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We're three episodes into Marvel's Inhumans, and little by little, we're learning each character's backstory. "Divide and Conquer" continued to provide us with a series of flashbacks into Black Bolt's childhood, hinting at the family dynamic between the prince and his sibling. Along the way though, these scenes also cast a darker light on the character's history, and raised a disturbing question of just how well we truly know the Crown King of Attilan...
Black Bolt's story isn't as innocent as we first thought.
Black Bolt's body was transformed when he was exposed to the Terrigen Mists as a teenager. He emerged from the cocoon as the most powerful Inhuman of all, imbuing his voice with the power to level an entire city. The first two episodes revealed a brief flashback where we saw the young Black Bolt speak to his parents with tragic consequences. At first glance, this seemed to be an accident, and we presumed that the Prince had no idea what would happen if he spoke.
However, "Divide and Conquer" revealed that we were wrong. The episode showed us the young Prince shortly after he went through Terrigenesis, and gave us a sense of just how his parents reacted to this dangerous new power. The Genetic Council wished to keep Black Bolt in isolation, just as they would later do with Mortis. Black Bolt's parents refused to allow this to happen though, insisting that he would become King in spite of his powers.
This forces us to reinterpret the earlier flashback. In that scene, both Black Bolt and his parents knew what would happen if he spoke, yet he did so anyway, raising the question of 'why?' Clearly, this wasn't an act of wilful, premeditated murder. Rather, it's a moment where the young Prince's self-control snapped, and as a result, he killed his own parents. In legal terms, we'd probably define this as an act of manslaughter.
But how does this event change Black Bolt's story? It means that his experience as an Inhuman literally begins with a moment in which he lost self-control, and as a result killed his parents. A moment of thoughtless anger and frustration left Attilan without a King and Queen. In this context, it's quite incredible that Black Bolt ever ascended to the throne. You can also imagine just what this must have done to the relationship between Black Bolt and Maximus.
Can (and should) we really trust Black Bolt?
Time and again, the Inhumans have cautioned one another to trust their King, but this flashback raises an ominous question — To what extent can we actually trust him? Black Bolt's backstory is a dark and twisted one that led to the death of his parents. No doubt, guilt and grief have caused Black Bolt to become overly cautious, and that fits with the decisions that we've seen him make so far. After all, why did it take Black Bolt so long to help the newly-empowered Inhumans of Earth? All evidence seems to indicate that the King of Attilan is hesitant and indecisive.
Meanwhile, the first three episodes have deliberately contrasted Black Bolt's rule with Maximus's quest for power. Black Bolt is silent and distant, communicating in a form of sign-language that only the Royal Family can truly understand. He is a distant King, one symbolically removed from his people, and whose own power acts as an insurmountable barrier. In contrast, Maximus spends his time among the people, and has supreme confidence in his power to communicate. Maximus brings people on board by empathizing with them, by offering them a vision of a better world. In short, he is the very antithesis of Black Bolt, and that's why his coup is proving so successful. Black Bolt simply hasn't been a particularly good King.
Not only is Black Bolt indecisive and remote, he's also dangerously powerful. Inhumans is heavily inspired by Paul Jenkins's popular 1998 comic book series, and that introduced the concept that Inhuman powers are granted as predictive evolution. Somehow, the Inhuman genome foresees the needs of the future, and grants the necessary powers to ensure the race's survival. We've already seen strong hints of this same concept in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, where Lash was endowed with his powers to combat the threat of Hive.
So why would the Terrigen Mists give Black Bolt the power to literally destroy the entire city of Attilan? What evolutionary need does this specific powerset predict? Black Bolt is essentially a human atom bomb, primed to go off at a whim. There has to be a reason for this power. While it may still be one that secures the future of the Inhuman race, it's likely to also be a reason that brings chaos to Attilan — possibly even doom.
So here's the question: Should we trust Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans? It's worth remembering that the Royal Family aren't your traditional superheroes. They're not on Earth to fight crime, or to make a stand. Instead, they're simply on the run, hoping to return to Attilan and restore the status quo. There's a tendency to assume that the stars in any Marvel TV series are heroes, but in this case, that might not be true at all...