This The Gifted episode review contains spoilers.
The Gifted Season 2 Episode 9
Last season, we talked a lot about the boxes every good X-Men story checked: soapy melodrama and interesting applications of powers. This season, they’re aiming for the tropes that most good X-Men stories have, but those are such tightropes to walk that they’ve in turn sunk other promising ones. Matt Nix admitted as much to us when we talked to him back before SDCC: complicated family dynamics and everyone, good or bad, having at least a shred of a point.
This is incredibly difficult. Even in the best X-Men stories they usually don’t bother giving the humans a relatable perspective. But this season of The Gifted, and this particular episode, have really nailed it on every front.
This is not to say that the line between good and bad hasn’t been blurred on both sides. It has – John’s behavior over the last few weeks has become increasingly erratic as the pressure (and creeping despair at failing in his mission) have mounted on him. That has him bad cop-ing the hell out of everyone this week. He manipulates Marcos back into the game, then Blink into kidnapping an executive from Regimen to help find out what the Inner Circle is after. And then he threatens and terrifies the man into helping them figure out their plan, to the point where Blink walks off because he’s being such a jackass.
John’s moral collapse aside, though, this week was a Hellfire Club week, and they crushed it. Reva is ice cold about the Inner Circle’s torture of Rebecca, setting it up so that Andy is inadvertently (maybe? I’m not sold that Reva didn’t see it coming) forced to choose between protecting his girl or protecting the Inner Circle, and he chooses his coworkers, accidentally killing Rebecca as she’s getting ready to destroy Reva, the Cuckoos and Polaris.
If I have to find a complaint with the episode, it’s probably that their attempts to humanize Rebecca failed at humanizing her, but succeeded in showing how complicated her story is. The cold open was a flashback to when she got dimed out to Sentinel Services by her parents. It’s a rough, sad betrayal of a daughter by her parents, but she’s also a creepy-ass weirdo who likes to turn people inside out, so it’s hard not to see the narc position here. I think it undermines her attack on the Inner Circle, though – by failing to humanize her in this scene, her attack on Reva et al just feels like wanton revenge rather than a lashing out by a supremely broken person.
Reva’s ultimate plan is to get into Regimen because they’re the ones who manufacture the power dampening collars. Once inside, they’ll shut all the collars down, rapidly expanding the size of the mutant revolution. And what do you know: it works, and all hell breaks loose to close the episode. Even with the chaos that comes from their victory, it’s hard not to see where they’re coming from after hearing about the torture inflicted by the collars. The regime running the US in The Gifted seems pretty shitty.
Even the C-plot this week was good. Clan Strucker is still with Dr. Reisman, working to destroy her lab full of data on a mutant cure. Reisman is the rare sympathetic X-Men human villain, here, doing everything she can to be nice and positive to Lauren and Reed while also planning on what amounts to genocide. She’s sympathetic because she’s convinced she’s trying to help, though, and that’s a tough, smart, interesting perspective on what’s traditionally been either boring as hell or played super over the top. Her research is eventually destroyed by Nathan going Over 9000 in her lab, and his pivot from dutiful lab assistant to renegade terrorist blowing up a medical lab wasn’t really given the space to breathe to make it convincing. Again, these are minor quibbles.
The most effective part of the story (and the season so far, for that matter) has been the ongoing radicalization of Jace Turner. I’d be interested to know how much research went into his story for this season, because it feels a little like a true crime documentary when he’s around. He’s completely convinced of his righteousness, embittered because of… well… a ton of stuff, and gradually being talked deeper into extremism within the Purifiers, until we get him hunting mutants on the streets of DC, pinning Thunderbird to a dumpster and then capturing him. In a world where right wing violence is on the rise and sheriff’s deputies are getting fired for wearing QAnon patches on their official gear, getting a glimpse into a person’s soul as they’re descending into extremism is interesting and genuinely terrifying.
The Gifted broke at midseason with one of its finest episodes yet. Let’s hope they keep getting stronger.
LOOSE GENETIC MATERIAL
-Not a ton this week, mostly because I couldn’t recognize the mutants who escaped prison in the end sequence: I think we have seen the albino before, but I couldn’t pin down the Biotic God who rips a shockwave through the fencing, or Col. Roy Mustang with the lighter.
-Clarice teleporting the guy into the trunk, then bringing John and Marcos through off-screen is the most X-Men thing I’ve seen this season, and it’s extra sweet because you know they did it because of budgetary constraints. Well done, gang.