As someone who enjoyed the pilot, episode three was a step down in quality. Written by Rich Cleveland and directed by Chris Fisher, the problems of the show were accented and I hope episode four can course correct. Three episodes in I now know what element of Game of Thrones, beyond family drama, that Scott Buck was trying to imitate: multiple storylines. There are no less than 7 storylines that are ongoing (Black Bolt, Medusa, Gorgon, Karnack, Maximus (including Crystal, but she may be breaking off on her own), Auran, and Louise (which seems to have merged with Medusa's). This is an enormous amount to handle in 40 minute chunks and I think creatively they bit off more than they could chew. This episode also suffers from missing development--necessary investment by the audience into plot and character. It's frustrating because there are good elements within the show, including this episode, but so much of it seems rushed (it's reminiscent of Batman v Superman where WB was so eager to get to Justice League that they were rushing through the narrative--I'm not sure what we're rushing to in this case, admittedly).
Official ratings for the episode still aren't out (early numbers can be found here), but it did fall (still above a typical Agents of SHIELD season four episode). It will be interesting to see how the ratings pan out--the quality of the next couple of episodes is going to make a big difference.
We get two oblique MCU references in this episode, both in the same scene: one to Spider-Man and another to the Thing; both are in passing, but it's welcome given how parsimonious the Netflix shows are with them.
- Black Bolt's storyline (the police and prison guards are pretty hastily put together, but I still think it hangs together)
- Medusa's storyline (other than her ridiculous attempt to talk an ATM into giving her money)
- Maximus' storyline (I'm not sure at this stage we really needed the flashback where he's removed from the line of succession, but if anyone needed extra motivation for him, there it is)
- Anson Mount, Serinda Swan, and Iwan Rheon are the only actors who have successfully given their characters emotional weight and that continues here
- Gorgon/Auran fight--it isn't perfect by any means, but for the most part I thought it worked
- Mortis (he's very underdeveloped and a little goofy, but I found him oddly endearing--his look reminds me of Isaac from The Orville)
- The hatred for Inhumans--it reminds me of The Gifted where neither creative team thought any explanation was necessary for this conflict (in Buck's case, maybe he thought his audience were familiar enough with Agents of SHIELD to not need one?); I find it constantly irritating, since just one or two quick scenes could have established it
- The Inhumans cast system--no one in the show has made an argument for why the status quo (eg the royal family) is a good thing; Maximus, despite being willing to kill to get what he wants, actually has a point in the conflict and there's been no effort to create a counterpoint (the show seems to assume that because Maximus is willing to do anything to succeed that provides the counterbalance, but that doesn't work)
- A lack of set-up and development--this plagued this episode--I feel like each episode needed another 10 minutes or so to flesh out secondary characters and plots--a lot of the issues below go away with that development (there was a noticeable improvement in that respect when you compare the pilot to the theatrical release because of the extra run time)
- Flashbacks (child actors! But even Black Bolt's parent's and the genetic council guy are pretty wooden)
- Karnack's storyline (taking away his ability removes the only thing that's interesting about him; the weird drug plantation people are just as random as Gorgon's friends--there's no investment in them; Karnack babbling about his family is also silly (I guess we blame the concussion, although it's exactly what Gorgon did in episode two); on the plus side, at least he realises he's concussed and we get a tiny piece of his backstory); Ken Leung has had some good moments, so I think the material here is holding him back
- Gorgon's storyline (has the same support problem as above, albeit arriving at the conflict helped--I still have no idea why the beach guys side with Gorgon, but it's pretty fortunate they want to die for him...just because--the reason offered is pretty goofy)
- Auran's storyline (we're not told enough about Mortis or anything about her other assistants, while her motives in helping Maximus remain underdeveloped; her acting is also pretty stilted)
- Louise's storyline (thankfully at an end as Medusa takes her hostage; the acting was a bit better than the pilot; we don't know enough about the character to get invested)
- Crystal (the acting is still weak, although there were glimmers of improvement)
While I thought this was a weak episode, I'm still hopeful that as the plot tightens things will improve. Whatever you think of the show there are quality actors here and it would be a shame for Marvel to lose them just because this season is flawed. For fans of the show there is some hope out there: despite all the negativity in the press some are moving beyond the rhetoric and in terms of buzz it's still a bigger deal than the critically approved The Gifted (it's only real TV competition at this stage, as the Inhumans series will be over by the time The Punisher and The Runaways debut).
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)