Recap: Invincible (S2, Ep4) — Mark and Nolan Fight Their Toughest Battle in a Brutal Mid-Season Finale

Where do we really come from? Invincible has been asking this question since its beginning. At first, Earth's superpowered defender Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons) told his family he came from a good world, only to later reveal his true, malevolent origin from his planet, Viltrum. The origin of characters has been a recurring theme across the first season and a half of Invincible—last week, most of the episode focused on a comedic relief, side character.

This week's episode is not the fun and suspenseful detour the last episode was—instead, "It's Been a While" is a terrific bloodbath and the best hour Invincible has delivered us this year. The opening montage alone, where Nolan drifts aimlessly through space after brutalizing his son Mark (Steven Yeun); considers suicide before a black hole; and finds new purpose as ruler and protector of the bug-like Thraxan race, sets itself as one of the series' best scenes. The reveal that he's already had another son is just as shocking. And the lengthy, brutal battle against the trio of Viltrumites is the kicker to this already stuffed and fantastic episode, but it's a really good kicker.

The main focus is, of course, Mark and Nolan. Nolan's manipulation is painfully strong. He can't convince the son he almost killed after murdering thousands in front of him to join him, so he reminds Mark of what sets them apart—his desire to help the innocent. The purist Viltrumites will kill the baby for being a half "inferior" product, and Mark simply can't live with that. Despite the almost nonstop action in the A-plot, it's not devoid of character and drama in the slightest. Mark struggling to decide how he feels about his father contrasts wonderfully with Nolan's genuine grief—and his subsequent agony over grief he shouldn't be feeling is gripping.

But I forgot how brutal this show can be. When Nolan takes out the first attacker by literally splitting his stomach open, I knew I was in for something bad. Mark is obviously going to survive this mid-season finale, but the brutal, bone-breaking sounds of the fight and the bloody visuals really emphasize the idea that his life is on the line. The non-Thraxa action in "While" isn't nearly as intense, but it's still quite good—take the fight Mark's colleague Eve (Gillian Jacobs) has with a villain breaking into her team's compound. It's clumsy yet exciting as they dance around each other, and Eve completes the arc that's been building all season when the fight potentially kills bystanders and she gives up heroism to move back in with her parents.

For as bad as Eve is doing, supposedly dead government agent Donald (Chris Diamantopoulos) is doing worse. After exploding during an attempt on Nolan's life last season, his sudden revival has gone unexplained so far this season aside from Mark's mother Debbie (Sandra Oh) taking notice of him being back to normal. Her reaction makes him suspicious, so in a series of scenes that are mostly dialogue-less, he finds another pair of his glasses in the wreckage of where he "died," salvages security footage of the event to prove it happened, and finds that his knife bends when he stabs himself to test if he's actually human. (He's not!)

But on Earth, the character doing the worst of all is Debbie, kicked from her support group after the members learn of her marriage to Nolan. In a montage that eerily mirrors Nolan's, she wanders the city aimlessly and briefly considers throwing herself off an overpass, but it's the idea that she has to be better than her evil, absent husband that motivates her to keep going. Nolan finds salvation in playing the hero, something he pretended to do on Earth when was truly there to conquer it, while Debbie finds hers in taking Nolan out of her own story entirely and choosing to live independent of him and his former government employers.

Invincible has been building up the idea of whether Mark's origins define him all season—we see this when he flirts with darkness in the alternate universe where he and Nolan take over the world. But the first half of Invincible's second season has been about showing how he's different from his father, and how he'll choose the right thing over the easy thing every time. So it makes it all the more worrying when the Viltrumites' general demands that he conquer Earth in Nolan's place and strands him, brutally beaten, on the destroyed Thraxa with a captive Nolan in tow.

So where do we really come from? Nolan comes from a place of war and death, and yet thanks to his assignment on Earth, he learns to feel after fighting his son and ending up as Thraxa's champion. Mark comes from Nolan, but he becomes the true hero his father never was. Donald doesn't know where he comes from. Eve goes back to where she came from. Debbie's origin in the show has always been defined by Nolan. The characters of Invincible don't conform to where they come from, and this can be for the worse, or for the better. The great thing about this excellent mid-season finale is that it shows both sides.

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

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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.