Secret Invasion is all about hidden identities and the fear of being unable to trust people, even someone you’ve known for years. Or at least that’s what it’s supposedly about. The way it wound up playing out, Marvel’s most recent series was much more about Nick Fury and a group of Skrulls who chose to almost never impersonate recognizable faces. There was just one meaningful exception.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for Secret Invasion, Marvel’s Disney Plus TV series.]
As we’ve known for much of Secret Invasion, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (aka War Machine) was replaced by a Skrull imposter — but the show didn’t give any hints about how long Iron Man’s best friend had secretly been an alien. At least not until this week’s season finale, featuring Skrull Rhodey’s death and human Rhodey’s rescue.
When human Rhodey gets pulled out of Skrull stasis prison, he’s wearing a hospital gown, and seems to be missing the leg-braces he got after Captain America: Civil War. Sure, this could mean the Skrulls nabbed him while he was at a hospital for routine surgery. (Don Cheadle is 58, and that’s a very good age to practice routine colonic health screenings.) But this isn’t a real-life documentary, it’s a TV show where people’s costumes and movements are meant to reveal information.
Which is all to say: It looks like the information Secret Invasion means to reveal is that Rhodey has been a Skrull imposter since the events of Captain America: Civil War, where the Avengers battled it out at a German airport, and a stray bolt from the Vision injured Rhodey’s spine. Meaning Rhodey has been a Skrull since 2016.
Rhodey missed Thanos’ entire arc. The initial invasion of Wakanda, the Blip, the five-year time jump, the Avengers’ time-travel heist — that was a Skrull on screen the entire time. It also means Rhodey missed the wedding of Tony Stark, one of his best friends, along with the birth of Tony’s daughter Stark, and even Tony’s funeral — which Skrull Rhodes attended.
He’s also got a laundry list of other confusing things to catch up on, like:
- The existence of Captain Marvel
- Scarlet Witch getting kind of banished to hell
- Bucky is nice now
- Captain America is Black
- The death of Natasha Romanov, Steve Rogers (kind of), T’Challa, Loki (probably, in at least one timeline), and the Vision
In other words, he’s basically got about seven years of movies to catch up on.
As funny as it is to imagine Rhodey having to take a crash course on all of the most consequential moments of the MCU’s recent history, it does open up a pretty disturbing question: Why on Earth isn’t this what Secret Invasion was about the whole time?
One of the 10 most important heroes on the planet was a Skrull for the most climactic arc of the MCU, and we didn’t get one flashback to any nefarious plotting he did in that time? We didn’t even get scenes of characters who knew him, interacting with him again? Just a few scenes of him being angry with Nick Fury and acting a little shifty? In a better show, the reveal of Skrull Rhodey and everything it implies about the last seven years would be the meat of the series’ conflict. But with Secret Invasion — as with so much of the MCU — it’s basically just fodder for the next movie on the docket.
Secret Invasion was supposed to be a story about conspiracy, distrust, and subterfuge, with hidden identities all around. And nothing could accomplish that as well as turning things on the viewer and revealing that someone we’ve known and liked for years wasn’t who we thought. Instead, the Rhodey reveal was reduced to a “What year is it?” punchline. Opening the door to something interesting, then letting it languish in favor of boring ideas and conversations, has been Secret Invasion’s problem from the beginning. The series almost wore the skin of an interesting show — it just couldn’t fully pull off the illusion.