For all of the problems in the first two episodes of Marvel’s Inhumans, perhaps the most damning was that it felt more like a failed movie instead of a weak pilot. All of the hype ABC put behind the show, the IMAX viewing experiences, the fact that it aired the first two episodes back to back all served to put far too much pressure on the show. There are plenty of shows that have recovered from a weak pilot; Parks And Recreation recovered from a weak first season. All the extra weight that got loaded onto Marvel’s Inhumans dragged it down, but the third episode did an admirable job of trying to recover from the damage already done.

With most of the former royal family stuck on Earth, the episode ends up split between multiple perspectives. Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and Medusa (Serinda Swan) are still dealing with the same issues they had in the first two episodes. Since most of these problems are rooted in the nature of their characters, there’s not a lot of hope that they’ll recover from those any time soon. Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor) and Auran (Sonya Balmores) do most of the heavy lifting this time around as Maximus (Iwan Rheon) sends more Inhumans to provide Auran with backup in her pursuit of the rogue Inhumans. Auran troop of helpers provides some much needed personality and insight into what Inhumans think, but this really should have come up far earlier. So far the female Inhuman with the power to move dirt and Maximus are the only people that have really shown some life and what might be motivating Inhumans as a group.

The episode’s title could have just as easily been “Unlikely Bedfellows,” with every character but Maximus stumbling into improbable allies that the Inhumans would probably die without. Gorgon has a group of Hawai’ian survivalists that decide to join him in fighting Auran without a lot of explanation, Karnack ends up with some pot farmers, and Black Bolt makes a buddy in jail. It’s an interesting way of undermining the impression that the first two episodes left, framing the royal family as all powerful and worthy of fearing, if not respecting. The problem is that everything falls together too neatly. With an eight episode run, there’s not a lot of time for tangents, but it would be a lot more convincing if something went wrong for one of them for more than twenty minutes.

If you can get past the suspension of disbelief problems, Medusa is by far the weakest link in this episode. Her petulance and imperiousness continue to make her incredibly unsympathetic, particularly as she steals from a family that’s never even on screen. Black Bolt has the benefit of contending with his Snidely Whiplash guard, and Mount actually manages a couple of facial expressions this week, plus a particularly good moment of comedic timing and physicality when he needles said guard about about a game of chess. Swan does at least look a lot more comfortable in civilian human clothes than she did in those purple dresses.

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Not even Ken Leung can save Karnak from the mess this episode got him into. Where Karnak in the first two episodes was analytical and honest to the point of cruelty, this version, struggling against what appears to be a pretty serious head injury, winds up mopey and emotional. The problem is that there hasn’t quite been enough backstory to make these beats connect with the audience, despite the violins playing in the background. It’s distracting enough that even a good physical joke feels a bit too pitying instead of funny.

Despite that, this is a much stronger episode than the first two. The story is beginning to coalesce, and each of the characters are being given space to show what they’re about. The flashbacks that give the audience a glimpse into Maximus and Black Bolt’s childhood are stiff and stilted in the way serious scenes with teens can be, but they provide some much needed insight into how the Inhumans got to where they are.

Marvel’s Inhumans still has to fight against all of the same issues on TV that they do in comics. The royal family has continued to be largely unsympathetic, though Maximus is really doing a great job of displaying just what a megalomaniacal jerk he is, and the internal logic of how Inhumanity works really falls apart the deeper we get into the plot. Black Bolt encounters his first Earth-born Inhuman in this episode, and there’s not even a vague attempt to explain how that happened or how widespread it is or who even knows it’s happening, despite repeated references to it in all three episodes. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to hand-wave away comics logic in TV shows, especially when that logic doesn’t appear to connect to some of the same concepts that have been seen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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The really unfortunate part of this episode is that it’s clear there was an attempt made to embrace the fact that the show is set in a very real place, but a complete mishandling of the fact that it’s Hawai’i. There’s an odd moment where one of Gorgon’s sudden new human friends decides to help him because Gorgon is fighting for a king, and the mainlanders came along and decided Hawai’i wouldn’t have one anymore. It’s an unexpected history lesson for a show like this one, but it feels forced and the logic doesn’t feel like it will hold up, particularly since the last Hawai’ian monarch was a queen.

There are also a bunch of uncomfortable stereotypes on display in the scenes where Black Bolt interacts with the Hawai’ians in jail. The racial politics of the setting feels far too heavy for the hamfisted attempts the writers made to address them. When Black Bolt’s new buddy helps him break out, he confesses he is a “freak” too, and it becomes clear that his powers are based on lava. Without the other sloppy attempts to be inclusive, this might have worked out alright, but on top of everything else it feels trite and overwrought, leaning so far into stereotypes that it comes out the other side and gets offensive.

That said, if the fourth episode improves at the same rate as the third, Marvel’s Inhumans will quickly become the fun, watchable show it should’ve been from the start.

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Stray observations:

  • Why is Black Bolt in what looks like genpop prison? Shouldn’t he be in jail?
  • It feels like this show wants to be the love child of Lost and Hawaii Five-0. It’s not weird enough to be the former or charmingly predictable enough to be the latter.
  • Cornish needs to step up her game. Crystal isn’t written well, but she’s leaning too hard into the petulant little sister thing. The sneering at Maximus makes her look like a brat instead of a rebellious woman.
  • Watching someone never pet a dog is deeply uncomfortable. Lockjaw deserves to get belly rubs.
  • This episode went 15 minutes without Ken Leung and about 40 without Lockjaw. I noticed.
  • Rheon’s ability to play a manipulative, abusive, gaslighting person really concerns me sometimes. “Thank you...for realizing it’s better if you do this of your own free will than me making you.” That’s terrifying.
  • They might as well hang a sign saying “Chekhov’s Gun” on Mortis. I’m not sure I believe the idea that Black Bolt is the most powerful Inhuman with that guy walking around.
  • Bronaja (the future-telling Inhuman) is a lot more interesting than Ulysses was in the comics. Probably because he’s not being used as an excuse to make Civil War II happen.

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