Recap: Invincible (S2, Ep1) — Long Awaited Superhero Animation Returns in Bloody, Exciting Fashion

The landscape of superhero shows has become very different in the time between Invincible's first and second seasons. In early 2021, WandaVision was a hit, Loki and Hawkeye arrived later that year, and shows like Daredevil were regarded as exceptional TV. Now in late 2023, Secret Invasion has poor reception, you need to watch two shows to understand The Marvels, and the Daredevil revival writers were dropped last month. The only other mainstream, unique superhero show out there, The Boys, feels as though it's a bit of a parody of itself, making everything so different now.

The real focus of the premiere episode of this season, however, is the mysterious, dimension-hopping Angstrom Levy (Sterling K. Brown), whom we first glimpse in a nightmarish world where Mark (voiced by Steven Yeun) works with his father to subjugate the planet. Of course, we know this isn't our world; the first season was about Mark prioritizing saving lives no matter what, and we know that preparing to massacre a crowd of resistors with Nolan (J.K. Simmons) is simply not him. (A lot of this scene is made by Yeun's vocal delivery—hearing his usually genuine and friendly tone replaced by something flat and icy is effective and subtly creepy.)

Levy escapes certain death through a portal that opens under him, and when the hulking Mauler twins (Kevin Michael Richardson) escape prison via those same portals, we learn that there are in fact dozens of Levys. He has the ability to travel dimensions, and seeks to combine the collective knowledge of his counterparts to start fixing the multiverse's problems—and to do this, he needs the Maulers to fix the device that will redistribute his knowledge.

"Lesson" draws an interesting parallel between Levy and Mark. In the opening, evil Mark assures those listening that his and Nolan's efforts will end things like war and cancer, and Levy later cites these as problems he hopes to solve. Like Mark, he's willing to sacrifice if it means saving lives—but also like Mark, this costs him dearly. When Mark arrives to stop the machine, assuming it's some kind of doomsday device, Levy pulls the plug to save him from the rampaging Maulers. The interference triggers a massive explosion that, in typical Invincible fashion, sears half of the remaining Mauler's skin off and literally merges the Levys's minds—our Levy becomes a grotesque mutant with a brain as big as his torso, tormented by the memories of dozens of Marks and Nolans killing hundreds of his loved ones.

I acknowledge that I'm making this sound more non-stop, action packed than it is. A lot of "Lesson" is focuses on the personal life of Mark and his mother Debbie (Sandra Oh) trying (and failing) to move on in the wake of Nolan's revelation. While Invincible adds to its effectiveness by juxtaposing Mark's human and superhuman lives, last season had a tendency to play the long game with his civilian day to day, which carries on here. Mark deals with coming back to school in the wake of Nolan's "death;" Debbie deals with Nolan likening her to a pet shortly before his fight with Mark. "Lesson" dedicates itself as much to establishing arcs for the season as it does delivering thrilling action. It's all well and good, but it messes with the pace of the episode a bit.

But despite that, "Lesson" still knows exactly what the fans want and gives it to them. The fantastic animation, the exciting and creative fight scenes, everything's there. Even the series' most iconic running joke is brought back in a funny way—instead of dropping the title card the first time someone says "invincible," the episode teases us until the very last moment. (And seriously, how amazing was that pause evil Mark took before using the word in his speech, and we didn't cut to the title card?) So even if Invincible's return isn't perfect, there should be no fear that it'll succumb to the same fatigue that's been plaguing its contemporaries/inferiors as of late.

This episode of Invincible is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.