Secret Invasion didn’t make a huge impression on me the previous episode. It felt like the show suffered from trying to rush into its premise without properly setting up its stakes or world-building. The Skrulls are going to kill us all! Yes, why? How? How did we get from the point of the Skrulls being the hated refugees hunted by the Kree Empire to the point that they’re planning to exterminate the race that has decided to host them.
“Promises” improves on this a bit by starting us off with flashbacks to Captain Marvel that probably should have been there from the very beginning. It also elaborates a bit on Skrull culture and numbers, letting us know that Nick Fury has been using them as spies for the past thirty years as well as the fact that they are numbering a million strong.
A million Skrulls works well for establishing the threat as it’s not so high it’s unbelievable that they could hiding among us Earthmen (and women) but not so low that they couldn’t be living in, say, Pripyat without disturbing anyone. Unfortunately, the episode also plays into some more unfortunate storytelling points that undermine the entire experience.
The episode itself follows Nick Fury in the aftermath of Maria Hill’s assassination at the hands of Gravik. Unfortunately, fans hoping that it would prove to be a fake-out are proven wrong. Not only do we see her body post-mortem, but we attend her funeral. Maria Hill’s mother even confronts Nick Fury in one of the stronger moments of the episode. Sadly, even that undermines Maria Hill as Nick Fury says it’s all about him. It was a trap to kill and frame him despite Maria Hill being one of the highest-ranking SHIELD operatives herself.
Much of the episode is about how Nick Fury has lost control over the situation and isn’t the spymaster he used to be. Honestly, that isn’t as strong a premise as it seems. Nick Fury’s biggest roles in the MCU have been almost getting steamrolled by the World Security Council during the Chitahuri invasion and missing Hydra had managed to subvert SHIELD from the very start of its existence. Which is to say he’s always been a supremely capable human being but not an infallible god either.
I’m also not sure why the Skrulls specifically blame Nick Fury. Carol Danvers promised to find them a new homeworld and Nick Fury backed her up, but it seems like they’d be more upset with Carol. Again, the episode makes Nick Fury into something of an untouchable god but I’m not sure why the Skrulls thought an Earth spymaster could provide them their own homeworld. Which plays into a larger issue of the episode, that the Skrulls are unreasonable jerkasses.
The Skrulls turn out to not be a bunch of impoverished refugees after all with the Skrull Council including the head of NATO, the Prime Minister of the UK, the General Secretary of the UN, and a Fox News pundit all being members. In other words, the Skrulls should be sitting pretty. It also unfortunately falls into a bunch of Anti-Semitic anti-UN global conspiracy tropes for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Again, I’m not sure what the Skrulls want here if they’re secretly in charge of the world.
The show is presently carried by Samuel L. Jackson’s charisma with moments like his story about living in segregation-era America and his conversation with James Rhodes being highlights of the episode. We also find out a shocking twist about his home life. I’m hoping this show will turn itself around but, right now, it’s not my favorite of Disney+’s MCU series.