to bond with a fellow black man who’s risen to a position of power, only to have Rhodey throw it back in his face that he squandered that power by making a hash of things, is the best-written scene we’ve had so far, and Cheadle knocks it out of the park. We’re looking forward to Armor Wars — recently upgraded from Disney+ series to movie — because despite having the dumbest name of any Marvel project, it’s got one of the MCU’s best (and most underused) actors at the top of the call sheet.
• Cheadle’s main competition in terms of acting caliber is Olivia Coleman, but this week’s episode just gives her some lightweight scenery-chewing as she tortures one of Gravik’s Skrulls for information. We want to believe that the show wouldn’t cast her without giving her more to do down the line.