It rains blood in the first few frames of Invincible’s eighth entry. Moments later, the mangled remains of The Immortal fall from the sky. The carnage of last week’s episode “We Need To Talk” continues to unfold, as father-son superhero duo Omni-Man/Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons) and Invincible/Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) float overhead, as anticipation builds for their inevitable physical and emotional confrontation. As a season finale, “Where I Really Come From” delivers adequately on its promise of a family’s implosion. However, as a standalone episode, it excels far beyond expectations, invoking gruesome real-world imagery of natural and human disasters, and exploring surprisingly meaningful themes in the process. The season may have had its ups and downs, but it ends on a stunning high note.
The finale’s first half essentially consists of a single extended scene, with occasional cutaways to supporting characters like Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh) and the Guardians of the Globe, who watch Nolan and Mark’s confrontation play out from afar. When the conflict begins, Mark has trouble focusing on the image of his father drenched in The Immortal’s blood, as he speeds through the denials and excuses his mother experienced over the course of the season. While Debbie had the benefit of long-gestating suspicions, Mark is shocked to his core by the sudden reveal of his father’s murderous actions.
Finally, Nolan reveals his true origins to Mark, informing him that Viltrum is not a planet of benevolent saviors, but of ruthless conquerors, who hope to bring every civilization under their rule. To justify his betrayal, Nolan also stresses that Viltrumites live for thousands of years, and since Mark shares his alien DNA, he will likely watch everyone around him die. To Nolan, the span of human life is but a speck on the Viltrum timeline, and humanity is insignificant.
This supposed insignificance becomes a key part of the finale. Nolan attempts to force this outlook on Mark, who pleads with his father and clings to his most meaningful human relationships — the shudder in Yeun’s voice is especially gut-wrenching — but Nolan’s actions embody a chilling, defeating nihilism as the story plays out. Mark rescues a fighter pilot from plummeting to his death; the pilot thanks him and seems relieved to be alive, in a brief but memorable moment that speaks to why Mark chooses to be a superhero in the first place. The show hasn’t always focused on civilian lives or framed them as particularly meaningful, but it does so in this episode. Moments later, Nolan crushes the pilot’s head without hesitation, as if he were an inanimate object. Before long, the thematic struggle captured in this intimate, three-character scene explodes in horrific fashion, expanding to a global scale.
Nolan punches Mark with all his might, so hard that he becomes a dangerous projectile headed for a nearby city. But before Mark makes an impact, the episode spends a few extra shots portraying quiet moments of people simply going about their day. These moments, unremarkable though they may seem, become poignant in retrospect, given what comes next. These civilians are simply living their lives — until they aren’t.
Mark’s body crashes through buildings and skids through a major street with the force of an earthquake. Debris and mangled bodies litter the screen. The next thing Mark knows, he’s attempting to stop a skyscraper from toppling over, while also saving a woman from falling to her death as her young daughter watches from their window. He doesn’t succeed.
The way the episode captures this carnage is twofold: in closeup, it reveals Mark’s shocked realization that nothing is left of the woman he was trying to rescue, except her arm. When subsequent shots pull out to capture the scale of the destruction, clouds of ash from the fallen buildings crawl between city blocks, an image distinctly reminiscent of New York on September 11th. After Nolan stomps on injured civilians as if they were ants, the episode moves on to other potent imagery of familiar disasters. He smashes Mark through an enormous cruise ship, breaking it in two, like the Titanic. He pummels Mark into the side of a mountain, causing an avalanche.
The civilian toll is massive. The show’s blood-drenched violence, which felt silly and cartoonish in initial episodes, now feels disturbing when inflicted on people into whose lives we’re allowed the briefest of peeks, like snapshots of their final moments before disaster strikes. The toll on Mark is equally grisly. His face is practically unrecognizable as his father punches him to a pulp, in the hopes that Mark might accept his superior might, and his mission to colonize Earth.
Nolan’s ruthless nihilism feels, for a moment, more evocative of his comic counterpart, for whom human love and relationships were largely a ruse. But just when it seems like the show’s Nolan might be a little too disconnected from prior episodes, the character is drawn into a flashback in a heart-wrenching fashion. He knocks Mark’s teeth clean out of his mouth, which reminds him of a time in Mark’s youth as a gap-toothed tween on a baseball field. In this flashback, Nolan questions the point of Mark’s enjoyment of the sport in the cosmic scheme of things, and Debbie does her best to explain the shared joys of parenthood and family, unlocking some brief semblance of love and humanity hidden away. After Mark’s home run, the family smiles and celebrates together.
A part of him knows, deep down, that his belief in humanity’s meaninglessness might be wrong.
Nolan may have finally unleashed his callousness on the world, but there is still some human part of him that fights back against his colonial mission. A part of him that knows, deep down, that his belief in humanity’s meaninglessness might be wrong. There’s a part of him that still loves, no matter how much he denies it — and so, conflicted and unable to finish his mission, he flies away, deep into outer space, past the boundaries of our solar system.
The battle may be over halfway through the episode, but its impact is unfathomable. The Guardians begin to clear the physical debris and rescue civilians, but the emotional toll of Nolan’s destruction continues to reverberate. Mark has a personal connection to it all, of course, but a reporter puts into words how the rest of the world feels similarly betrayed: “How can someone who promised to keep us safe, to protect us against any threat, become that threat?”
What is perhaps most effective about the episode is the way it deftly captures what it feels like to live in the aftermath of disaster — both in its immediate wake, and in the weeks and months that follow, when its trauma continues to linger. Things return ostensibly to “normal” over time, but Debbie, despite putting on a brave face for Mark, still breaks down behind closed doors. Even friendly conversations over dinner — like when Mark, Amber, Eve, and William visit their usual burger joint — feel heavier than usual. Mark puts it simply: he feels hollowed out by the experience.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc, the events themselves may not last forever, but their impact leaves an indelible mark, often beneath the surface. Invincible’s final episode grounds this haunting effect in a personal relationship, between a son and his father — and not just any father, but a father who is essentially immortal and transcends humanity, a figure who Mark and the rest of the world believed would protect them, and whose actions now feel inexplicable. Cursing Omni-Man after he brings the world to its knees feels not unlike cursing god or the universe after an untold tragedy, in the hopes of reconciling violent horrors with some reason or cosmic significance, where there is usually none. It’s in these moments of despair that nihilism can engulf the human soul. Were humanity to simply accept its insignificance, it would mean the victory of the ugly outlook which Nolan espoused.
As the season comes to a close, it feels like people have started to heal.
However, difficult though it may be for the characters, they don’t let that overpowering pessimism win. They begin to rebuild, no matter how exhausting. The new Guardians finally begin to clean up the blood from Nolan’s murders, which still stain the walls of their headquarters. Debbie and Art, two of the people closest to Nolan begin to drink and commiserate — their own way of coping. As the season comes to a close, it feels like people have started to heal.
The flashes teasing various villains for future seasons, and the reveal of other alien allies in the fight against Viltrum, may be exciting in their own way. But for Mark, what’s most exciting is the prospect of finishing high school, and being able to live something resembling a normal life, despite what he’s been through. Perhaps that’s what it means to be invincible. Rather than never breaking, perhaps it means breaking and still finding a way to move forward.
Invincible’s eighth episode is a visually disturbing, and thematically rousing season finale. It evokes haunting images of real-world disasters during its gruesome climactic battle, and it tells a story of what it feels like to live through a disaster, as well as what it means to exist in its aftermath. A stunning, moving conclusion to an uneven season.