Invincible and the Art of Setup *Heavy Spoilers for Invincible*
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
(Mild spoilers for Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and the Matrix 3)
You came onto HarryThreapleton.com expecting a regular review of Invincible? Think, Mark!
Invincible is top notch. Its writing is constantly gripping and entertaining, its characters are fun, and it’s stands proudly on the same shelf as the boys as one of Amazon’s gritty twists to the superhero genre (I realise both the Boys and this were originally comics but the fact that Amazon’s made both into such high quality shows is really something).
In fact, Invincible was so good that I watched all eight episodes in a week. But what struck me about its plot was that every single event that happens is either a wildly satisfying surprise, or something so perfect that you couldn’t help but feel excited, even after just one season. I believe this is because one of the best things this show does is the way it sets up for future events. I’ll give you a few examples.
Let’s start with the Mauler brothers. Here are two characters that could have been cannon fodder brutes in the first episode. Instead, they’re comical, intelligent, and have a unique feature that distinguishes them from you run of the mill villain: the fact that one of them is a clone. So then later in the show, when the brothers are broken out of prison by Robot (Rudy) and asked to clone him, it feels perfectly logical and exciting.
Episode one is full of good set up and worldbuilding like this, from the more major characters like Invincible, William, Omniman and Amber to the more minor ones like the security worker, and Titan (who, of course, becomes greatly important down the line). One intelligent thing this episode also does is build up the guardians of the globe, showing us plenty of heart-warming, funny and heroic scenes of each of them so that their final scene is all the more shocking when they’re brutally murdered. The darker side of Omni-man is set up too, with his character being just enough of a loving father for this twist to feel like a knife in the gut, but just strange and angry enough (such as his random outbursts or punch to Mark) that we’re not in too much disbelief when he brutally murders his colleagues.
Subsequent episodes also set the pieces in play for the rest of the show. Take the crime scene investigation in episode two. When Immortal is taken in, his body starts to attack the workers, while his head is isolated and placed in a machine. This scene makes it clear that Immortal isn’t completely dead and may return later in the show. Then there’s Robot and Monster Girl’s love story. Monster girl and Robot have an intimate moment, where she explains that she’s an adult stuck in a child’s body, destined to be alone. There’s no pairing that would really work for her without being creepy and weird, except for Robot, who himself is trapped in a machine’s body (of course we don’t know he’s an adult human in a tube yet, but that makes his transition into a teenager’s body more of a nice touch). And how about the freaky university cyborgs? Although these were monsters within their own storyline, showing the difficulty Mark has in facing them really helps prepare us for their return in the finale when they’re put toe to toe against Omniman.
And then there’s my favourite piece of foreshadowing out of all of them. In the middle of the season Mark and the Guardians of the Globe have to defend the planet on their own because, offscreen, Omniman is busy fighting a Kaiju. Although we don’t see this Kaiju battle transpire, we get a glimpse of the beast’s body at the end, with characters remarking they’d never seen Omniman struggle so much with an opponent and Cecil demanding that they put it in ice (quick sidenote, Cecil and Damian Darkblood are the perfect morally grey protagonists, I love ‘em). If you have a line like that, you’ve got to deliver. And sure enough, towards the end of the show, we see the Kaiju in its fullest glory, used as a weapon to stop Omniman (and, by mistake, Mark) in his tracks.
I could go on citing examples like this (the end scene alone uses villains we’ve already seen to set up the entirety of season 2) but I think it’s important to establish why setup is so important to any story. You’ve likely heard of Chekov’s gun - that is Anton Chekov’s statement that if you’re writing a play where a gun is shown in the first act, it must go off in the second act. Imagine if, in this hypothetical play, the gun did not go off. How disappointing would that be? This would be the equivalent of the Kaiju never returning in Invicible, or some kind of prophecy of a Prince/Princess Who Was Promised in a fantasy show that’s “kind of forgotten about” or never mentioned again (too soon?).
On the other hand, imagine if there hadn’t been a gun in act one, and a character randomly pulls out a gun and shoots the bad guy to solve their problems. This is what we call a Deus Ex Machina, translated in English to god out of machine, from Greek plays where actors playing gods used to come down on a machine and save the day at the end of the story. While you can sometimes just about get away with this (the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, the Eagles/Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and a being literally called the Deus Ex Machina in the Matrix 3) in normally comes across as sloppy last-minute writing to fix a story that’s got away from you.
The truth is, anything, no matter how bizarre, can happen in a story, so long as you’ve established early on that it would make logical, emotional, and thematic sense (this is something we also touched upon in my Loki blog). This is the bare minimum for set up in a story as it ensures your basic plot point are consistent with the story you’re telling, but you can also use foreshadowing, clues, imagery, or prophecy to build hype for events or prepare for twists later in your narrative.
So there you have it. Setup, setup, setup. And to be clear, while Invincible is masterful in this department, it also nails pretty much everything else that you need to make a great television show. Let me know your favourite part of Invincible in the comments or forum, and if you’re feeling like another epic story of twists, betrayal, strange abilities, robots, interesting characters and compelling mystery, have a read of my book, Circle of Saints, available on Amazon through this very website.
That’s all from me today. Until next week, happy reading and writing!
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