As someone who is currently being destroyed by Squid Game – with which Netflix has played upon our collective anxiety strings like the world’s most gleefully malevolent violinist – I wholeheartedly welcome an epic tale of global takeover by alien beings in which almost nothing, in fact, happens.
Invasion (Apple TV+) is balm to my harrowed soul. It starts off traditionally enough. A mysterious something falls out of the sky and lands with a kerpow! in an isolated part of the world (here, the Arabian desert), witnessed by a lone traveller whose curiosity about this strange happening soon proves fatal. Mr Inquisitive meets his end by being sort of carbonised and liquidised at the same time. The special effects throughout the 10-part series are intriguingly off-beam and satisfying. Unfortunately you get about one per episode.
And then – well, that’s about it. For ages and ages.
We go round the world (travel costs were presumably where most of the series’ rumoured $200m budget was spent) meeting the characters. There’s a sheriff in Oklahoma (played by Sam Neill) on – yes! – his last day before retirement, called out to track down two men who went missing at about the same time as a crop circle-cum-crater appeared in a local cornfield. There’s a happily married couple with two children in Long Island, whose home is the only one left standing when their neighbourhood is destroyed by the reverberations of some unseen impact; a delicate schoolboy and his bully in London; a coachload of children on a school trip who crash into a quarry during a meteor shower.
Elsewhere, we meet an aerospace engineer in Tokyo, who becomes determined to discover how a Japanese shuttle flown by her lover was destroyed without warning, and an American soldier in Afghanistan, searching for a suddenly missing squadron when he meets the second special effect of the season.
There are power glitches and mass nosebleeds. Things shake and rumble. Sands shift and heave. Comms go down. There is a generalised sense of peril so mild that– if you’re coming off Squid Game, or indeed real life in 2021 – you may find it oddly soothing. There is definitely something out there, but it’s coming so slowly you’ve got time to get your affairs in order first.
The invasion – though for most of the series’ first half you almost have to take it on trust that that is what it is – takes second place to the characters’ individual stories. Sheriff Tyson is a man still searching for the case that will give his very ordinary career meaning. Engineer Mitsuki (Shioli Kutsana) is wrestling with sexism at work and more prejudice in her private life. The quarry-bound kids quickly take on a Lord of the Flies energy, and the happily married couple are soon revealed to be, in fact, far from it. US soldier Trevante (Shamier Anderson, whose fierce energy, along with Kutsana’s, does much to suggest forward momentum where there is frequently none) struggles to keep control of himself and his sanity when his men disappear and leave him not just baffled but anchorless.
It is, if you squint hard enough, a brave attempt to do something different with an old trope. You can feel the creators Simon Kinberg and David Weil eager to draw parallels and find resonance with current issues: the fracturing family also in effect become refugees as they attempt to flee to safety; Trevante is a hostile invader about to feel what life is like on the other side of the equation, and so on. Even so, Invasion is a slow burn that threatens to become simply slow.