Finale wrap-up: "Invasion"

A supremely creepy show that examined an American family under attack from without and within wraps up its season, and its short-lived run.


Laura Miller
May 18, 2006 6:10PM (UTC)

Just as "Invasion" worked up a good head of doomy, apocalyptic froth, the series seems to be doomed itself, with no plans in the works for a second season. Along with the also-canceled "Threshold" and "Surface," "Invasion" was part of last fall's wave of new, highly serialized, science-fiction dramas that some observers, for no particular reason that I can detect, saw as being in the vein of "Lost." (Actually, two of these series, "Surface" and "Invasion," have a lot to do with water, and one of the major locations for "Lost" is the castaways' beach camp, so maybe that's the connection. Otherwise, there's not much similarity.)

"Invasion" had more in common with the cult touchstone "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in at least one respect. The story revolved around Russell Varon, a park ranger in a small town in coastal Florida, whose physician wife, Mariel (Kari Matchett), has left him to marry the town's sinister sheriff, Tom Underlay (a superb William Fichtner). Tom has undergone some mysterious transformation as a result of encounters with strange orange lights that fall from the sky into the water.

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After the big hurricane that kicked off the series, Mariel also emerges changed -- she's fascinated by water, she can hold her breath for preternaturally long periods, and her little daughter, Rose, says she's not entirely sure that Mariel is still her mother. Just as Buffy's supernatural adventures fighting demons paralleled the emotional tumult of high school, so did the pod-people plotline of "Invasion" parallel the sneaking post-nuclear-family suspicion that your ex-spouse has become an alien.

Eventually, of course, "Invasion" had to stop lingering over these creepy resonances and deliver some kind of line on what the aliens were up to. The story became more adventurous, but also less evocative, with the introduction of the usual elements of conspiracy investigation: the alien body stashed in the car trunk, the hero skulking around a military base to find out what's going on, the wary group of secret resistors who step in to supply the back story, the scrappy reporter (Russell's second wife, Larkin) who gets deliberately run off the road by a mysterious truck and so on. There were some nice touches, though, like the spooky support group that gathered in the church to speak in vague generalities about how they'd been "changed" by the storm.

Lately, however, the show's tenor has taken another, more interesting turn, in the direction of communal paranoia. A significant portion of the town has turned "hybrid," and this new identity, they've decided, makes them superior to the old-model humans. Elementary-school teachers have started talking pointedly to their students about evolution as the replacement of outmoded species with newer, better ones. The high school is degenerating into a gang war zone. A quasi-guerrilla group gathers on a remote island, led by a hybrid supremacist named Szura (James Frain, finally getting a chance to really strut his menacing stuff). And Tom turns out to be less of an enemy than Russell thought.

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The last few episodes of "Invasion" have been genuinely scary. Under cover of another hurricane, the town's human residents were herded into trucks and warehouses by hybrids disguised as National Guard troops and then forced shrieking into the water, either to be hybridized themselves or, if deemed second-rate by the aliens, drowned. And while we all know exactly which historical nightmare this was meant to invoke, as always the most painful moments were the separations of husbands from wives, brothers from sisters, parents from children. Perhaps "Invasion" was always too dark in its insinuations about the American family under attack from without and within, of loved ones who suddenly abandon you when a better life and identity beckon elsewhere, to really make it as Wednesday-night entertainment.


Laura Miller

Laura Miller is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia."

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