It took half of a season, but we’re finally here: the aliens have shown themselves in Invasion. The Apple TV Plus series got off to a slow start when it debuted in October. The first handful of episodes were tense character drama, focusing on a few characters spread across the globe, each of whom was dealing with some personal issues in addition to the titular attack on the planet. That was all well and good, but the sci-fi elements were so scant that you could blink and miss them. No one even said the word “alien” until episode five. But now that we’re halfway through the season, that’s changed. The latest episode finally shows the creepy off-world invaders, and it has given the show the purpose it needs — along with some scares.
If you haven’t watched the show yet, Invasion is probably best described as This is Us mashed up with War of the Worlds. It takes a big idea — aliens are invading seemingly every part of the world — but explores it through a series of small, intimate stories. There’s a mother learning about an unfaithful spouse, a US soldier on his own in Afghanistan, and a bus full of English teens that crashes in the middle of nowhere, among others. Each of these characters is not only dealing with their own shit but also the early stages of the invasion. No one even knows what’s going on. Amidst power outages, mysterious objects crashing from space, and the occasional synchronized nosebleed, there’s a lot of misplaced blame on “the Russians” or unspecified terrorists.
Viewers, of course, have known all along that it’s aliens. It’s right there in the title of the show. But the hints for the actual characters living through the invasion have been sparse, sporadic, and confusing. Now things are becoming more clear. In episode five, we got a tease of just how strange these invaders might be when a doctor named Aneesha (played by Golshifteh Farahani, whose distraught performance remains a highlight of the show) notices a spiky little blob while stitching up a patient. It’s gross and dangerous-looking. It also seems alive.
It turns out that was just a taste. In episode six, after a brief detour that started out as a hunt for food and ended up as a short-term residency at a field hospital, Aneesha returns to the house her family has been staying in, only to find it empty and boarded-up like something from a zombie movie. Except it’s not empty; something is lurking around. You see and hear it in brief, terrifying flashes. The whole house will start to shake unexpectedly. Giant, spider-like legs scurry in the background. At one point, you can see the full creature but as a tiny reflection in a mirror.
Like everything else in Invasion, the build-up is slow and methodical. But it works: it’s almost like a horror movie, one that takes its time before showing the monster in its full, terrifying glory. And the reveal here is wonderful, as you watch a tortuous sequence where the creature terrorizes the family as they attempt to make an escape. Seeing the alien doesn’t take away from its mystery or menace at all. In fact, it just raises more questions about how these spindly black blobs managed to coordinate a planet-wide attack and what exactly it is they want.
What I’m saying is, the slow-burn reveal was worth it. Not only are the aliens unexpected and scary, but their arrival also makes almost every character’s arc more interesting. Before, as engaging as many of the personal stories were, it felt a lot like a bunch of people floundering around during the end of the world. Now there’s some purpose. That’s especially true with Mitsuki Yamato (Shioli Kutsuna), an obsessed Japanese space technician who appears to be the only one close to figuring out what’s going on with the invaders. More than just moving the plot forward, though, the blobby bugs from space have introduced a tangible threat. It’s no longer just some weird stuff going on — it’s a bunch of killer spiders sneaking around every city on the planet for unknown reasons.
I’m glad I stuck it out to see the aliens. But they do introduce a new problem for Invasion because now the show has to do it all over again. The first five episodes were a slow build-up that ultimately paid off, but we’re just over halfway through the story at this point, so there’s plenty to go. The reveal worked, but the next test will be seeing if the show can connect all of its many stories into something satisfying.