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Invincible: Season 1, Episode 6 Review – “You Look Kinda Dead”

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After a pair of stellar entries, Invincible’s sixth chapter “You Look Kinda Dead” falls back on some of the bad habits that plagued its three premiere episodes. It’s a far more low-key story than last week’s action-packed, commentary-laden “That Actually Hurt,” and while it provides a nice respite for character beats, it ends up an especially scattered installment, right when the show had begun to feel focused.After a brief prologue involving a kidnapping on a university campus, the show picks up where Episode 5 left off, depicting the blood-soaked aftermath of the Guardians’ battle at Machine Head’s headquarters. Mark (Steven Yeun), Monster Girl (Grey Griffin), and Black Sampson (Khary Payton) are wheeled into the GDA’s hospital wing, and their recoveries seem incredibly difficult. However, the show soon hits a bit of a reset, at least for Mark, by skipping forward to when he’s back on his feet and back with Amber (Zazie Beetz) who, like in the previous episode, gives him yet another chance, after being told he’d been hit by a bus. On one hand, it’s the kinder, more humane route, but on the other, it results in the Mark-Amber story jogging in place, after an entire episode dedicated to Mark’s inability to balance his civilian and superhero lives. Between this, and the episode skipping much of his recovery, the story can’t help but feel like it lacks real consequences for its main character, even after its most physically and emotionally grueling entry.Of course, things between Mark and Amber finally look different by the end of Episode 6, though getting there involves a bit of wheel-spinning. When Mark’s best friend William (Andrew Rannells) invites him to tour Upstate University — the site of the prologue kidnapping — Mark decides to invite Amber so he can finally make some kind of decision about their future. William, meanwhile, spends time with his university crush, Rick (Jonathan Groff), who ends up being targeted by the evil kidnapper D.A. Sinclair (Ezra Miller), whose underground experiments involve turning people into mindless cyborgs.

This subplot is taken straight from the comic, but it’s oddly de-personalized for Mark. In the comic, Mark and Rick had been friends for several issues by the time this story reared its head. Here, they barely know each other, which robs Mark’s decisions of personal stakes, especially when he needs to choose between tracking down the missing Rick, or going after Amber when she’s upset by his disappearance during a crisis. He chooses the latter pretty easily, which gels poorly with the overarching narrative about the difficulty of juggling his identities and responsibilities.

The episode does at least feature one new consequence of Mark’s duality: when he shows up as Invincible during the cyborg attack, William recognizes him, and Mark is forced to spill the beans. However, William hasn’t been much of a presence on the show thus far, the way he was in the comic, so this discovery feels like it’s been hastily folded into Mark and Amber’s story, instead of complicating an existing friendship. The lead-up to these decisions and revelations also feels incredibly drawn-out, as the episode lurches through a series of stilted conversations that lack the previous entry’s finesse.

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The episode’s most potent bit of storytelling comes via a montage, scored by the breezy sounds of SOAK’s “Knock Me Off My Feet,” during which Mark and Amber wander the university grounds and exchange silent glances. It’s pleasant to watch, and it makes the audience root for them to work things out. Sadly, this scene is also an accidental indictment of the many lengthy, lifeless dialogue exchanges throughout the rest of the episode. Cecil (Walton Goggins) and Nolan (J.K. Simmons) discuss Mark’s disobedience, Eve (Gillian Jacobs) argues with her parents, Mark and Eve discuss Amber, Mark and Amber discuss their relationship, Mark and William discuss the university trip — and so on. These character beats ought to be the episode’s most dramatically propulsive moments, but they, unfortunately, reveal the show’s inherent misstep with its all-star casting.

Voice acting, despite its obvious overlap with screen acting, involves a number of different tools, including voice modulation and the use of non-dialogue vocal cues to create a character’s physical and emotional mood. The post-Shrek landscape has seen big-budget animation lean towards marquee names, but few of these celebrities have the right experience. A rare instance of a screen actor who does is Tom Hanks, and his role in Toy Story is a perfect counter-example to Invincible: it’s not just the dialogue that defines Sheriff Woody, but the moments between the words, his uptightness, his little grunts and gasps, and his exasperated quality. When a show’s animation and direction become rote (as they do in this episode), the onus then falls on the vocal performers to elevate and accentuate the characters. Without a camera to pick up their nuances, most of the show’s cast — known primarily for live-action film and television — struggles to express anything beyond the words themselves, a major flaw that was skillfully hidden by the visual storytelling in recent entries.

There are a few notable exceptions, between Mark Hamill as Art, tailor to the superheroes, and Ezra Miller’s villainous D.A. Sinclair. But Hamill is also a seasoned voice actor — his first animated role, Wizards, pre-dates Star Wars — and he knows how to make even the most subtle exchanges feel dynamic. You can tell simply by the way Art breathes between each line that his conversation with Nolan, shortly after he discovers Nolan’s guilt, is an especially tense one. Meanwhile, Miller’s cackling Sinclair is off-the-wall cartoonish, which gets the job done, but he also sticks out sorely when placed alongside half a dozen other characters who feel like they’re reading lines from an Ambien commercial.In addition, Sinclair’s cyborg ploy doesn’t hold much thematic weight for the other characters. The villain’s obsession with using technology to solve human problems feels entirely incidental to Mark’s tale of romantic woe — compared to, say, last week’s villain Titan (Mahershala Ali), whose story led to several key realizations for Mark and how he fits into the world at large. If anything, Sinclair’s perspective not only goes un-refuted, but it’s supported by the unrelated B-plot of Robot (Zachary Quinto) going to tremendous technological lengths to save Monster Girl’s life.

As for the other subplots, Eve embarks on a solo mission to help people in need, Debbie (Sandra Oh) finally has her suspicions about Nolan confirmed, though she isn’t quite ready to accept them, and the Mauler twins seek out a superhero-centric insurance policy — revealed during the credits — against Robot’s mysterious cloning orders. Once again, these don’t feel particularly organic or intrinsic to the central story, and you could insert them into the episode in practically any order and end up with the same result. Nearly six hours in, and the non-Grayson parts of the show continue to meander.

The episode is hardly a death-knell for the series; all told, it’s not exactly bad. The characters remain largely likable, and the Nolan mystery feels like it’s heating up — his subdued displays of conflicted anger are especially intriguing — but as a self-contained story, it’s a significant step back after the many improvements in episodes 4 and 5.

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