Intimate moments on an epic scale: Thoughts on Invasion (S1, E 1-3)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

We have been conditioned over many decades of enrapturing TV and movie storytelling to see alien invasions as a bombastically epic event.

And to be fair, they are are to a large extent; you don’t just subsume an entire planet to your own will, using overwhelming amounts of military technology and quite a bit of, ahem, shock and awe, without it looking so big and so massive that we struggle to find words to describe.

Similarly, the fightback, when it happens, whether it’s releasing a virus aboard a mothership (cheesy but exuberantly fun; thank you Independence Day) or unexpectedly having the more natural virulent varieties back on terra firma do it for you (War of the Worlds), are suitably and attention grabbingly worldwide in nature, too.

There’s really no escaping it and nor should you try – viscerally, it makes for some captivatingly unnerving storytelling.

Where Invasion (episodes 1 to 3 so far )excels is that it embraces the inescapably global nature of an alien invasion with a Babel-like series of contained character arcs that take us down right down to what something this chaotically frightening would be like for people in their small corner of the world.

It’s a masterstroke because it personalises something dauntingly macro and makes it relatably and powerfully micro, drawing us in completely as it does so.

Going this small on something so big also has another big narrative advantage.

It takes something that normally sweeps over us like a tsunami, so unimaginably huge and all enveloping that you have no choice but to let it wash over you, grabbing what you can from it and hoping something sticks with you at the end.

Invasion, by way of inspired contrast, slows things down considerably by letting each character have their own series of moments – each episode moves between characters in Japan, the US, Afghanistan and the UK – allowing us to not only see the slow creep of invasion as a series of disruptively small but massively impacts on daily life, but giving the show a slow-burn build of dread and fear that works impressively well.

If you’re the type of person who likes things fast and obvious, this may not be for you but if you appreciate a step-by-step walk into the apocalypse that mirrors what it would likely feel like for real people, then Invasion will be very much the alien invasion story you have been waiting for.

(Another show which understood the devastating effect of taking things nice and scarily slow was the first season or two Fear the Walking Dead, which unlike it’s more bombastically violent parent show, understood that there is a great to be gained from taking things nice and slowly.)

Along those lines, the first three episodes take their time letting us get to know the people whose lives are about to be cataclysmically changed forever.

It’s impossible to dive too deeply into these stories without giving too much away, and honestly much of the great pleasure, if you can use that word, is watching how the lives of the people featured in Invasion are already being changed for the worse even before the shimmery, cloaked aliens, who you are only see a little in passing (a masterstroke by the way; let the viewers’ minds fill in the rest and ramp up the terror that way) make their presence really felt.

Each of these people, whether its retiring Oklahoman sheriff John Bell Tyson (Sam Neill), aeronautics comms specialist Mitsuki Yamato (Shioli Kutsuna), Afghanistan-based US soldier Trevante Ward (Shamier Anderson), New Yorker Aneesha Malik (Golshifteh Farahani) or British schoolboy Casper Morrow (Billy Barratt) are dealing with individual ongoing or sudden griefs of their own.

Affectingly told in ways that will break your heart, each of these stories demonstrates in ways that will resonate with anyone that life doesn’t stop for the big events.

Yes, not even alien invasions.

Granted some of the storylines are a little cliched and the characters do verge a little on the been-there, done-that – Tyson is on his all but inevitable last day of work before retirement while Malik is grappling with some devastating news of her own – but they still work in terms of taking us down into the trenches of what real life would be like if the aliens were making their way, slowly but with horrifying certainty, onto planet earth.

The stories of Yamato and Morrow, in particular, will rip your heart out.

While they, like everyone else, will have their lives no doubt turned comprehensively upside down as the ten-episode season progresses, they are already struggling to deal with lives already heading south, whether suddenly in Yamato’s case or on a corrosively ongoing basis for Morrow.

It’s this attention to storytelling detail that marks Invasion, which comes complete with some arrestingly crisp, stunning cinematography – though the propensity for scenes at night, atmospheric though they may be, are not appreciated if you’re watching the show, as so many do, on small mobile screens – as something special and worth watching.

It doesn’t forget for a second that while the aliens are big and unmissable, or are soon to be anyway with the first three episodes obliquely referencing in favour of setting up our various characters for sizeable upcoming plot movements, that what will really get our attention is the humanity at the heart of the tale.

In many bigger, brassier alien invasion stories, that pretty much assumed, with the characters we do meet cardboard cutouts there to simply push the story along; but in Invasion these people matter, some more than others to be honest, infusing this deliciously slow-burning show with a portent of things to come through the eyes of people who, already awash in personal pain, are about to find their worlds getting so much worse, along everyone else on the planet.

  • New episodes will release each Friday on AppleTV+

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