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‘Invincible’ Knows How to Make an Exit

The Amazon Prime Video superhero series has always known how to leave viewers wanting more—and its momentous midseason finale continues that trend

Amazon/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

Invincible has always had a knack for delivering dramatic conclusions.

In the pilot of the animated series, Mark Grayson (voiced by Steven Yeun) begins to develop superpowers, and with the guidance of his alien father, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), Earth’s greatest hero, Mark takes up the name Invincible and becomes a superhero in his own right. But what begins as a feel-good, familiar origin story for Invincible soon becomes a sinister introduction to who Omni-Man really is: Earth’s most fearsome villain. Just as the series premiere appears to be ending, Omni-Man ambushes the superhero team known as the Guardians of the Globe and brutally kills them all.

In Invincible’s explosive first-season finale, Omni-Man shares his true motives with Mark: He’s been tasked by his homeworld Viltrum with conquering Earth and preparing its population to join the expanding Viltrum Empire. After Omni-Man fails to convince Mark to help his cause, the Viltrumite devastates Chicago and nearly kills Mark to demonstrate the futility of resistance. However, Omni-Man stops just short of ending his son’s life, and then he flees the planet without explanation.

It isn’t until the final seconds of the third episode of Season 2 that Omni-Man and Mark are reunited, as Omni-Man manages to lure Mark to a distant planet under the pretense that it needs to be saved from a meteor shower. Omni-Man’s return paves the way for another shocking ending in Episode 4, “It’s Been a While,” a midseason finale that gives Mark his greatest test yet and reestablishes the looming threat of a Viltrumite invasion.

Due to a number of factors, including the challenges of the show’s animation process and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, more than two years elapsed between the end of Invincible’s first season in 2021 and the start of its second in early November. But the extended layoff hasn’t hurt the show: Through the first four episodes of the latest season, Invincible remains one of the best superhero programs on TV as it builds on the momentum of Omni-Man’s betrayal.

Season 2 started with something of a misdirection, one that played with the audience’s expectation to receive some answers about what happened to Omni-Man and see the continuation of his conflict with Mark. The premiere opened with Mark fighting the Immortal (Ross Marquand), only to reveal that Omni-Man was back, as he teamed up with Invincible to kill the millenia-old superhero (again). But before long it became clear that this wasn’t the show’s main version of Earth at all. It was another universe entirely, a timeline in which Mark never stood up to his father but instead joined his efforts to prepare the world for the inevitable Viltrumite takeover.

With the introduction of a dimension-hopping new character named Angstrom Levy (Sterling K. Brown), Invincible has become yet another superhero story to enter the multiverse. Between the two Spider-Verse films, The Flash, and Marvel Studios’ Multiverse Saga (along with non-superhero projects like Everything Everywhere All at Once), the concept of the multiverse has become a well-worn narrative device in recent years that’s grown more tiresome with every misfire. Much like The Boys and its spinoff series Gen V, Invincible emerged as a standout in the crowded superhero landscape because of the ways it subverted the familiar beats and tropes of a genre that has dominated Hollywood for more than a decade. Yet in its second season, the show’s embrace of the multiverse has threatened to propel the series into all-too-familiar territory.

Fortunately, Invincible manages to maintain its novelty. While the multiverse is often used to transport heroes to parallel dimensions or bring alternate versions of the same hero together in one universe, Invincible introduces the concept by way of a villain’s origin story. Angstrom first appears in the universe that saw Mark team up with his father to conquer Earth; as he later explains, the two “heroes” team up to take over the planet in most dimensions. Angstrom’s mission starts off well intentioned: By bringing together all the versions of himself from across the multiverse, Angstrom can pool the knowledge and resources from each Earth and share the collective findings among them to solve all of their individual problems.

But when Angstrom returns to the main Invincible universe and hires the Mauler Twins (Kevin Michael Richardson) to help him transfer the memories of every one of his multiversal counterparts into his mind, Mark intervenes as the volatile process is already underway. The Maulers’ machine is destroyed during the conflict, killing everyone at the scene save for Mark, one of the Maulers, and the superpowered Angstrom, whose brain mutates amid the massive download of newfound knowledge and memories. Rather than seeking to fix every world, Angstrom instead vows to get revenge on Invincible, and begins to travel between dimensions to gather intel on how to defeat him.

After the Season 2 opener, this multiversal threat fades into the background as Mark and the so-called Global Defense Agency (GDA) write off the encounter as just another run-in with the Maulers. Angstrom’s plotline will surely resurface when Invincible returns for the second half of its latest season in early 2024, but its absence for much of the remainder of Part 1 leaves room for the series to grow in more interesting ways, grounded within its main timeline. Where Season 2 really thrives is in its narrowed focus on the show’s central characters and their adjustments to a world without a heroic Omni-Man.

Omni-Man’s betrayal and departure have created a need for a new primary protector, and Mark slowly eases his way into the role. As he starts to work for Cecil (Walton Goggins) and the GDA, all of his choices are weighed against the guilt he harbors for his father’s actions. Even though Mark opposed Omni-Man and the world knows it, he still feels as if he needs to prove to everyone—and himself—that he isn’t going to turn into the world-conquering Viltrumite he was raised by (and raised to be). Meanwhile, Mark’s mother, Debbie (Sandra Oh), bears a different kind of guilt as she tries to reckon with why she never saw through her husband’s lies in nearly 20 years of marriage. She turns to alcohol as a coping mechanism and descends into a drunken depression as she grapples with the fact that she was never more than a “pet” to the man she knew as Nolan Grayson. Without any proper outlets to channel her grief or process how she could have been partners with someone capable of inflicting such cruel and senseless destruction, Debbie spirals and grasps for some semblance of control in her life.

The character-driven nature of Invincible has always been one of the series’ strongest qualities, and the emotional beats involving Mark and Debbie work particularly well this season. Their struggles reflect lasting consequences from the first-season finale as their lives carry on, with Mark graduating high school and starting college, and Debbie navigating the transition into an empty nester on her own during her darkest hour. By delaying Omni-Man’s return until the end of the third episode, Invincible allows these characters to grow while also building up the anticipation of a potential rematch between Mark and the show’s most captivating antagonist.

The midseason finale capitalizes on the groundwork laid throughout Part 1’s first three episodes to become the strongest installment of the season. Omni-Man reveals his new life as the emperor of Thraxa, a planet inhabited by insectoids who have a lifespan of only nine months, and he introduces Mark to his wife, Andressa (Rhea Seehorn), and their child. It’s a lot for Mark to process at once, and before he can even attempt to do so, Thraxa gets invaded by a trio of Viltrumites who have been hunting down Omni-Man for deserting his post back on Earth.

“It’s Been a While” boasts some of Invincible’s trademark action mixture of stunning and grotesque violence as Mark and Omni-Man team up to defend the planet and Omni-Man’s new family. The duo defeat the Viltrumites, but the victory comes with steep costs: Mark is nearly killed, Omni-Man’s spine is snapped, and much of the Thraxan civilization is destroyed. Just as Omni-Man returns to the forefront of the story, he’s taken away in a Viltrumite ship to be brought back to his homeworld for execution. Yet even in Omni-Man’s limited screen time, Invincible shows how much he, too, has grown as a character. He killed thousands of civilians in Chicago in the first season simply to convey to Mark how little their brief lives mattered in the grand scheme of things, and here he defies his fellow Viltrumites to defend a planet of beings whose entire life cycles last less than a calendar year.

Mark is spared by the Viltrumites so that he can return to Earth and supposedly assume his father’s role in preparing humanity for the Empire’s invasion, which sets up the second half of the eight-episode season. What with all of the other ongoing story lines in Invincible, including Angstrom’s multiversal revenge spree, the Coalition of Planets’ growing efforts to quell the Viltrum Empire in the far reaches of space, and Atom Eve’s (Gillian Jacobs) journey of self-discovery after giving up crime fighting, Season 2 can feel a little scattered as it divides its time among its moving parts. But the fourth episode reminds the audience what’s at stake by refocusing on the central conflict between Mark and Omni-Man, and the impending Viltrumite invasion, just as Invincible enters another hiatus.

Amazon Prime Video has yet to announce exactly when the series will return next year, but the streaming service already renewed the show for a third season back in 2021, and the surprise release of a stand-alone Atom Eve prequel special in late July could be the first of many of its kind. With a growing cast of dynamic characters (and an absurd wealth of talent voicing them), the Invincible universe is expanding. And as long as the series continues to develop those characters so deftly amid the chaos of the multiverse around them, there may be no limit to the narrative heights Invincible can reach.