Invincible Season 2 Episode 3 review: Allen takes center stage
Invincible Season 2 Episode 3 is a bizarre treat; while its big swing at humor doesn’t connect, an unconventional narrative split proves to be incredibly effective – and that ending will have everyone aching for more.
Last week’s installment stuffed three episodes of TV into a 45-minute burst of villain-clobbering, fish-pasting fun. But, impressively, it managed to keep sight of the emotional specter lingering in every scene, culminating in one of the show’s most heart-aching moments: Debbie slumped and weeping on the floor over Nolan, sobbing even harder at the sight of her son offering comfort in a superhero suit.
Monster-of-the-week storytelling is good, but Invincible’s greatest strength in Season 2 is its maintenance of a strong existential through-line: how can one simply live on when confronted with so much terror; the lies, the violence, and for Mark, his insidious Viltrumite blood – the roots of his fate, at least in every other universe.
For much of Episode 3, Mark is afforded the mercy of a breather; he starts college, enjoys some… private time with Amber, and gets to be a student – but when you’re Invincible, life never stays that easy.
Invincible Season 2 sends Mark to college
Mark isn’t just a superhero, despite thinking that’s the sum of his parts – he’s also a teenager who needs to grow up like everyone else, and that means going to college. Episode 2 opens with Debbie dropping him off at his dorm. “It’s time to push mu baby bird out of the nest,” she says, with her voice trembling, and Mark jokes: “Good thing I can fly.”
Their relationship has warmed after the frostiness of the opening episodes, helped by Debbie’s hard-to-watch breakdown in Episode 2’s closing scenes. “Anger is part of the grieving,” she assures him, and tells him that college is a “fresh start… this is your chance to figure out who you are – and I don’t mean Invincible.” They hug before parting ways, before one last bit of (useless) motherly advice: “Don’t do drugs.” He responds: “Would they even work on me?”
As Mark heads in to meet William at their dorm, Debbie gets in the car and takes out the morse code card Olga gave her in Episode 1. She calls the number, and after a brief ruckus on the other side of the phone, a woman says hello. As Debbie tries to introduce herself, she’s urged not to disclose her last name – but there’s no tension, nor any cause for suspicion.
Mark puts up a poster of his favorite childhood superhero on his side of the room: Seance Dog, which frustrates William, who complains about “having to attempt game.” As he’s explaining to Mark that a sock on the door means “go eat a taco or fly to Spain”, a passing student asks them if a box near their door belongs to them. It’s filled to the brim with toys, including a Seance Dog figure, which Mark proudly picks up – but as he stands among his new peers, all self-assured, cool, and grown-up, he decides to bin the lot (apart from Seance Dog).
This is the Allen the Alien show
Mark walks back to his room, and after less than an hour on campus, William already has a sock on the door. “Who has sex on the first day of college?” he moans to Amber, who smoothly replies: “Us, perhaps?” Mark bashfully twiddles his thumbs and fiddles with his action figure, before kissing her. They go through the usual first-time motions: heads getting stuck in sweaters as they’re being taken off, concerns about super-semen and being crushed by a superhero if they get excited (okay, maybe not the last parts).
Invincible may be violent, but it’s not sexually explicit – and things get steamier, Paul F. Tompkins’ jarring narration kicks in. “Perhaps it’s time to give Amber and Mark some privacy and turn our attention to the stars,” he says, evoking the offbeat commentary of Chris Parnell in Maneater and Danny Wallace in Thomas Was Alone – but this is never as funny, which is an immediate thorn in the episode’s side for such an overt attempt to make us laugh.
We pivot to the story of Unopa, once a planet that struck “harmony with nature and technology”, until a “plague of unequal potency” crashed down and ruined everything. The dead were saved from the memory of the terror – but those who survived quickly knew their oppressors: the Viltrumites.
After a feeble attempt to fight back, a small collective of forward-thinking Unopans escaped to space, where they eventually started breeding camps to rebuild the population. Thaedus (voiced by Peter Cullen), the leader of the Coalition of Planets and a Viltrumite who believes his race’s campaign is the “scourge of the galaxy”, was encouraged by their efforts and asked them to join.
Soon, the Unopans had another ace up their sleeves: Allen, the first and only successful genetically-modified alien – for all intents and purposes, he’s Captain Unopa). He was unstoppable at first, facing down any and all threats with ease – but a brawl with a single Viltrumite was still near-impossible. So, he was given a new role: Planetary Evaluation Officer, tasked with flying to different worlds to find anyone strong enough to defeat him – who could then become an ally against the Viltrum empire (we even see a glimpse of him tussling with Omni-Man, a bout that’s never been mentioned in the series). As we know, he was meant to go to Urath, but a massive astro-navigational mistake led him to Earth – and Invincible.
Forget him, though – this is Allen’s episode more than anyone else’s, so he fittingly gets the title card treatment and his own head-bobbing needle-drop with Steelburg’s ‘When You Want Me.’ Watching him fly around Talescria is just such pleasant vibe – you could score those visuals to any upbeat, cheery song and it’d put you in a good mood.
He arrives to the council’s HQ armed with a rare gift: hope. We’re introduced to General Telia (Tatiana Maslany in her second role after Queen Aquaria), who tells Allen about a planet called Aikreon being attacked by Viltrumites days after joining the coalition. Allen stands before Thaedus and the other council members and tells them about Mark, and they’re all appalled or nervous; everyone thinks he’ll turn out to be a conqueror like his father, but Allen truly believes he’s a “good guy” who’s the “hole in the armor” of the Viltrum empire.
Thaedus agrees, recognising it as a major weakness they could exploit, and thanks Allen for his hard work. As they walk outside, Allen urges Telia that the coalition should search for other Viltrumite kids like Mark and “turn them against their parents too.”
Moments later, Thaedus asks to speak to him privately. “I find it convenient and somewhat alarming that Aikreon was hit so soon after joining the coalition. It’s as if the Viltrumites had knowledge from inside the council,” he says with Cullen’s trademark cadence. Allen promises to find the mole; the question is, who is it? Could it be Telia, or one of the other loud skeptics of Invincible?
Allen gets the beatdown of a lifetime
As he returns home to see his pet (Vorg, reminiscent of Ahsoka’s Loth-cats), Telia ambushes him. It’s not an intrusion – they’re a couple, and they proceed to have tentacle-tangling sex. Tompkins’ narration re-emerges, and he attempts to take us back to Mark and Amber – but they’re only just getting started. As we. We eventually cut to Allen and Telia in a starship restaurant eating disgusting fast food (Temple of Doom’s banquet has nothing on what they’re chowing down on).
Telia asks him to tell her what Thaedus said to him back on Talescria, and just as he utters the word “mole”, he’s blasted out of the eatery. It’s not an accident: it’s three Viltrumites, one of whom is Thula, armed with a spear in her braided hair. They want to know about Mark, which is at odds with their usual “kill first, ask questions… never” policy, but they say they’ll consider letting him live if he tells them what they want to know.
Telia watches on from the ship with tears in her eyes, knowing exactly what’s about to happen; the look Allen gives her from afar, complete with the false smile of someone who can’t bear to look like he’s already beaten, is almost more painful than what follows – almost. The Viltrumites proceed to batter him ruthlessly and clinically, batting him around their triangular formation with the utmost precision and force. One of them rips off his arm and whacks him away like a baseball, before he’s hooked in the face so hard it knocks his eye out, culminating in a punch to the gut that projects his insides from his back like a Mortal Kombat fatality. It is awful; the closest the show has come to the hands-on-your-face disbelief of the train massacre.
Yet… he survives. He’s placed inside a regenerative pod, and despite Telia’s despair, Thaedus believes it’s a cause for celebration. “Once again, they underestimate the Unopan will to survive,” he says, before asking Telia to go home and get some rest while he watches over Allen. And then comes the jaw-dropper: Thaedus, a supposed ally of the free worlds of the universe, kills Allen by turning off his life support.
The credits roll… but wait
“Sorry, Allen,” Thaedus says, cueing the initial credits – but Episode 3 doesn’t have an ordinary narrative flow. At this point, there’s around 20 minutes still to go, which has to be a contender for the longest post-credits scene ever. It’s best thinking of Allen’s segment as its own mini-story within the larger episode – still, it’s not that it’s confusing, it’s just a needlessly contrived way of rotating back to Mark and co.
What’s worse is that this introduces the most tedious stretch of the episode, following drama and romance between members of the Guardians: Rex is still frustrated about Dupli-Kate and Immortal (although she gets a great line about how he’s the only one who’s died as much as her), and Rudy tries to overcome fear by asking Amanda on a date before learning the joy of a burger and fries. They’re charming scenes, but ineffectual in the grand scheme of the episode; it feels like time-wasting when there’s more important plot points to be dealing with. Props to Shapesmith, who has a hilarious visual gag on the treadmill.
Debbie braves a therapy session with other “spouses of superheroes”, where she befriends Theo. To take her mind off Mark ignoring her messages, she takes him up on the offer of a drink at a downtown “dive”, but the night quickly sours when she realizes who he is: the widower of Green Ghost, whom Omni-Man killed by putting his fist through her face.
Debbie can’t handle the grief and excuses herself, stifling her not-so-quiet sobs as she walks outside. Theo apologizes for saying anything that upset her, but when she confesses that she’s the wife of Nolan – who’s not necessarily dead, despite the group being for those who’ve lost their partners – his compassion immediately dissipates. “I wish he was dead, I wish I could grieve and move on,” she cries, begging Theo to believe that she didn’t know who he truly was. “You should have,” he snipes, leaving her alone in the middle of the street, looking to the stars for a savior that’ll never come.
Sandra Oh’s performance, and the writing of Debbie, is becoming the runaway highlight of Season 2; how the show is allowing her to reckon with her complicity and wrestle with accepting innocence in Nolan’s behind-her-back tyranny is nothing short of masterful.
Mark has a long-awaited reunion
Mark heads back to his dorm, where he’s accosted by a gossip-starved William, hungry for details of their first time together. Alas, they’re interrupted by a surreal sight, one that William can’t comprehend: it’s Seance Dog in the flesh, and he needs Mark’s help – but Invincible’s instincts kick in, so he chucks him outside and they take to the skies. Seance Dog claims he’s the genuine article, having traveled from the “myriad of other worlds… open your mind and let me help you reach the other side.”
Invincible slams him down into a crater in the woods and orders him to reveal his actual identity. The hilarious disguise vanishes, revealing Nuolzot (Rob Delaney) from the planet Thraxa just two galaxies away. He says it’s taken him almost “half his life” to get to Earth, but he needs Mark to come home with him and save all 42 billion of his people from a meteor shower.
Mark is reluctant at first, but William convinces him to go. They make a quick stop to say bye to Amber, who once again defies the cliché of the nagging girlfriend. “Never apologize for saving lives,” she says, stressing that she’s all-in on the deal of being with a superhero. As Nuolzot’s ship carries Mark further into the distance, his first-ever “I love you” to Amber is cut off by the lack of signal.
Six days later, they arrive at Thraxa, a serene, Super Mario Odyssey-esque world of soothing water and ethereal music – but something is off. Nuolzot suddenly “forgets” about the meteors, but says the “monarch” will explain everything. “Your majesty, may I present Invincible of Earth,” he says, as Mark bows. The moment we’ve all been waiting for is more chilling than you’d ever expect: as a stomping shadow walks into frame, we hear a familiar voice. “Hello son,” Omni-Man says, dressed in royal garments with his cape billowing in the breeze and holding out his hand. “It’s been a while.”
Invincible Season 2 Episode 3 review score: 4/5
Excusing the Guardians’ tedious dramas and somewhat obnoxious narration, Season 2 Episode 3 will leave you feeling a bit winded; this is TV that doesn’t hesitate to smack you in the face and remind you of the stakes at play.
Invincible Season 2 Episodes 1-3 are available to stream on Prime Video now, which you can sign up for here. Check out our other coverage below:
- Episode 1 review
- Episode 2 review
- Angstrom Levy powers & origin explained
- Is Invincible evil? Season 2 Episode 1 opening explained
- Invincible Season 2: Where is Omni-Man?
- Invincible Season 2 release schedule: Dates, episodes & more
- Invincible Season 2 cast: All actors & characters
- Invincible movie: Everything we know so far
- How is Donald still alive?
- Darkwing II powers explained
- The Lizard League explained
- Is Invincible an anime?
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