Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Divide And Conquer" Continues To Muddy The Inhumans!


The Good: A couple decent performances, Production values
The Bad: Derivative characterizations, Crowded cast has more characters thrown into it, Under-developed plotline that is fractured among a massive cast, Reversals are hardly surprising
The Basics: "Divide And Conquer" crowds Inhumans even more, though Serinda Swan is finally able to do something with Medusa.


The early releases for genre television this year seem to be in a race to the bottom to ruin major franchises. Inhumans made an unceremonious debut on television after having an abysmal theatrical run, breaking the success curve of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It speaks to how unimpressive the two-part series premiere of Inhumans was that it took me, a reviewer committed to the franchise, two extra days to muster up the enthusiasm to review the new episode. Between Inhumans and Star Trek: Discovery (latest episode reviewed here!), it is a dismal time for the established franchises!

As "Divide And Conquer" begins, Inhumans is buried under the weight of the events of "Behold . . . The Inhumans" (reviewed here!), which threw a ton of new characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As fans of the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (reviewed here!) know, Inhumans have been running around Earth for years thanks to a contaminant in the water (and fish oil vitamin) supply. But, even the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. has managed for years to keep the Inhumans contained. Inhumans, however, hinges almost entirely on the absence of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought about by the fourth season finale. Following the coup on the moon (shudder) that installed the Inhuman Maximus as the King of the Inhumans there, most of the rest of the Royal family and loyalists to Black Bolt - including his sheared wife Medusa - are on Hawaii encountering humans for the first time.

Opening at the Declan Research Facility in Santa Barbara, Dr. Delan learns of new Inhumans on Earth and Louise Fisher tries to get into the prison to see Black Bolt. Medusa figures out that she needs money, while Maximus figures out that he needs Crystal's public support to legitimize his new government. Maximus wants to send Mortus, a powerful killer Inhuman, to Earth to aid Auran in finding and killing Black Bolt, but is anxious because his clairvoyant Inhuman cannot see Mortus's future.

While Karnak stumbles upon an illegal weed farm and loses his powers, which gets him captured, Black Bolt acclimates to prison life. While Black Bolt works hard to not speak, he is turned over to a prisoner Declan has leverage over. The prisoner actually tries to help the deposed King of Attilan. Auran's force of Inhumans encounters Gorgon and the fight goes badly for both sides. On the moon, Maximus informs the Genetic Council that he plans to abolish the caste system in Attilan before Crystal inevitably betrays him. And when the corrections officers critically misjudge how other prisoners would view a guy who hurt cops, Black Bolt and his new friend use a prison riot as cover to escape.

"Divide And Conquer" continues the whole Shakespearean "two brothers, one throne" conflict with flashbacks to Black Bolt and Maximus as children, learning from their father. The thing is, the Thor section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pretty well mined that whole concept and Maximus is, sadly, no Loki. But wait, Loki was actually a Frost Giant and Maximus is an Inhuman whose transformation appears to make him into a mundane human . . . so both brothers are outsiders in the world they would seek to rule. So, the characters are pretty derivative right out of the gate.

Beyond that, the characters seem somewhat stupidly defined; Mortus has to remind one of the Inhumans in his search party that she has the ability to make paths. So, while the Inhumans have a reasonable moment of being overwhelmed by all of the plant life surrounding them, the fact that they are trudging along for a while before Mortus has to tell another character her characterization is executed in a sloppy way.

"Divide And Conquer" does a decent job of having Medusa played as a "fish out of water." Medusa has not only lost her hair and throne, she has lost her entire world. Serinda Swan has several silent scenes where she has to emote with just her facial expressions and eyes to convey the powerful sense of disenfranchisement Medusa feels. Swan does that quite well. Swan's task is made somewhat difficult in that the audience still is unable to fully empathize with her. The first episode of Inhumans did a poor job of presenting the full range of Medusa's abilities. She was a woman with exceptionally long hair that seemed to have some level of control and autonomy of its own. Had it been explored more, the magnitude Medusa's hair getting sheared off would have had far more impact.

But, just like the premiere, "Divide And Conquer" suffers because it is desperately attempting to flesh out an ensemble on the fly. Inhumans implicitly justifies the long route taken to The Avengers by showing just how terrible an ensemble piece can be when viewers neither have an emotional connection to, nor understanding of the full ability range of, the protagonists involved. Gorgon, Crystal and Lockjaw, and Karnak are all given airtime, but remain comparatively under-developed so the viewer does not so much care what happens to them. Maximus continues to develop - or have his backstory revealed to be the same as that of Loki - and Mortus is thrown into the mix to upstage them all by getting the episode's best lines.

Ultimately, "Divide And Conquer" plods along with a bunch of characters independently fleeing a coup where the usurper to the throne seems like a fairly decent guy who wants to do right by the majority of his subjects and the viewer is expected to believe that a menagerie of super-powered individuals living on the moon behind a cloaking device have not yet figured out a technology analogous to the technology that gives Stephen Hawking the ability to communicate.

For other works with Anson Mount, please check out my reviews of:
Non-Stop
In Her Shoes
City By The Sea

2/10

For other Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews, please visit my MCU Review Index Page for a relativistic listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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