A Look at The Gifted- Series Premiere: “eXposed”

An X-Men show without the X-Men?  HeyLegion made it work.  And it works again here, too.  Welcome to The Gifted.

Up until recently, it didn’t seem like Fox had really taken full advantage of the treasure trove of characters and mythology at their disposal with the X-Men franchise.  Sure, most of the films have been good, but there was still a ton of untapped potential.  We started seeing that potential come to light after seeing what Tim Miller did with Deadpool in 2016.

Continuing in 2017, James Mangold delivered a quality film first and quality X-Men film second with Logan, and Josh Boone’s upcoming take on New Mutants in 2018 seems to embracing it’s horror element, based on interviews.

And I could gush all day about how Noah Hawley breathed new life into not just X-Men, but comic book shows in general with Legion on FX.

And while X-Men: Apocalypse has its mixed reception- I myself still enjoy the film- I’m remaining hopeful that Simon Kinberg has, as he said, learned from the mistakes of past films and delivers a quality product in the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix film. But even with all of that in mind, there was still a lot of material to mine.  X-Factor, Exiles, Alpha Flight, the list goes onward.

Then at San Diego Comic Con of this year, we got our first look at The Gifted, a new X-Men television series that, like Legion before it, seemed to be in a world where there are no X-Men.  It looked like a more intimate and personal story based around this Strucker family.

And like when we got the first trailer for Legion, I was impressed.  I wasn’t as familiar with showrunner Matt Nix’s work compared to Noah Hawley, but the trailer and concept had me hooked.  And now, here we are with another take on the X-Men franchise with The Gifted.  Let’s start of with the pilot episode: “eXposed.”

The series begins on a rainy night as police officers are in hot pursuit of a mutant on the run.  The mutant comes to a stop and, after struggling with her powers, creates a portal that she leaps into, leaving the officers in a blink.  Meet Clarice Fong, AKA Blink, played by Jamie Chung.

But the authorities aren’t the only ones keeping track of Clarice.  We cut to three other mutants who are tracking her.  They are: Lorna Dane, AKA Polaris, played by Emma Dumont, Marcos Diaz, AKA Eclipse, played by Sean Teale, and John Proudstar, AKA Thunderbird, played by Blair Redford.  It’s hard for them to track Clarice since she’s on the move, but they’re getting warm.

Marcos shines a light from his hand and finds wreckage from the police cruisers, while John finally zeroes in on Clarice’s location.  The three find and confront her in a building, and she’s worried that they’re cops, but the three mean no harm.  In fact, they’re aware that Clarice has broken out of a mutant detention center.  So, they want to get her somewhere safe.

But the authorities have found their location and set up outside, just as Lorna kills the lights.  The officers demand Clarice surrender herself, but Lorna goes on the offensive- using her power to move the cruisers.  But it’s not enough, as the officers open fire.

Marcos shines a beam of light to blind the officers, giving the mutants a chance to escape, but in the midst of the chaos, one officer manages to land a shot on Marcos. An enraged Lorna strikes back, but is soon overwhelmed and overpowered as several officers tase her, leaving her in the hands of the authorities while Clarice, Marcos, and John retreat.

We then cut to Belleview Acres High School, where Reed and Caitlin Strucker, played respectively by Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker, speak with a school official about how their son, Andy, is being bullied and tormented.  Reed believes that his son needs help, and if he doesn’t get it, Reed will sue the school.  The school official leaves just as Reed receives several text messages- he’s needed at Garland to speak with a suspect.

At the Strucker home in North Atlanta, Lauren Strucker, played by Silver St. Cloud herself, Natalie Ayn Lynd, is trying to pick dresses while talking to her boyfriend, Jack, played by Steffan Argus.  She then eats with Caitlin and Andy, played by Percy Hynes White.  Andy explains that, in social studies, his class had a debate about a potential law to test and monitor people with the X-gene.

At the Garland Detention Center, Reed and Carla Jackson, played by Toks Olagundoye, come face to face with Lorna and read her charges- as she stands accused of murdering two officers.  Plus, there’s an enhanced sentencing for using her mutant abilities.  Reed offers to lower the charges in exchange for Lorna’s cooperation. More than that, he knows the mutant underground has aided many fugitives.

He unlocks and enters Lorna’s plastic cell just as Lorna uses her powers on Reed’s knee, threatening to tear out the screws in his knee and show him real attempted murder.  Lorna is a dick to knees.

But Reed has an ace that he plays, as there’s a factor that Lorna is unaware of- he shows her something on a form.  We don’t see it, but based on Lorna’s reaction, it’s surprising news.  Reedwill ask the court to assign Lorna a lawyer, giving her a decision.  He leaves the cell while Lorna rages as her powers go haywire.

That evening, just as Lauren is set to leave for the school party and is surprised to find Andy in the passenger seat.  His excuse is that he doesn’t get to go out on weekends often, and while Lauren doesn’t think Andy will want to attend the dance, Andy is used to the treatment he’s received from his peers at this point.

At the dance, while Lauren meets up Jack, Andy sits on the sidelines and keeps to himself, but then spots some tough looking guys staring at him from across the floor. He leaves, but they confront and force him into the locker room, where they douse him with hot water from the showers.

But they shouldn’t have done this.  As Andy’s screams intensify, the walls and soon, the entire building begin to tremble.  They soon give way and start to collapse, throwing the party into a frenzy as everyone begins to flee.  Lauren rushes to find Andy, and just when some of the ceiling is about to crush her, she creates a barrier that shields her from the debris.

Still raging, Andy strikes back at his attackers just as Lauren finds him.  He’s immediately apologetic about what’s happened, but there’s no time for that. The two leave the school.

At the mutant safe house, Sage, played by Hayley Lovitt, advises Clarice to lay low for a few days until the others can decide where to move her.  In another room, John stitches up Marcos while the two discuss how they can go after Lorna.  But the odds are against them- they don’t have the numbers and aren’t getting help from the X-Men or Brotherhood of Mutants when no one even knows if they exist anymore.

Right now, the mutants are on their own, but being picked off one by one.  Creating an army would put all of the mutants and their home at risk.  The two are then called to a room where they watch news reports of a mutant attack at Belleview High- an attack that may lead to involvement from federal authorities.

Andy and Lauren explain to Caitlin what happened, with Andy saying that he couldn’t stop what was happening because he was so angry.  Lauren tells her mother that it’s time to face facts: Andy is a mutant.  And this is how a mutant’s abilities first manifest- stressful or dangerous moments.  Plus, how do you think Lauren got out?  That’s right, Caitlin, both of your kids are mutants.  Surprise!

Lauren brings up an incident from three years ago where the family was almost hit by a truck.  Almost.  For weeks, Caitlin believed it was a miracle, but it wasn’t.  Caitlin asks why Lauren never came forward with this before, but her argument is that her father puts mutants in jail.  Although Caitlin counters by saying that Reed just prosecutes the mutants- the ones that hurt people.

Then, two Sentinel Services officers pay the Strucker home an unannounced visit.  One of the officers, Jace Turner, played by Coby Bell, informs her that he needs to speak with Andy and Lauren.  The two are aware that Reed Strucker is a prosecutor, since the kids will need an attorney, but based on the amended Patriot Act, the priority is to secure the safety of the community first.

The officers force their way in, but the two kids jump into action.  Andy yells, causing the house to tremble, and Lauren creates a barrier that gives the three enough time to hop in one of their cars.  Still, officers outside open fire on the vehicle, but after rushing out of the garage, the three manage to escape.  For now.

Later, Caitlin calls Reed to inform him that, surprise, his kids weren’t attacked by mutants, they are mutants.  More surprising is that the family received a visit from a federal agency like Sentinel Services.  Reed can’t talk to Cal about this since this is way above Cal’s jurisdiction.  And the only reason the family escaped is because Sentinel Services didn’t have enough time to put together a full team.

He later catches up with the family and tells them that it’s time to go to a place where the mutant laws are looser.  And they have to be careful.  Last time that Sentinel Services got involved with one of Reed’s cases, the suspect disappeared.  Reed won’t let that happen to his family.

At the Central Courthouse Building, Officer Turner needs access to Reed’s files, as he’s just up and vanished.  Speaking of Reed, he calls Carla, who tells him that Sentinel Services is in the office.  He needs Carla to get the case files on the mutant network investigation while he gets his family to a safe place.  Carla knows she could get arrested or disbarred, but this is Reed’s family at stake.

So the Strucker family is holed up at the Caravan Hotel in North Atlanta, where Andy and Lauren have a chance to talk.  Andy is still upset over losing control and causing this, though Lauren assures him that being a mutant gets better.  She explains that her ability is to push air or water together, but it’s harder with other stuff.  Though she’s glad that she can finally be open about this with her mother.

The two then head to a vending machine, where Lauren uses her abilities to score some free popcorn.  Lauren’s a thief.  Andy tries to use his powers to do the same, but the memories of the attack cause his powers to go haywire and he destroys the vending machine, hurting Lauren in the process.  The two leave, but not Andy takes a snack.

Back at the mutant safe house, Clarice thanks Marcos for helping her and then asks if he and his friends run this group.  They don’t, though.  The network is nationwide and was founded after the anti-mutant laws became worse- this was just before the X-Men disappeared.  The building itself has been abandoned since Oakwood.  It was John and Lorna who brought Marcos to the building.

But now the plan is to rescue Lorna.  Given that Clarice escaped a prison using portals, Marcos figures that she can use that same power to get someone in, but it doesn’t work like that- she can’t go into a place she can’t see.  Easier if it’s visible.  To demonstrate her point, she creates a portal in the ceiling that she uses to transport the dog’s chew toy.  She ruins it in the process.  Clarice hates dog toys.

Then Marcos receives a call from Reed, who needs help getting his family across the border.  Despite being involved with a case against Marcos, Reed assures Marcos that he can make it worth his while by helping Lorna who, turns out, also goes by the name Polaris.  Of course.  When Marcos agrees to help, Reed tells him about Polaris’ medical situation: she’s pregnant.

Next morning, Reed and Caitlin discuss the upcoming meeting with Marcos, but then talk about how hard it’s been for mutants.  They spent so much time fighting each other, with innocents getting hurt or killed in the process.  The conversation is interrupted when Reed spots a Sentinel Services drone in the distance, scanning the neighborhood.  In due time, it will be able find Reed’s car and license plate.

Since their car isn’t an option, the family finds a new opportunity when Laura uses her ability to stop a man from entering his laundry truck.  The family leaves in their new vehicle.  Laura’s a thief.

After a Stan Lee cameo, Reed enters a bar and receives a light sign from Marcos, who is waiting in a corner.  He learns that Lorna is in the main detention center in Garland. Reed promises to help Marcos, but only when his family is safe.  As such, Marcos writes down an address and tells Reed to bring his family there.  Tonight.  Reed, though, is to stay with Marcos until he save Lorna.

At the Mutant Underground Headquarters, Clarice fixes the dog’s squeaky toy and later heads upstairs to explore the compound.  She tells John that Marcos ran off after he got a phone call about helping a family.  Marcos’ explanation for not telling anyone- and trusting Clarice to secrecy- was that he didn’t want to get anyone involved.  John elects to leave to find Marcos.  After all, he found Clarice, so he can find Marcos.

The Strucker family is still on the road and the kids get into some bickering when they finally arrive at Marcos’ location.  Marcos promises supplies for the family until they arrive at the border.  Once under the wall, the family will receive new IDs.

But they’re not alone, as the authorities soon arrive and surround the group.  Officer Turner orders them to surrender and isn’t in the mood for negotiations, but then John and Clarice arrive.  John senses that the Sentinel Spiders are being deployed.

Indeed, they are.  One of the spiders latches onto one of John’s legs, but Marcos uses his light ability to burn through the spider.  It’s not enough, though, as the Sentinel just removes its damaged leg and continues attacking.

When everyone arrives at a dead end, John urges Clarice to use her portal ability, but it’s too dangerous for her, as she can’t see where she’s going.  She concentrates as hard as she can while the others fight off the approaching Sentinel Spiders.  When Clarice finally creates a working portal to the compound and the others start making their way through it. Except for Andy, who uses his powers to obliterate the Sentinels.

He gets through, but Reed takes a bullet to the leg and is unable to enter the portal, leaving him separated from his family as the episode comes to a close.

Wow.  Color me very impressed with the start of The Gifted.  It’s a new, but very familiar world.  Between Matt Nix’s writing and Bryan Singer’s direction for the pilot, we’re given a very humane story that puts focus not on the X-Men or Brotherhood, but on the families, outcasts, and those who may not have been lucky enough to be accepted to Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Mutants.  They’re gone now.  Very similar to Logan earlier this year, we’re in a world where mutants seem to be all but vanished.  Well, sort of.  With Logan and the knowledge that, based on the ending, we know that there will be new mutants like Laura who will learn to be something besides weapons.  But similar to how in Logan, we didn’t get every minute detail of what happened to the X-Men, the same applies here.

Where are the X-Men?  What happened to Magneto’s Brotherhood?  Do they exist anymore?  We’re never told, and I like that ambiguity.  Were they wiped out?  Or maybe they’ve gone into hiding, similar to the scenario presented in X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Regardless of what happened, this story isn’t about the X-Men, nor is it on as big of a scale.  At least, not yet.

As such, the storytelling and direction are much more intimate compared to what we’ve seen Bryan Singer do with his work on the X-Men films.  Power level displays aren’t tossed around for visual eye candy, and the effects are, of course, nowhere near the caliber of any X-Men film at the moment, but that’s fine.  They don’t need to be.  And when we do see mutant powers manifest, they look great.

In addition, I love that, similar to X-Men: First Class we’re dealing with some inexperienced mutants here.  It’s a real struggle for Clarice to channel a portal compared to how effortlessly she can do it in Days of Future Past.  And when Andy’s powers manifest, it really does feel like a coming of age moment for him that he can’t control or fully understand.

And that’s well-illustrated in Lauren’s conversation with Andy about how using your powers feels like a sneeze that just happens or putting your hand out of the window of a moving car and guiding the air.  Being a mutant is something you can’t come to terms with when you first realize it, but over time, it becomes second nature.

By the way, very clever on the show’s part that Andy’s power is to rip things apart and Lauren’s ability is to pull them together.

I like the idea of framing this all around one family’s struggle.  The stakes feel more personable to Reed since it’s his family that’s in danger, pitting him against the Sentinel Services.  But with Andy and Lauren essentially coming out to their parents about being mutants, especially Lauren having spent so much time withholding the truth about her abilities, it’s given more emotional weight.

The pacing of the pilot is also well-executed.  The opening sequence with Clarice and finish with Polaris’ abduction is fantastic and thrusts you right into the world with mutants on the run, but following that, we get a quieter scene that establishes Andy’s plight and the torment he faces at school, thus setting up the moment when his powers finally manifest.

My point is that nothing feels rushed here, especially when so many characters have to be set up in a world that some audiences will be familiar with due to their knowledge of the X-Men, and even that’s thrown for a curve when we learn that the X-Men and Brotherhood may not exist anymore.

There are a lot of nice Easter Eggs and nods to previous X-Men lore that I loved and am sure many caught.  These made the comic fan in me giddy, whether it was Polaris being housed in a plastic prison similar to the ones that housed Magneto in the X-Men films, or the fact that the ringtone for Marcos’ phone is the theme to the 1992 animated X-Men cartoon.

Speaking of Magneto, I have a fun, completely unfounded theory.  So Magneto wasn’t in Logan, right?  And we know that, based on comic mythology, Magneto has a connection with Polaris.  I’ll leave it at that for now.  But maybe Erik had a feeling that Polaris was with child, so he hightailed it into obscurity.  I’m just spitballing.  It wouldn’t makes sense timeline-wise, but as Deadpool said, these timelines are confusing.

Overall, The Gifted is off to a strong start.  While it may not be as thought-provoking as Legion, it doesn’t have to be.  It just needed to tell a solid story, and it does so with interesting characters, great action and emotional drama, and making the stakes feel more personable with one family’s journey on the run.  They have no X-Men to rely on, just a mutant underground and each other.

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