Marvel’s Inhumans, “Behold… The Inhumans” & “Those Who Would Destroy Us”
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Written by Scott Buck
Directed by Roel Reine
“You can see the future. I can build it.”
Superheroes are supposed to take the battle between good and evil into a realm beyond ordinary human reality. Unfortunately, the battle between the good and the evil on Marvel’s Inhumans represents more the struggle between the despicable and the unlikable, and sometimes it’s really hard to tell which is which. Iwan Rheon reprises his role as the Bastard of Bolton from GOT and takes over the world, but his opponents are just as dastardly as he is, so nobody really cares who wins.
Inhumans, people with genetically enhanced attributes, live in a sexist, feudal society stratified into castes in an ugly, futuristic concrete metropolis on the moon. People with lower value or nonexistent superpowers must toil in tunnels supporting the lifestyle of the inhumans with flashier bling powers. A hereditary monarchy rules the society and maintains the social divisions. King Black Bolt refuses to listen to his brother, Maximus, who believes that their civilization cannot sustain itself in its current form. Maximus advocates moving to Earth and thereby expanding their access to resources. Maximus did not gain any inhuman power and clearly resents the capabilities of all the people around him. He also talks about enlarging the freedoms of the lower castes, but that’s more than likely standard dictator-speak to gain popular support when he usurps the throne.
A few members of the royal family teleport to earth by means of a giant, magic pug dog (I am not making this up) and end up stranded in Hawaii when Maximus’ coup succeeds. At the same time that all this is happening in Attilan, the city on the moon, a contaminant in the water supply on earth starts creating humans with inhuman attributes. The inhumans communicate with each other via their Fitbits, which unlike Apple watches allow communications between Earth and the moon. The Fitbits also allow Maximus to track the remaining royals and send an assassin to kill or retrieve the escaped former rulers. At the same time, a NASA scientist begins investigating why her telemetry showed a huge hoof crushing her moon rover. The hoof belongs to Gorgon, the former head of the royal guard, who can create an energy wave by stomping on the ground. He killed the moon rover to keep the city of Attilan secret. The scientist takes a leave from her job to go hoof hunting in Hawaii just in time for all of these events and people to start converging.
All of the royals who end up on Oahu find themselves unable to use their powers in any effective way; what’s a superhero show without super powers? Medusa, the Queen, lost her prehensile hair when Maximus ordered her head shaved before she left Attilan. Karnak suffered a head injury, which knocked out his ability to manipulate time and predict probabilities, so he finds himself wandering in circles in the Hawaiian backcountry. Gorgon’s hooves prevent him from blending into human society, though the native Hawaiian surfers who rescue him don’t seem to mind his lack of feet. Black Bolt finds himself chased, beaten, and jailed by Honolulu police: he does not dare use his power to help himself. Black Bolt spent the first half of the show communicating by signing. Finally it is revealed that his voice is so powerful that he inadvertently killed his parents with it. Even the involuntary grunt he emits when hit by a cop throws a police car through the air to the end of the street. Luckily, despite his name, Black Bolt is white, so the police merely tase him rather than shoot him dead.
The creators of the show clearly watched Avatar, The Shannara Chronicles, the Never-Ending Story, and Game of Thrones well enough to borrow ideas and storylines but neglected to steal anything which would keep viewers interested in staying tuned long enough to find out how this conflict goes down. This is the kind of show where you leave to get a sandwich and forget to go back. The established order in Attilan created a society which doesn’t seem to be worth fighting for, yet the royal family seems slightly less hateful than Maximus. Miserable scheming little Maximus, for all his power-grabbing and threats, may just be correct that what this world needs is a whole new order of things. All in all, neither side appeals enough to create a compelling narrative. Further, the fights and the death scenes seem to be played for maximum cruelty, adding to the unwatchable quality of the show. One of Maximus’s goons even knocks the giant magic pug unconscious. Gratuitous cruelty to animals, even digital ones, never wins any points. Since the show is already completely derivative anyway, they should at least show the giant dog eat Maximus à la GOT.
Though the special effects and the Hawaiian scenery are spectacular, the lackluster story just doesn’t capture the attention. Clearly humans will get caught up in this conflict, but it appears as though they will suffer no matter which side in the inhuman civil war prevails. With no clear side to root for, Marvel’s Inhumans does not provide the escapism it promises. Instead, it just seems like an alternate reality where the situation looks equally grim no matter the outcome. Magic powers alone can’t carry a series without sympathetic characters and an absorbing plot. No universe needs a bunch of uninteresting superhumans running around squabbling like mere mortals. These inhumans seem all too human.