... And Finally: Inhumans is done. Not officially, mind you — there’s always a chance that this sucker will scrape through to renewal somehow, so until you see a headline confirming its cancellation, assume nothing. Still, whether Marvel’s underwhelming series gets a second go-round or not, the series we saw at the end of September is done for. No more moon city. No more quiet room. No more magic wall face. No more minimalist, uncomfortable throne, at least until it’s revealed what the squiggly blue letters mean. That reveal will never come, because seriously, Inhumans is probably done.
It’s tempting to dive into this review by cataloguing the miscalculations, wrongs turns, and missed opportunities that have plagued Inhumans since the beginning. It’s a total buffet of bad judgment, with options ranging from ‘takes the entire premise far too seriously’ to ‘spends too little time with the giant teleporting dog,’ but a roster of missteps isn’t particularly useful or interesting. Still, there are chronic problems worth digging into, because the issues that have most troubled this series are the same ones that sink what was surely meant to be a gripping finale. As it turns out, when you don’t invest at all in your characters, their motivations, and the consequences of their actions, you wind up with a dismal, easily forgettable slog.
Some of the failure in this area comes down to casting. The Inhumans ensemble isn’t uniformly bad — despite being given basically nothing of sense to do, Ken Leung, Iwan Rheon, Ellen Woglom, and a few others work their asses off to make a few individual moments work. It should also be said that even highly capable performers can’t do much when they’re desperately miscast. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that Anson Mount’s apparent inability to emotionally engage with the other actors, with the story, with the camera, and with the audience tanks pretty much any scene in which he plays a part. That’s been a problem from the get-go, but it’s a more significant issue here. It’s right there in the title: this is meant to be the Black Bolt variety hour, and yet it’s likely that the biggest response he’ll get will come courtesy of the moment he taps Maximus right over his heart, and said response will probably come in the form of a snort.
Mount’s fighting an uphill battle no actor could possibly win. Viola Davis couldn’t make this stuff work. “... And Finally: Black Bolt” centers on a relationship in which the show has not invested, made up of two people the show has taken no time to develop. As the episode meanders toward the scenes meant to make up its climax, it drops information by the wayside, hoping a confession to a crime might help up the stakes. It seems to hope that time spent wandering empty hallways can trick an audience into suddenly caring about the fates of people about whom they know almost nothing. If Inhumans aims to make Maximus a sympathetic character, that ship has long since sailed. If it wants to give Black Bolt some kind of emotional journey, the point at which we’re all supposed to begin to care remains unclear. And if it thinks Black Bolt choosing to break his silence is a powerful moment, its writers should probably have done more to set that up than simply having an actor stay quiet for seven long episodes.
The moment Black Bolt whispers “Goodbye, brother” falls flat for any number of reasons. As stated above, there’s no reason to care about the relationship between the two brothers, and that failing alone pretty much dooms the scene. But there’s more to it than that. In fiction, the destruction of one’s home is often symbolic, representing a loss of identity or links to the past, or signalling a future in which old wounds and baggage are left behind. That seems to fit, but because there’s no sense of what Black Bolt’s journey has been, how his perspective has changed or how his beliefs have shifted, there’s no reason to believe the crumbling of that building is anything more than an easy way to block some doors. He doesn’t want to kill his brother, but he’s willing to condemn him to a life that will be lived entirely alone uncase some creepy space invaders show up. That’s a choice that could make sense for the character, but even if it did, we’d have know way of knowing, because Black Bolt lacks any kind of internal life. He’s just a guy who’s a king, a man with a wife and his own sign language. That’s what we’ve got.
That’s one example of many — “And Finally” treats the motivations of its characters with a similar level of disinterest throughout its too-long running time. Why does Medusa ask Louise for help, and what’s the help she needs? The answer to the former seems to be that Louise is the only human she knows; the answer to the latter is most likely something along the lines of “oh who cares, just write the scene.” Why does Karnak want to keep Gorgon alive, despite Gorgon’s obvious misery and lack of control? Because it’s better than than Gorgon being dead, one assumes, despite some evidence to the contrary — and the emotional effect of that evidence on Karnak is unclear. Why does Auran make any of the choices she makes here? Absolutely no idea. It’s not even all that clear what those actions are. Medusa smashes the crystal, because that seems dramatic. Maximus reveals his role in the death of his parents, because that was something on the episode checklist.
What all this stuff — the lack of development, the unanswered questions, the unexplored ideas, the plot holes, the inexplicable choices — what all these things have in common is total lack of thoughtfulness. It’s there in the uneven effects and the inconsistent tone and the lack of any kind of cohesive written or visual story. It’s evident in the lack of planning that leads to casting Henry Ian Cusack, giving him almost nothing to do for eight episodes, then killing his character to solve a plot problem that doesn’t actually even matter because of other developments to come. It’s clear in the fate of Gorgon which, as Caitlin Rosberg so aptly put it last week, “leans into the worst stereotypes of the animalistic, violent black man.” It’s just laziness, thoughtlessness, and lack of care, left, right, and center.
It’s even clear in the relative lack of Lockjaw. Failing all else, one should at least try to make a finale entertaining. Even if Inhumans doesn’t give a damn about the people in “... And Finally: Black Bolt,” the show could at least have given half a damn about the dog.
- Hi, I’m Allison, subbing for Caitlin this week. If Inhumans returns, she’ll pick back up then. Otherwise, you can find her (and me) elsewhere on the site.
- I’ll give the episode this: the constant repetition of “I put him through terragenesis again” was a solid running gag, even if it wasn’t intended as such. Medusa’s take on it got a real live chuckle from me.
- So, those of you who’ve seen Thor: Ragnarok: were the similarities at the end intentional, do you think?