Marvel’s Inhumans – Season 1 Episode 3
“Divide and Conquer”
Marvel’s Inhumans continue as the characters work to reunite on Earth as Maximus plots to solidify his power on Attilan.
Before I really begin it’s worth noting that I watched the broadcast version of the first two episodes that I had already seen and I’m glad that I did as there are scenes that don’t appear in the IMAX version that I originally watched and reviewed. These scenes don’t add all that much other than expand on the Moon Rover subplot that appears and disappears in the cinematic version as well as adding the character Louise Fisher (Ellen Woglom) who will apparently become important as the season progresses. There are other scenes that extend some of the dialogue exchanges but other than the introduction of Louise there’s very little of significance.
This episode picks up where the previous one left off with Black Bolt in prison, Medusa trying to find him, Karnak wandering in circles, Gorgon hanging out with some surfer dudes and Crystal under house arrest thanks to Maximus. In a better show these stakes would be compelling but there’s something about the way this is handled that prevents the gravity of the situation from becoming apparent.
It turns out that Black Bolt has a guardian Angel in the form of Dr. Evan Declan (Henry Ian Cusick) who has a vested interest in freeing him from prison. His reasons for this are as yet unknown but Black Bolt sure is lucky to have someone looking out for him in this way. Declan enlists the help of Sammy (Faleolo Alailima) who agrees to the terms because they will result in his own freedom. It’s a reasonable setup but it seems like the writers want to keep a sense of mystery around Evan Declan and his motivations which doesn’t really work as it makes his actions seem like they come from a place of plot convenience more than anything else. Sammy being in the same prison makes it seem even more convenient as the episode does nothing with him until towards the end.
Black Bolt in prison is a fairly dull plot line that I am glad to see resolved by the end of this episode. The rest of the inmates seem to be pleased with the fact that he caused harm to Police where the guards are aggrieved that he hurt some of their own. Nothing especially interesting going on here but at least it makes sense. I’m not saying I expect Marvel to recreated The Shawshank Redemption in this show but there was a dynamic to be played with here. Perhaps Black Bolt could become the “King” of the prison inmates and have this propel a revelation that the system on Attilan isn’t as perfect or workable as he first thought. After all, aren’t plot and character on TV shows supposed to be linked in some way so that it doesn’t feel like the characters are simply doing things to kill time?
Nothing about this prison plot develops or enriches Black Bolt in any meaningful way. Everything that happens has nothing to do with anything Black Bolt does as the plot just happens around him. This makes his role in the story feel pointless as his actions don’t move the plot forward in any way. For a King he’s oddly passive and it makes his scenes difficult to watch because they are so dull. Anson Mount is still killing it in this role though. His ability to reveal emotion using nothing but body language and facial expressions is incredibly impressive and could be used far better than it currently is.
The Sammy character starts off as a mysterious aid to the mysterious benefactor but is more fleshed out by the end of the episode. It turns out that he is also an Inhuman with the ability to melt things with his hands. It’s a handy skill and proves useful in this situation when dealing with a locked door becomes necessary. Of course a whisper from Black Bolt would also have dealt with the problem but there we are. Sammy dumps some exposition on Black Bolt and the viewer about his experience of Terrigenesis and the detrimental effect it had on his life. He mentions that he almost burned down his house and killed his family which is obviously a cause of regret for him. It’s also implied that he is in prison by choice to protect his family as he mentions that his powers caused him to lose his family. It’s nod a bad back story and the potential to create a sympathetic character is built in here but the episode rushes through it meaning that the impact doesn’t have time to hit the audience. It’s just another thing that’s going on.
Part of the problem here is that the show is trying to tell five different stories with none of them being especially interesting on the surface. With more time spent expanding on them there might be something compelling there but the show wants to pay lip service to all of the characters in one episode so there’s a rushed quality to everything.
Medusa also doesn’t really have much to do. She starts off by ordering an ATM to give her money. She seems to think that being the Queen of Attilan entitles her to free money despite the fact that she’s well aware that the Humans have no idea that Attilan exists. This carries over from the previous episodes where the Inhumans know about some Human inventions but are selectively ignorant when the plot demands. Medusa demonstrates that she knows what a cab is and can even read a newspaper written in English but she has no idea how an ATM works. This inconsistency is really baffling as surely the Inhumans either know about Human technology or they don’t. There should really be no middle ground here.
The main thrust of Medusa’s plot is that she wanders into a rich person’s house and proceeds to help herself to some food and clothes. It’s interesting that Black Bolt’s agency is hampered by the fact that he can’t speak to other people and Medusa is suffering from the same problem with the notable difference that she can speak but has nobody to talk to. Her scenes are some of the strongest in the episode as it tells us something about her character. We know that she’s relentless and very resourceful as she is able to make her way to an empty house that she can ransack for what she needs. There is also an effective scene where she looks in the mirror and takes a few seconds to let the fact that she has lost her hair sink in. It’s a subtle piece of acting from Serinda Swan and lets the audience see that Medusa is emotionally affected by what she lost. Her story ends with her narrowly missing reuniting with Black Bolt and pointing a gun at Louise’s head to force her to help. Louise so far is little more than a disgraced scientist working to prove that she’s right but she may be able to provide a Human perspective for the Inhumans.
Karnak eventually stumbles across a Marijuana farm and is tied up for his troubles. Very little goes on here other than him coming to terms with the fact that his powers still don’t work. There is a really good introspective moment where he talks about his face tattoos being a reminder of the reckless youth he used to be. He apparently got them before he had the ability to see how events will play out so they serve as a constant reminder of a version of him who acted without considering the consequences. At this point he doesn’t feel at all useful to his family or anyone else which causes him to feel somewhat morbid about his situation. He is set free by his captors as long as he can be useful to them. Ultimately his scenes don’t add much beyond the effective character beats and Karnak seems to be stagnating significantly; not that there was anything to him in the first place.
Gorgon definitely has some agency as he prepares for the inevitable confrontation between him and Maximus’ forces. It turns out that his surfer dude friends conveniently used to be soldiers so they are keen to help him out. Gorgon’s main character trait so far seems to be unchecked arrogance. Most of his dialogue has him boasting about how superior Inhumans are to Humans and gloating about how great the soldiers coming to attack will be since he trained them. Gorgon seems to have learned nothing since the show began and doesn’t appear to be on his way to any sort of lesson. The setup existed for the surfer dudes to prove that Humans have more to offer than he thinks and he does show some level of camaraderie with them but not enough to suggest that his thinking has changed in any way.
He does get to shoulder the majority of the action for the episode but it’s very weak. The choreography is uninteresting and it’s so full of rapid cutting that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. These are supposed to be super powered beings duking it out but it just comes across as really underwhelming.
The henchmen are also less than interesting. Auran (Sonya Balmores) has the most to say but her defining character trait is “can fight” which doesn’t exactly endear her as someone worth watching. She leads a team of expendable Inhumans to take on Gorgon and seems to have a hatred for the Royal Family that isn’t defined or explored. Her loyalty to Maximus makes no real sense as she was recently loyal to Black Bolt and his family. There must be some reason she chose to defect but the episode has no interest in exploring that. There is also some time devoted to an apparently dangerous and unpredictable Inhuman named Mordis (Bridger Zadina) who is being built up as someone who will do something dangerous and unpredictable at some point in the future. I’m not sure what that will be but his Cyclops style beam eyes don’t fill me with excitement.
On Attilan Maximus is trying to solidify his rule by getting Crystal to read a prepared statement so that the Genetic Council recognise him as a legitimate leader. These scenes are intercut with flashbacks showing Maximus finding out that his Terrigenesis turned him Human on the genetic level meaning that he can never be king. Inhumans cannot be ruled by a Human is cited as a rule. This reminds me of Loki seen elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who stages a similar more high budget coup to put himself on the throne because he feels that never getting the opportunity is unfair. The broad strokes of this dynamic are the same as Black Bolt is clearly shown to be favourite and more privileged son where Maximus is sidelined. If nothing else then his motivations are strong and relatable.
These flashbacks actually tell us a lot about the dynamic between the two brothers as Black Bolt is shown to not even want the throne. He talks to his parents about how boring their job seems to be and makes it clear that he wants no part of it. This is clearly adolescent ignorance but it’s also something Maximus takes to heart as it’s clearly unfair that the throne be handed to someone who doesn’t want it when he does. Ultimately this is the underlying reason behind his actions along with a desire to make Inhuman society fairer to those forced to toil in the mines for the benefit of the upper classes.
Strangely it’s hard to disagree with what Maximus is saying here. Nothing about this show has set up the Royal Family as being sympathetic in any way and not enough about Inhuman society has been established to determine whether the conditions merit some kind of social change. There is the hint that life in the mines is difficult and there are shades of social unrest here and there but nothing definitive. I feel that the show should really be exploring this angle since it underpins the main motivation of the central villain. At this point it does seem reasonable that he would want to change the status quo and until there’s a strong counter argument it’ll be difficult to root for the Royal Family to succeed in overthrowing him.
Iwan Rheon continues to be an engaging presence as Maximus. He is given the best dialogue and his commitment to the coup is entirely convincing. He also comes across as intelligent, calculating but also somewhat compassionate when it comes to his people. He is certainly playing a complex character even if the writing doesn’t back that up.
Crystal continues to be painfully badly written. Isabelle Cornish’ performance has her come across as somewhat bratty which I don’t believe is the intention. I think the intention is for her to be the rebellious sister to a more serious Queen but the writing fails to bring that across at all. The scene where she defies Maximus and escapes is terrible and makes her escape seem too easy. At least Lockjaw wakes up for a few seconds to teleport her to Earth only to be hit by an ATV which numbers as the greatest tragedy of the episode.
Another dull outing that fails to move the plot forward in any meaningful way and rushes through a collection of individual plot lines meaning that there is no scope to dig into the detail associated with them. Black Bolt in prison is a missed opportunity because he actually does very little to propel the story on. Medusa’s role is the strongest as it shows how resourceful she is as well as allowing for a moment to explore how she feels about what she has lost. Karnak has a similarly effective introspective moment but his character just isn’t that engaging. Gorgon’s arrogance is frustrating and his fight with the bland henchmen isn’t all that exciting to watch.
Maximus continues to be the strongest character. Flashbacks help to establish his motivations more clearly and I like the fact that he is motivated by Black Bolt’s disinterest in the throne when he has been told that he could never rule Attilan. The background isn’t developed well enough to say either way but so far the show has failed to make the Royal Family sympathetic so for all I know Maximus is right to try and inspire social change. Crystal continues to be badly written to the extent that she seems bratty rather than rebellious though at least Lockjaw was awake for a few seconds only to be tragically hit by an ATV.
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