Invasion is about the arrival of extraterrestrial life on Earth, but those interested in seeing actual aliens—much less a, you know, invasion—had best not hold their breath, since Simon Kinberg and David Weil’s 10-part Apple TV+ series (Oct. 22) takes its sweet time getting to the good stuff. In fact, over the course of its first five episodes (which were all that was provided to press), the show barely depicts a single not-of-this-world creature, or spaceship landing on Earth, or coherent encounter between man and moonman. So doggedly does it tease its audience with the very material promised by its premise and title that it plays like a big-budget test of one’s patience.
Given how many similar sagas have been produced by Hollywood over the past 75 years, it’s not unreasonable for Kinberg (the mastermind behind Fox’s X-Men films) and Weil to take a slow-burn approach to their saga. What is perplexing, however, is the perverse length to which they drag out their major reveals. To be sure, Invasion’s characters are all navigating a world that’s been suddenly thrown into chaos. Yet none of them know why, and the show doesn’t actually portray the specific nature of these cataclysms; they’re all fiery, earthquake-y “attacks” that happen just out of sight, and whose aftermath is all we witness. There are random clues littered throughout—kids are suffering from nosebleeds! People are intermittently beset by shrieking radio noises! Crop circles appear in corn fields!—but they’re so meager as to barely count as breadcrumbs. And as for the creatures themselves? Your guess is as good as mine, since the only glimpse provided during the early going is a shimmering quasi-invisible being that’s impossible to lucidly make out.
Instead, Invasion spends almost all of its energy focusing on a group of disparate characters from around the globe who are dealing with personal dilemmas that are only somewhat related to the ongoing planetary crisis. In Long Island, doctor-turned-housewife Aneesha (Golshifteh Farahani) learns that her son Luke (Azhy Robertson) is the only one in his class who hasn’t had a nosebleed. She also discovers that her husband Ahmed (Firas Nassar) is a lout who’s carrying on an affair with an Instagram chef. When their quiet suburban street suffers a vague assault (leaving houses and cars in smoking ruins), they’re all forced to go on the run, much to the dismay of Aneesha, who glares and seethes at her cheating spouse for being an unrepentant creep. He most certainly is that, but what he isn’t is interesting—something that goes for this entire storyline, which drags its feet from one nondescript locale and monotonous argument to another.
Worse still is the predicament of Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsuna), who works at JASA (i.e. the Japanese NASA), and whose heart is broken when her astronaut girlfriend Hinata (Rinko Kikuchi) dies in a mysterious space shuttle accident. It’s obvious to us that Hinata and her comrades crossed paths with incoming aliens. Invasion, however, takes forever getting Mitsuki to even consider this possibility, so busy is she moping about the death of her beloved. Considering that Mitsuki and Hinata don’t share a single on-screen scene together, the former’s grief makes no dramatic impact, and her quest to uncover what really happened to her paramour—which involves disobeying orders and visiting Hinata’s father—moves at a lethargic pace that negates any trace of import.
Invasion also concerns a trio of additional dull protagonists: Oklahoma Sheriff John Tyson (Sam Neill), who on the cusp of retirement has a run-in with a mysterious invader; Casper (Billy Barratt), an epileptic English schoolboy who’s tormented by bully Monty (Paddy Holland), with whom he winds up at the bottom of a giant rural ravine after a school trip bus crash; and Trevante (Shamier Anderson), an American soldier in Afghanistan who stumbles upon a tripod monster in a sandstorm and then wanders around the desert trying to locate his men. Together, these threads aim to present a comprehensive multi-perspective view of the dawning calamity. Unfortunately, though, almost every scene advances the plot forward by mere centimeters (at best). The result is akin to watching a Humvee spin its wheels in the sand for hours on end.
That Casper is introduced listening to Nirvana’s “Drain You” turns out to be fitting, since Invasion’s plotting is enervating to the point of exasperation. Neill, Farahani, Kutsuna and Anderson are all as capable as the material will permit them to be, but their characters’ plights are one-note and drawn out to an absurd degree. Everything that initially happens to Aneesha, Mitsuki and Trevante could have been easily condensed into a few short passages, and all of the show’s meandering incidents and poignant soundtrack piano can’t alter that impression. Somewhere lurking in this morass is a theme about dealing with “others,” since the action features friction between Americans and Muslims, gays and homophobes, and disabled kids and nasty pricks. But as with everything else, that notion is drowned out by a lot of tedious melodrama, lowlighted by Hinata and Mitsuki’s constant chatter about their love of sunrises and fondness for a star sticker that Hinata stuck on the ceiling above their bed.
While Invasion’s lack of slam-bang spectacle isn’t, in and of itself, a shortcoming, the show’s decision to withhold any entertaining core element of its conceit proves wearisome. That will undoubtedly change, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone sticking around that long. Kinberg and Weil seem to be operating from an older streaming-storytelling playbook that assumes that viewers can be counted on to finish everything they start. Yet what they fail to take into account is the fact that we currently live in an age of television overload, with a million different options available at the press of a button, and thus the ability to drop any small-screen diversion that doesn’t adequately satisfy our desires. It’s not until the end of the fifth episode that the U.S. president takes to the airwaves to announce that humanity is not alone in the universe, thereby finally transitioning the series into the very narrative terrain that should have been reached hours earlier. If you make it past that midway point, consider yourself more patient than me.