I thought the previous episode (episode three) was the worst of the series thus far, but four is a step in the right direction. It has issues, but there were elements that approached the better parts of the pilot. Written by Wendy West and directed by David Straiton, it has some well-written dialogue. I mentioned in my last review that part of the problem with the series is uneven storylines, and unfortunately Karnack's and Gorgon's remain virtually unwatchable. Crystal's suffers without Maximus' presence and Auran's drags without any strong sense of menace (Mortis comes across as a goofball rather than scary), so the show is left with the stronger footings of Maximus, Black Bolt, and Medusa. Louise's story, which I wasn't a fan of prior to this episode, improved immensely once she was attached to Medusa. In terms of plot the show is far too reliant on coincidence (each member of the royal family meets a human or humans who are both helpful to their immediate needs and serves to show them that humans aren't so bad). It also has a major conceptual flaw wherein we're told (and shown) that Attilan is a secret...and then every member of the royal family immediately tells anyone they meet who they are and where they are from. While I can come up with a reason for this (see below) the show itself should be providing one.
The ratings continued to fall (I still haven't seen PVR numbers), albeit 2.3 is higher than an average season four epsiode of Agents of SHIELD. They fell less than the gap between the pilot and episode three (26% for the latter, 17% now). In terms of the key demographic the gap was also smaller (22% vs 14%).
We get a vague MCU reference from Maximus (simply referring to other superpowered individuals who are not Inhumans).
- Medusa, despite being over the top with her aggression towards Louise early on, has the best plotline and character work in the episode (it crashes into Black Bolt's towards the end as those two are reunited)
- Black Bolt still works--bit of an average episode for him, but he's functional and we get away from his banal prison buddy (Sammy)
- Louise, I'd complained about the actress previously, but here she's fine and her interactions with Medusa are (by and large) quite good (suggesting the problem previous were director-related issues rather than the actress)
- Dr. Evan Declan, once he gets to his facility, is well played and the tie-in with Maximus further emphasized that his coup (and plans to empower himself) were long-planned
- Maximus' desire to empower himself belies his stated intent to create an egalitarian Inhuman society--this is an interesting turn and I'm curious what the show will do with it
- Auran/Mortis, while this isn't the greatest of storylines, at least the show has a reason for Mortis to not just immediately fry Black Bolt (Maximus wants genetic sampling from his brother before he dies); Auran's motivation still needs work and the actress could find another expression (it's been perma-frown since the pilot)
- Why set up the premise of how important it is for Attilan to stay hidden (one of the central conflicts with Maximus) when the royal family can't shut up about it as soon as they get to earth? Maybe the idea is they feel it will be revealed given Maximus' plan anyway, but if that's so it should have been stated
- Crystal's storyline--she remains privileged and annoying (as intended, but it's a bit much); the coincidence of running into a guy who knows a vet is trying (yet another convenient coincidence--a lot of these seem written in to save time)
- The genetic council, why on earth would they say no to Maximus? They had to know he'd kill them (and why deny him anyway--what did they benefit from doing that?)
- Gorgon's plotline still doesn't work, but at least he explains why Lockjaw didn't teleport the royal family all together
- Karnack's plot is the lowlight of the episode--a romance out of nowhere (is she attracted to his concussion? what's the appeal?) and he continues to not be himself
The sooner the show gets rid of the latter two plotlines the better--right now if you were to re-cut the episodes and have both simply off-camera the show would vastly improve. I think the idea is to both humble the royal family and to show them that humans aren't so bad, but that didn't necessitate making the royals elitist assholes or automatically falling in with helpful humans wherever they went. There's a lack of sophistication that makes the plot read like a first draft. Were it not for the positive performances the show would be a much bigger mess.
I think the show is on an upward trend as it starts to collapse plotlines together and that hopefully we'll get a good conclusion to the eight-episode arc. I still think it's marginally better than The Gifted (the Fox show has better cinematography and a more streamlined plot, but it's about as by-the-numbers as it could be with virtually no character depth). Regardless, I'll be glad when The Punisher drops.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)