The first season of Invincible has wrapped, and the season finale is just as bloody entertaining as you’d expect it to be. The show knew what it was doing when it ended things with Omni-Man ready to explain to Mark — and to us — the truth about why he killed the Guardians of the Globe back in the first episode. That mystery has burned in the background for so long that I feared it might get tiresome, but the adventures of Mark and his friends were diverting enough that I never got bored, and was excited to finally get some answers.
Invincible keeps things simple: Omni-Man is a Viltrumite, and he’s here on orders from the Viltrumite homeworld, but he’s not here on a mission of peace. the Viltrumites are a violent warrior race who committed a mass genocide on their own planet before moving out into the universe to conquer others. Omni-Man came to Earth not to help it but weaken it and make it ready for a Viltrumite takeover. He believes that strength is the only qualifier for leadership, refers to Mark’s mother Debbie as “a pet,” and wants to Mark to join him in his Nietzschean nightmare.
Mark, of course, is dead-set against this. It’s Steven Yeun’s performance that really sells these scenes — he was nominated for an Oscar recently, after all. His anguished pleas with his father for understanding, for explanation, for a change of heart…it’s affecting stuff, and crashes against the brick wall of J.K. Simmons’ implacable performance of Omni-Man. (Simmons is an Oscar winner, FYI, but Yeun will have time to get there.) Omni-Man isn’t interested in being convinced that humanity is worth something; he’s more apt to hold his son in front of a speeding subway car and force him to watch as dozens of people dash their bodies against his, splattering their lives all over his suit.
Invincible was always a violent show, but the finale kicks things up several notches as Omni-Man viciously beats his own son near to death; by the end they’re both covered in blood and Mark’s face is mush, half his teeth knocked from his mouth. Mark fails to save a woman from a collapsing building and finds himself holding her severed arm when the dust clears. And I already mentioned the subway bit. I would call it cartoony if we weren’t watching a cartoon. There’s definitely an argument that it’s excessive.
But that’s one of the things you can do with animation: use exaggeration and artistry to crank up the volume on human conflict, turning Mark’s difficulty with accepting that his dad is an asshole into an apocalyptic event, and one that he sees through out to the other side. Mark doesn’t come around to his dad’s way of thinking, and in the end Nolan decides (after a sorta cheesy flashback to Mark’s childhood baseball game) that he loves his son too much to kill him, which I guess is progress. He flies away, not to be seen or heard from again until Invincible season 2 (and 3, which both just got orders from Amazon).
Invincible has a bright future if it can stay focused
The finale has a nice long tail where Mark recovers from his beating, reconnects with his friends, and finally meets back up with the alien patrolman character from earlier in the season, who sounds ready to ally with him in the fight against the Viltrumites. It underlines how concerned the show is with its characters, who round out the story beyond the untraviolence and inter-planetary odyssey. The new Guardians of the Globe, too, are a secret narrative weapon in reserve, a cache of storylines waiting to divert us whenever Mark and co need a break. The show has done a good job of spreading the wealth around.
Invincible hits a sweet spot. It serves up plenty of high-octane ultra-violent superhero nonsense, with the wars on Mars and the robot tweenager and the clone twins and so forth, but it balances it out with genuinely committed character drama, particularly with Mark and his parents. As the show expands and goes intergalactic, we’ll see if it can maintain that balance, but for now, Invincible is a winner.