This review contains spoilers.
1.12 eXtraction & 1.13 x-Roads
The Gifted has had a rough couple of episodes heading into this week’s two-hour season finale. It seems like the writers took every bad tic that had been spread out in the first two thirds of the season and crammed them into the previous two episodes. I was, coming into this week’s finale, very concerned that a show that started out with such promise, the X-Menniest (X-Manliest? No, that would just have everyone be shirtless with a shock of white hair in front). It turns out I didn’t need to worry. The finale, the two episodes that close out season one, are a strong reminder of what made this show so entertaining and a return to its core X-Menness, for good and for ill.
Early in the show’s run, I made a list of everything good X-Men media has: soapy non-mutant backstories, melodramatic romance subplots, and visually interesting applications of powers. The one thing that I missed from that list? Villains with a point, and these two episodes go out of their way to build that into the show’s mythos. All but one of the show’s villains take centre stage: Campbell, Jace, Lorna and Andy.
Andy and Lauren, Fenris 2.0, do a lot of work for the story here, but like earlier in the season, the sibling relationship makes their character work actually resonate, and makes Andy’s eventual turn feel very earned. It’s also a conscious parallel to the Xavier/Magneto relationship from the comics: in the first half, the Struckers discover that Sentinel Services is hunting down Gamgam Strucker, so they go to rescue her at work. Andy and Lauren spend most of the time leading up to it bickering, and when, as lookouts, they see Sentinel Services agents approach, Andy provokes them, then whups their asses.
This conflict is well-developed through the finale. After they save Gamgam Strucker (I don’t care what her name is, we’re sticking with Gamgam), Andy actually moves out of the family’s… loan officer cubicle, or whatever they were sleeping in… to go hang with the genpop in Resistance HQ. And when they’re counted on to save the fleeing members of the Underground as Sentinel Services assaults the HQ they just discovered, they perform effectively, but not without Andy dropping some #teen snipes at Lauren and his dad. The Struckers eventually end up saving just about everyone in that underground station, through Reed and Cate’s leadership, and Lauren and Andy going Super Saiyan to cover their tracks and grease a bunch of Sentinel Services officers, but Andy’s turn comes when the family joins the rest of the underground in Nashville.
Jace is entirely absent from the first half of the finale, which is fitting, since Jace is the nexus for most of this show’s bad habits. Some of those bad habits are X-Men-related: behaving out of character to further the plot is a quintessentially X-Men thing to do, something that happens in the comics all the time, so if you look at it that way, his open hand to the Strucker family a few episodes back makes perfect sense. Other than that moment, it seems like everything that’s happened to him since this show started seems custom fit to turn him into a supervillain. His daughter is killed in a mutant attack; his memory gets screwed with so he has to relive her death; his partner kills himself and the rest of his team under the influence of some shady-ass telepaths, then his new team gets decimated when a building gets dropped on them, and the bureaucrats who run his department try and pin their failure on him. Honestly, they have a point – he’s pretty obviously bad luck – but the way the show heaped misfortune on him makes me wonder what they’re setting him up for next season.
Roderick Campbell gets some backstory to kick the finale off. We flash back to his brother, who died of cystic fibrosis while Campbell gave lectures about humanity banding together to fight the mutant menace. And then he takes a kid hostage to escape the underground. It’s not really that quick, there’s some story between, but those are the two extremes of who he is: a genius scientist with a horrible, racist vision, and an absolute coward who’ll hold a gun on a ten year old to save himself. Campbell gets X-Men dead by the end of the season, X-Men dead being the technical term for ‘presumed dead on a comic book tv show, but with no body being shown so it’s not like any work needs to be done to bring him back.’ His plane gets ripped from the sky by Lorna.
Lorna is a villain now, by the way. The Cuckoos have been pushing her towards this, but she’s kind of always been inclined towards doing whatever is necessary to protect her loved ones – the show started with her nearly killing a group of law enforcement types before she was captured. The problem here is less with her turn, and more with the revelation that she’s dealing with mental health issues, specifically that she’s bipolar. First of all, you can take the pun of a woman with magnetism powers being bipolar, you can turn it sideways and stick it up your you know where. That is garbage on like, six levels, starting with the one where this show’s pun game gets blown out of the water by blurry restaurants in one frame of The Good Place and ending with stigmatising people with mental illness. To the show’s credit, they do try and walk some of that back with Blink’s ‘I’ve had friends who are bipolar, assassination plots are not one of the symptoms’ line. And Lorna dealing with mental health problems isn’t out of line with her comics counterpart – she’s been mind-controlled so many times that she is definitely levitating some baggage along with her. But you don’t put a heel turn and the revelation of mental illness in that kind of proximity for the precise reason that it’s going to invite comparisons, or be inevitably used to excuse the heel turn.
And what a heel turn it is: she rips the engines off of a plane taking off with Campbell, the racist Senator that Esme was working for in the flashback from a couple of weeks back; and a bunch of randos of likely varying opinions on the human/mutant conflict. This is pointed out to her by Marcos, who watches her kill tens of people, but she ignores him because the Cuckoos have been whispering “it needs to be done” in her ear for a couple of episodes now. Once her villain act is complete, she disappears, then shows up at the new Underground HQ dressed like she went shopping at Judas Priest’s maternity store, as she and Esme recruit a bunch of surviving undergrounders for their new Brotherhood, including Fade, Sage and Andy.
To its immense credit, The Gifted leaves the characters in a significantly different status quo than when it started. The Struckers are now deep in the battle, and one of them is on a different side. Campbell is dead, but the Brotherhood did nothing to eliminate the Hound programme. Jace, having had his nose rubbed in countless indignities, has quit at Sentinel Services and will likely show up as an anti-mutant hitman or something. And the Underground is in Nashville in a new safehouse with no amenities or infrastructure, and they’re down five key members, four to a resurgent Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. That’s a lot of movement in a short period of time. Combine that with the melodrama, explosions, plot holes, dropped plot lines, and general sense of fun that stuck with the show through even the dull times, and you have the quintessential X-Men TV show. Season one of The Gifted was far better than expected, and is set up really nicely for the next one.
– Campbell’s lecture at the beginning of the finale is almost an inversion of Cassandra Nova’s monologue to Larry Trask at the beginning of Grant Morrison’s run, in New X-Men #114. Nova’s point to Trask was that neanderthals were wiped out by the new, faster, stronger, better model of human, and they needed sentinels to fight back. Campbell’s lecture seemed like a conscious invocation of that, but by inverting it, pointing out that homo sapiens were genetically inferior to neanderthals except for their ability to band together.
– Interesting that in addition to working in tandem, Lauren and Andy’s powers work on each other. That’s not usually the case in the comics. Siblings usually neutralise the other’s power – Havok and Cyclops, Banshee and Black Tom, Multiple Man and the baby Multiple Man he made Siryn have…
– Blink tells Lorna about bad guys in her family’s past, a pretty clear reference to Apocalypse, who is her distant grandfather.
– Not to get too political in the Easter eggs section of the review of a show explicitly about discrimination that had their racist demogogue character echo a prominent real world politician or anything, but the choice to hold an anti-mutant conference in Charlotte, NC in the show was a pretty clear slap over the anti-trans bathroom legislation that was quite the to-do recently.
– Otto von Strucker’s lab partner’s name was Madeleine Risman, and while she doesn’t have an obvious comics analogue, there was a Matthew Risman who was a prominent Purifier soldier introduced in Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s torture porn bloodbath mid-aughts school book, New X-Men.
– Evangeline is probably Evangeline Whedon, in the comics a mutant rights activist and lawyer who can shapeshift into a dragon. She was introduced by Chris Claremont and Salvador Larocca in 2003 in the pages of X-Treme X-Men.
– I’m not sure if it was unfinished sound effects on my screener or if this is actually in there, but I wasn’t kidding about Lauren and Andy going Super Saiyan. The sound effect when they used their power is the same one that they use when Goku is radiating a ton of power when he goes SS1.
– The Nashville HQ has a sign outside that says “J. Kirby’s Feed Store.” I don’t need to tell you who J. Kirby is referencing in this case, right?
– I bet you Sage’s departure to the new Brotherhood is a ruse. Sage was a spy for Xavier in the Hellfire Club in the comics, and this show knows it’s X-history enough to lampshade this.
– Angry Dave Grohl, the underground driver with invisibility, is named Fade. He was a hitman in the comics, killed by a triggered-sense X-23.
– Thanks so much for sticking with us through season one! Here’s hoping season two is as much fun to watch and review. Hope you survived the experience!
Read Jim’s review of the previous episode, 3 x 1, here.