Marvel’s Inhumans: I Wish It Made More Sense

A view of Earth and space, with the words "Marvel, Inhumans, A Marvel Television Series"
Image: ABC via TV Line

Genre: Superhero

Synopsis: A kingdom of Inhumans–people with powers that can be activated through exposure to a substance–exists on the Moon, unbeknownst to the people of Earth. But the king is overthrown by his brother, and the royal family escapes to Hawaii. Now, they must not only survive the assassination attempts and life in an unfamiliar society, but also reclaim their place before the new king does something irreversible. 

Series: First season is airing.

I’ve Watched: The first two episodes.

Verdict: The worldbuilding just isn’t strong enough to hold the story together. Nor is there enough of a reason to root for anyone, heroes or villains.

Before getting into the show itself, I want to note that the main hero, Black Bolt, can’t speak without destroying everything in the path of his voice. On a daily basis, he must communicate without speaking. Fortunately, I found this article (I’m Deaf and I support the use of an invented sign language in ‘Inhumans’), so I’ll redirect anyone interested in the topic there.

The pilot episode itself begins near the start of a political coup. Black Bolt is king of a civilization of Inhumans based on the moon. He wants to remain on the moon, have his people get by as they always have, while welcoming new Inhumans from Earth into their kingdom. His younger brother (Maximus) dislikes having to get by on limited resources, and wants instead to move their people to Earth. This idea is supposed to be the main source of their conflict, the reason why Maximus overthrows his brother–yes, he’s also jealous, but he genuinely believes he’s doing the right thing.

Here’s the problem. When you start looking at the details (very few of which are actually provided to us), this plot line doesn’t make any sense.

Maximus (aka Ramsey Bolton from GoT) disparages his brother’s decision to remain on the moon. He says that Black Bolt is afraid that moving to Earth will provoke a war, and that they should not make their decision based on fear. Note what he doesn’t say: whether or not he agrees that this will cause a war.

That’s kind of important, because we don’t even know what Maximus’ plans are. Does he think that his actions will provoke war with the humans, and is all like ‘bring it on’? Does he think his brother is overreacting, and that setting up a colony on Earth can be resolved with less drastic measures? Or does he think it doesn’t matter? That they should move to Earth first, then deal with whatever the fallout is?

We literally don’t even know.

This means that we don’t know what the real seed of the conflict here is. Is Black Bolt the diplomat looking to keep the peace, with Maximus as a warmonger? Or is Black Bolt cautious and afraid of change, while Maximus is reckless and hotheaded? We’re left with this huge blank space, not only in the worldbuilding, but also in the character development.

Not to mention, as viewers, we’re supposed to side with Black Bolt. He doesn’t want to destroy humanity and conquer Earth, like his brother (maybe?) does. But he’s also the ultimate authority in a strictly hierarchical society, where jobs are assigned based on how useful someone’s power is. 

Maximus tries to convince us that the problems in their society are a direct result of not having Earth’s resources. That’s bullshit–that’s literally the show putting words in his mouth to make Black Bolt’s reign look better than it should.

The Inhumans have the benefit of both their powers and the technology available on Earth. Sure, things are never going to be perfect, but we don’t ever see Black Bolt trying to deal with the problems in his society. There’s never any discussion of how they’re trying to increase food production, work on technology to make mining easier, address the concerns of various segments of the population. All we ever see from him is passivity towards the problems his own people face. And the one action he takes is to help the Inhumans from Earth escape. That reinforces the idea that he cares first and foremost for how useful someone’s powers are, not whether they deserve a good life because they’re people.

Ramsey Bo–I mean, Maximus–is genetically human, despite being the king’s brother. He has no powers. If it wasn’t for blatant nepotism on Black Bolt’s part, he’d be working in the mines with those whose powers are deemed too useless. And he clearly cares about the working class in a way our supposed good guys don’t–there’s definitely some elitism coming off of our protagonists.

There’s one scene, after the royal family has escaped to earth. We see each of them, miserable and alone, juxtaposed with the image of Maximus making a speech to the miners about how their lives will be better. The staging of the scene makes it clear that we’re supposed to feel bad for the helpless royal family, to dislike how the usurper has the masses in the palm of his hands. But that just doesn’t work. Because Maximus is being honest about wanting to make a difference for these people, and because the royal family had all the power they’d needed to do it themselves. Never once did we see a single indication that they cared.

That doesn’t necessarily make Maximus the better option, because like I said before, he has no plan. He’s ruthless, and willing to justify that if he thinks he has to. He’s the most vehemently anti-human of the cast, despite being the most like humans himself–which makes a lot of sense and could be quite interesting, but isn’t exactly endearing. And he creeps onto his sister-in-law, telling her he’d never treat her the way his brother does…dude. Can you get more stereotypical. (Also, not seeing how coming onto her when she’s clearly not interested is better.)

What I’m saying is, from where I’m sitting, no one looks like the good guy.

The morally grey aspect to all of this could be interesting–and it even seems at least partially intentional–but it just isn’t well-handled enough to work. Because we need to see the characters’ redeeming qualities as well as their flaws in order to want them to succeed. And so far, the one person whose redeeming qualities we’ve seen the most of, is the bad guy.

Honestly, I think they started the plot too soon. This should have been the second season. This first season should have been building tension between the brothers, and exploring the situation they were in–with no good options–in a way that made everyone’s positions understandable. Instead, Black Bolt comes off as ineffective, Maximus’ plan makes literally no sense, and everyone else’s motivations have more to do with who they’re friends with instead of what they actually believe.

Maybe the show will grow into the plot, and the characters will have their beliefs challenged. But so far, it’s hard to buy into the story.