Maiden Voyage: Marvel’s Inhumans

Even the poster looks…off…somehow.

The growing Marvel Cinematic/Television universe has been very successful on Netflix. 5 series with multiple buzzy seasons, they are getting a return on their investment. The ABC series though have been a mixed bag with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D both feeling the fall-out from the films and doing everything they can to never mention anything that happens in the films at all ever. Then there’s Agent Carter which was 2 seasons of delightfulness that ABC just could not figure out how to market. Oh, and let’s not forget Most Wanted, the pilot that never went anywhere (twice!), which was supposed follow Lance and Bobbi (Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki) after they left S.H.I.E.L.D (Both are fine by the way. Palicki is now on the wonderful The Orville while Blood is returning to S.H.I.E.L.D this season.) Why that show failed to ever appear and Marvel’s Inhumans did is surprising. There is no way Most Wanted could have been worse.

Inhumans was always going to be a hard sell, in the comics the characters are weird and (until recently) pretty fringe. But, because of some outside factors, Inhumans became the best way to have characters with super powers in the MCU. Conceptually introduced on S.H.I.E.L.D as regular people with alien genes that, when activated, cause all kinds of powers and weirdness, the Inhumans we follow on the show are the Royal Family who live in their city Attilan on the moon. It is said in the pilot that this society left Earth long enough ago and their “descendants” are the Inhumans we have seen thus far.

This series, at least based on the 2-hour pilot (part 1 of which is titled “Behold…The Inhumans” which, really?) and the extended trailer they showed, looks terrible. From the cheap costumes, to the terrible makeup and hair, to the set design, nothing looks…modern or finished- weirder still that the pilot was a coproduction with IMAX, that money does not show up on camera anywhere. It’s all old-looking and ugly and so very cheap.

I mean…

Beyond the ugliness of the whole affair, the action as depicted both contradicts what has been established about the Inhumans and contradicts what is established in the series. As established, for an Inhuman to gain their powers (or “reveal their true self”) they undergo a process called “terregenesis” during which stuff happens. In previous versions of this process, anyone exposed to terrigen would immediately turn to stone. If you were Inhuman you would come out of this state with new powers or appearance. If you were not, you would disintegrate. Now though, there is no turning to stone so much as standing in a gilded gas chamber and there seems to be a group of Inhumans who undergo this process and nothing happens (spoiler: if the comics are followed at all then someone without powers is a liar) and they are then thrown into the mines because of the strict and ill-defined caste system of Attilan. I say ill-defined because half the people we see in this lower caste have clearly been altered in some manner and yet they are still miners even though it is implied that that should not be the case. Maybe you’re only free from the mines if you have a cool power as defined by the “Genetic Council” that everyone is so reverent of?

As for the internal inconsistencies, at least 3 characters completely forget that they either have powers or how to use them in a lifesaving way. For example, Medusa (Serinda Swan) who’s power of super strong prehensile hair becomes useless when someone holds her down by the shoulders for some reason. Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) completely forgets her elemental powers at any point where it might be useful, instead blowing up a breakfast tray in a fit of petulance. And then there’s Karnak (Ken Leung) who’s canonical ability to “see the flaw in everything” is displayed as him being a total dick to a servant but he also falls off a cliff because he misses a step — which should be impossible for him. But, maybe powers don’t work the way they do in the comics, Auran’s (Sonya Balmores) powers for example are totally different than her source material. I have no issues with changes to the characters as long and those changes are consistently portrayed (in which case Medusa must know about Auran’s powers and if that is the case the big twist ending is significantly deflated).

Finally, the show is deeply boring because there are simply no stakes. See, the whole series follows a coup initiated by Maximus (Iwan Rheon), brother of King Black Bolt (Anson Mount). The audience is told that Maximus is a man of the people who wants to upend the social order of the caste system because he has no powers after his terregenesis and should be a miner but Royal privilege saved him. Maximus also wants the Inhumans to return to Earth which Black Bolt is against (because…?) So, coup. The entire Royal Family (including Mike Moh’s Triton and Eme Ikwuakor’s Gorgon) are sent to Earth while Maximus takes over Attilan (even though Earth is where he wants to go anyway…) The Royal Family is cut off from Lockjaw (their giant CGI teleporting dog/best thing about the show and no I am 100% not kidding) but still have their advanced technology communicators- which we find out also have tracking devices on them so why is anyone lost?- and presumably someone will remember that there is another teleporter in Attilan that can bring them back- the bad guys have to have a way to get back home. At the end of the 8-episode run there are only 3 likely scenarios: the caste system that already makes no sense is abolished and Attilan is at peace while Maximus is jailed, the Inhumans go to Earth- which is what Maximus wanted anyway- with the caste system abolished and Maximus jailed, or status quo is restored making the entire affair useless. And, the audience is likely to root for Maximus- the BAD GUY- because the caste system (again, makes no sense) is largely racist. So this is not a “good triumphs over evil” story, nor is it a “hooray for the social good” story as Maximus is clearly out for himself, it might become a “new society comes to Earth” story but that will only work out if the bad guy’s goals are all met which won’t happen because he is the bad guy! Unless I am missing something, this is a poorly conceived story that can either go nowhere and/or let “evil” win acted out by poorly dressed (mostly) bad actors who can’t even sell the shitty dialogue enough to make the “story” even vaguely compelling.

I read a lot of press coverage. I tried not to let any of that influence me and judge the show purely on its own. This show is bad. Not the worst thing I have ever seen, but easily the worst of the Marvel/Marvel Adjacent series. Everyone involved should have known better, done better, or even gave the show the appearance of having tried. This show is forced, humorless, ugly, poorly planned, and feels as if it were rushed to air without any thought to an exit plan. Or even an entrance plan frankly. Much like the source material, the show seems to be trying to be obtuse for the sake of obtuseness without ever really explaining what the hell is even happening or why. Hell, it already angered the deaf community when Anson Mount bragged that he invented his own sign language for Black Bolt to use to be more alien. Why? Why is that needed? Just use ASL or something already established in reality. But, no, we have to be unusual. Maybe that is the whole crux of the show and I am the idiot who doesn’t think a show where they have written themselves in a corner by episode 2 and being forced to root for the bad guy is terrible planning and I am not respecting the power of the unusual approach they are taking. Or maybe their unusual approach is just terrible, boring, and badly dressed.

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