Entertainment :: Movies

Invasion - The Complete Series

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Sep 14, 2006
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"I really used to think you were an idiot," blonde, sharp-witted Dr. Mariel Underlay (Keri Matchett) says to her ex-husband’s current brother-in-law, the beer-swilling, blog-writing Dave (Tyler Labine) at the start of a pivotal episode of Shaun Cassidy’s eerie, short-lived series Invasion.

"Thank you," Dave replies. "And you’re not a pod person." An uneasy beat later, Dave queries, "... are you?"

In fact, that’s the larger question around which Cassidy’s series revolves. Mariel used to be married to Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian), a park ranger in the Florida Everglades. Now she’s married to Sheriff Tom Underlay (William Fichtner), and Russell is hitched up to pregnant TV reporter Larkin (Lisa Sheridan).

Ever since the night of Hurricane Eve, when strange orange lights showered from the sky into the waters of the swamp, the town of Homestead has changed in ways both dramatic and subtle: Mariel, for example, went missing that night, and though she was found the following day, naked and stunned in the swamp, she’s evidently undergone a more significant trauma than simply surviving a catastrophic storm. She’s having nightmares about bloody punctures blossoming all over her body; she’s got a new penchant for long baths; and, most troubling, she’s gained the ability to breathe underwater. As her young daughter Rose (Ariel Gade) sums up, "Mommy, you smell different." It’s true: in many ways, Mariel is no longer the same person, and while there are good parts to this (she’s not as sharp-tongued any more), her fear and suspicion that husband the Sheriff knows more than he’s willing to tell her puts a strain on her marriage, and on her mind.

Teenaged step-siblings Kira (Alexis Dziena) and Jesse (Evan Peters) pick up on the change in Mariel, the tension between her and "Daddy Tom," and the growing uncertainty (and reigniting sexual tension) between Mariel and "Daddy Russell." Jesse is the son of Russell and Mariel, but Tom takes as much fatherly interest in him as he does in Kira, his own daughter from a former marriage. When the stark truth of the matter comes out that Dave thinks Homestead has been invaded by "E.B.E.s" (Extraterrestrial Biological Entities) that have duplicated the minds and bodies of some of the townspeople, Mariel is the first to conclude that she herself is a "hybrid," and that the Sheriff (the sole survivor of a Valu-Jet-like crash in 1996) is one, as well.

It takes a lot of convincing (strange activity on the part of the military, an attack on Larkin when she begins investigating a missing Air Force weather plane, highly toxic, unidentified tissue in the belly of a dead alligator), but slowly the pragmatic Russell begins to share Dave’s hypothesis, though with modifications of his own. What if this invasive species is not alien in origin, but instead marks the next cruel, adapt-or-die stage of evolution? Either way, the changed citizens of the town are growing in number, and unlike your typical invading force of aliens, they have no clear idea who they have become, or what to do next. They are more than susceptible to guidance from Sheriff Underlay, whatever his agenda may be... and from an ex-CIA agent named Szura (James Frain), whose idea of peace has nothing to do with coexistence and everything to do with superior firepower.

It all comes down to the fate of humankind, of course, but of more immediate concern is what might happen to this ultimate in blended families once battle lines are drawn, sides chosen, and a second hurricane darkens the horizon...

If the general plot of Invasion seems a trifle familiar, that’s because the show takes the idea behind Invasion of the Body Snatchers, updates and expands upon it, and then runs from there into modern, post-X Files dramatic terrain. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was, of course, a Cold War parable, and it could be that in an age of terrorism audiences are less concerned with the idea of "normal" looking people harboring secret ideologies (one of the more dangerous, and dangerously simplistic, viewpoints in the current clash of cultures is that it’s possible to know our "enemy" on sight). Or maybe it was the ten p.m. time period in which the show airedon Wednesdays last season, directly after Lost. Who knows why this fine program had such trouble finding a viewership? It certainly wasn’t the writing, which is potent, or the characterizations, which are troublingly ambiguous. Nor was it the show’s production, which is visually rich and features a lush, evocative score.

The show does have its flaws, of course: even more creepy than aliens are precocious little girls that say things like, "The family is never going to be the same again, is it?" And while every episode is crucial to the overall story, there’s the occasional dud plotline, as when our heroes discover a half-baked hybrid version of Dave (who even on his most "normal" days as a garden variety human being is sort of half-baked, or half soused, himself). All in all, however, TV has seldom offered such well executed and dramatically engaging fare, at least not in the science fiction genre. It’s a shame to say it, but perhaps it was all for the better that the show only ran for one season: the effect, on DVD, is of a 22-hour miniseries that wraps up on a high note, but leaves a satisfying, novelistic story in its wake, avoiding any possibility of a Lost-like disappointing second season or an X Files-esque process of diminishing returns.

The DVD set features all 22 broadcast episodes, deleted scenes, and an "Invading the Mind of Shaun Cassidy" featurette, along with a hilarious ten-minute gag reel. But be warned: watching this show is more than addictive: you may find, as you compulsively view episode after spellbinding episode, that Cassidy’s vision has, for want of a better word, invaded your worldview, making water, harsh weather, and offbeat family drama more compelling than they ever used to be.

Deleted scenes; gag reel; "Invading the Mind of Shaun Cassidy" featurette

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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