Even when the entire world seems to be going to hell all at once, we are still mired in our own stories. When the world shut down in March of 2020, it happened to all of us, but that didn’t stop us from having our own stories in the midst of a world event. In fact, because of the nature of the pandemic — because we were locked down, locked away from each other — our stories were even more singular. Nearly 800,000 people have died in this pandemic, but those deaths do not make the events in our lives — cheating spouses, losing a best friend to cancer, the struggles of a child confronted by a bully — any less real, or less painful.
That’s part of the appeal for me to the Apple TV+ alien invasion series, Invasion. Tens of thousands of people are dying in Invasion, but the series remains determined — for a while, at least — to tell the stories of only four groups of people. In the end, there’s a reason why the series chooses the stories of these four groups, but throughout much of the series, their stories feel singular, detached from the rest of the world, even as the world’s events affect everyone equally.
We don’t even see aliens until more than midway through the series — hell, the word aliens is not even whispered for several episodes. Strangely, that feels right: If aliens were invading mankind, and we picked four groups of people at random, it’s not likely that those groups would be the first to encounter aliens. They’d be as confused as anyone trying to figure out why certain events were happening. If the houses in your neighborhood were suddenly destroyed, or if the bus you were riding crashed into a ravine, or if you were suddenly separated from your platoon, your first thought likely wouldn’t be, “Oh shit! Aliens!” If the means of transmitting and receiving information worldwide are hampered, that realization might not even dawn on you until you personally encountered the aliens yourself.
It makes Invasion itself a decidedly slow burn, but for those who tune in more interested in stories about people than in stories about boom crash aliens, it’s a nice change of pace. Invasion is not Independence Day. Dan Hamamura said to me that he’d heard it described as This Is Us with aliens, and I can sort of see that. It teases out four stories among millions, and through the first half of the season, at least, it’s almost as if no one else in the world exists outside of these four groups.
One is the jilted wife, who finds out her husband is sleeping with another woman whom he has impregnated. He is about to leave his wife and children, but the alien invasion throws a wrench in those plans. The jilted wife is forced to go on the run with her children and the cheater, even if she now hates him, and even if he still seems more interested in getting back to his mistress than he does in enduring the end of the world with his family.
There’s also the soldier separated from his platoon, who doesn’t realize until several episodes into the series that his platoon was wiped out by aliens. He’s stuck in a war zone in the Middle East trying to navigate the desert with a goat herder who speaks another language. Then there’s a kid who suffers from epilepsy, and who is tormented by a bully. On a school trip, his bus mysteriously crashes into a ravine, killing their teacher and stranding a class of kids in the middle of nowhere without any knowledge of what’s going on in the world around them. Finally, there’s a Japanese comms director whose astronaut girlfriend suddenly and mysteriously lost contact with Earth. The girlfriend fears she is dead — that her spaceship has exploded — but is maybe even somewhat relieved to eventually find out that aliens are involved because maybe that means she’s not dead. Maybe it means she can figure out a way to communicate with the aliens, to save her girlfriend’s life.
All of these stories are so small and intimate early on that I’m almost disappointed when they start to expand and intersect as the series devolves into a standard sci-fi pic: Running, hiding, shooting, and piecing together clues as to how to ward off the invasion and kill the indestructible aliens. I haven’t seen the finale yet (it airs next week), but it’s safe to say that these four groups of people play a significant role in that effort, although their roles are so predictably generic that it’s almost crushing: The jilted wife who figures out the aliens’ one weakness; the comms director who finds a way to communicate with them; the kid with epilepsy who somehow mind-melds with the aliens; and the soldier who protects the kid.
By that point, however, I’m invested enough in the characters that I’m slightly less bothered by all the sci-fi tropes and more invested in the outcome for these people. In spite of the lack of star power — Wynona Earp’s Shamier Anderson is the only face I immediately recognize aside from Sam Neill, who weirdly only appears briefly in the opening episode — Apple clearly spared little expense in the production of Invasion. It’s a magnificent series to look at with a unique entry point into the genre. It’s just a shame that it ends up in the same place as most other alien invasion films and television series, with only four people standing in the way of humanity’s extinction. In the end, Invasion is exactly what we might expect from a series with that title, but for five or six episodes, anyway, it at least promises to be more.
Header Image Source: Apple TV+