The first episode of The Gifted is a marvelous take on the “until it happens to you” narrative which also manages to pull together threads of X-Men lore in a compelling and thrilling way.
In fact, it’s interesting to see two shows take on the X-Men premise this year that are not only quality, but wildly different.
Where Legion made the apparent madness of its title character the whole of its universe — a story device that made its cinematic approach grander and engaging — The Gifted brings more traditional X-Men tropes to FOX’s hour-long drama format. The X-Men may be missing, but the Mutant Underground makes for a likable proxy. Polaris, Thunderbird and Blink are well known X-Men characters and welcome additions. They may not use their codenames very often, but they echo the rich tradition of Xavier’s school. They even fight like well-trained X-Men.
If I was a betting man, I might suggest the team will be called “X-Factor” by year’s end. Then again, that name might be caught up in a trademark dispute.
But the X-Men style action and thrills is stitched together with a family drama. Or, more specifically, a narrative I like to call “until it happens to you.” Reed Strucker (oh, that name!) prosecutes mutants and though he seems sympathetic to their plight, he’s also willing to assume they are up to no good until both his children turn out to be mutants themselves. But more effective is the moment mother Caitlin (Amy Acker) must confront the truth about her children. Like Reed, she seems outwardly sympathetic, but happy to have the mutant crisis far from her home. Maintaining that level of distance means her daughter Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) still perceived a prejudice against mutants and feared that she would be rejected is she revealed her powers. Instead of rejection, though, Caitlin embraces her children and decides to protect them from whoever comes to the door.
Which I think highlights a difference between Caitlin and Reed (Stephen Moyer). When he later meets up with the his family, he grills son Andy (Percy Hynes White) about the school bullies at the dance and only states “my family is the most important thing to me” when told the Sentinel Services show up at the Strucker house shortly after Andy’s powers manifested. Until that moment — and only thanks to his specialized knowledge of the Sentinels — Reed hangs on to his conventional life. For so many, a weaponized prejudice is invisible until something like the Sentinels shows up demanding your kids. These two moments illustrate the way those dangers are unreal to affluent families until it happens to them.
Luckily, the Strucker parents are heroic and stick by their kids. Earlier X-Men stories often saw the parents rejecting their mutant children. Or, as seen in that infamous X2 moment, suggest that their kids try not being mutants; a comical and pointed analogy of similar moments children face when coming out to their parents. It is interesting to note the way the feature films used mutation as an analogy for homosexuality. On The Gifted, it seems to spread out to include its original racial connotations, but also adds mental health issues to the stew of things Marvel style mutation speaks to: issues mainstream America is uncomfortable to face.
That these ideas might present themselves on a broadcast network as mainstream as FOX is surprising.
For the moment, though, The Gifted is just ideas. They’re presented in a pretty thrilling first episode; particularly that final warehouse chase. But like any modern genre show, it will have to make those ideas work with a cast of characters we want to spend time with. And for the moment, only Marco (Sean Teale) seems to have that compelling presence. I’m more curious about him and Lorna (Emma Dumont) than I am the Strucker’s plight. They’ve made the choice to leave normal society, so its hard to see where their arc can go.
Nonetheless, I’ll keep watching The Gifted for the time being.
The Gifted airs Mondays on FOX.