Of the three alien invasion shows that debuted on network television in the fall of 2005, "Invasion" was the one that was hyped the most and for which the most success was predicted. After all, "Invasion" had the advantage of airing on Wednesday night's after "Lost" on ABC. To be fair, in the end "Invasion" did get to air all 22 of its first season episodes, while NBC's "Surface" only got 15 episodes on and "Threshold" filmed 14 episodes but only aired nine of them. Now all three of the shows are available on DVD and all three proudly proclaim themselves to be "The Complete Series," wearing their cancellations like badges of honor whether they deserve them or not. All things considered, "Invasion" was my least favorite of the three, mainly because its story took the longest to develop. Creator Shaun Cassidy was clearly thinking long-term and how to develop his mystery over the course for the first season, and certainly at the end of the year things were starting to get interesting. But as far as I was concerned by then it was the proverbial too little, too late.
The start of "Invasion" had the advantage of art imitation life as the fictional Hurricane Eve strikes Homestead, Florida, on the edge of the Everglades. The show's characters are a pair of families related by divorce and remarriage. The show's nominal hero is Russ Varon (Eddie Cibrian), a U.S. park ranger in the Everglades who has a new wife, Larkin Groves (Lisa Sheridan), who is not only a reporter but also happens to be pregnant with their first child. Russ' ex-wife, Dr. Mariel Underlay (Kari Matchett), is a medical doctor who has recently remarried as well, this time to Sheriff Tom Underlay (William Fichtner). The children of Russ and Mariel, Jesse (Evan Peters) and Rose (Ariel Gade), live with Tom and Mariel, along with Kira Underlay (Alexis Dziena), Tom's daughter from a previous marriage. Completing the cast is Dave Groves (Tyler Labine), Larkin's brother, who watches the kids and apparently has an encyclopedic knowledge of conspiracy theories.
Strange things happen to the characters when the hurricane strikes. Rose sees lights coming down from the sky and landing in the water during the storm, while Mariel goes missing and is not found until the next day, at which point she is naked and remembers nothing but is physically untouched by the hurricane. Only now she likes to take really long baths and seems really into water. Then Dave finds what he is convinced is the skeleton of an extraterrestrial and we continue to see strange lights in the water. But it is the Sheriff, with his strange words of comfort for his disoriented wife, who turns out to be the pivotal member of the cast of characters.
The strange lights in the water are an apt metaphor for "Invasion," because here the threat is internal rather than external. The show is much more in the tradition of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" than any of the traditional alien invasion movies with their bug-eyed monsters. The mystery is not easy to figure out, as amply proven when Mariel finds her own body floating in the swamp and we all leap to the obvious and apparently wrong conclusion. But clues were being parceled out as almost as slowly as the revelations and in the absence of clear answers having clues to work over becomes even more important.
In watching these episodes again the show certainly does make more sense, but I still see a strong beginning and a fairly strong ending, with things dragging on too much in the middle. I have to think that if we did some serious editing of the middle third of "Invasion" that it would work a lot better. It is not so much a question of omitting episodes as it is moving things along more quickly. There was a point where the only reasons I kept watching "Invasion" was because it was one of the series I had cleared for the television unit for my class and because I was curious to see if it could free itself from the morass it was becoming (ironically, none of my students wrote about the show, but they used the course discussion board to try and figure out what was coming on, with limited success).
Before I watched "Invasion" again from start to finish I was learning towards rating it three stars because I was so disappointed by it given my expectations. I ended up with a four star rating because the second time around I was focusing on Tom and Mariel rather than Russ and Larkin, and this shift in perspective made a big difference. Going higher was not an option because all fans are going to find here for special features are deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a featurette "Inside the Mind of Shaun Cassidy." Not having any commentary tracks for those fans who were anguished by the cancellation of the show is extremely disappointing. You can also better appreciate how the series does go against your expectations time and time again, which should be a good thing, but not if you are looking at the show the wrong way. Whether this is your first or second (plus) time through "Invasion," let Fichtner's Tom Underlay be your guide (Say, do you think the character's last name was suppose to be a clue or something?).