The Gifted keeps things moving at a swift pace with a second episode that balances multiple storylines and offers plenty of mutant action.
With its second episode, ‘rX’, FOX’s The Gifted demonstrates a real knack for juggling multiple storylines, while reminding everyone just how versatile an allegory mutantdom really is. Last week’s pilot episode nicely split the difference between setting up the circumstances of the series’ post-X-Men world and introducing the audience to the Strucker family, who’ve found themselves on the lam now that both children have exhibited some pretty powerful mutant abilities. But after an action-packed first outing directed by Bryan Singer, the question was whether or not the series could maintain that level of energy and if it would drop the ball on the various storylines it saw jump off the starting block in ‘eXposed’.
As it turns out, the series has no intention of slowing things down, and it’s even brought in Underworld director Len Wiseman as proof (provided that gets your juices juicing). ‘rX’ delivers a solid example of how to follow up an impressive premiere episode, as the series doesn’t let its foot up off the gas. The result is a fast-paced hour of television the quickly picks up from last week’s cliffhanger before expanding the world of hurt the Struckers and their new friends find themselves in. More impressive, perhaps, is the way the episode operates within a series of relatively confined spaces but doesn’t make it feel as though the storytelling has been restricted in any significant way. In fact, ‘rX’ makes good use of its lack of space to create tension within its three main story threads: Reed Strucker’s interrogation by Jace Turner, Polaris’s no good, terrible, horrible, very bad first day in lock-up, and Blink’s powers going on the fritz, putting everyone in the Mutant Underground’s secret headquarters in danger.
The strength of the second episode is largely the result of how the hour is structured. The three pronged attack (four, if you count when Kate and Marcos discover the misery of the mutant healthcare system, leaving Lauren and Andy with Thunderbird and an ailing Blink) positions the portal madness at MUHQ as the driving episodic narrative, while the other two, though still given more or less equal screen time, are meant to drive a pair of serialized stories that will carry on into the weeks to come. It’s purposeful storytelling that keeps the stakes high, and gives the choices the characters make necessary weight in the series’ early going.
While juggling various plot threads, ‘rX’ also manages to pick where ‘eXposed’ left off in terms of the series’ world building. The most significant advancement there comes when the disappearance of the X-Men and the Brotherhood is mentioned by Jace Turner who describes the July incident that took his daughter’s life in a way that suggests just how big an event it really was. Not only did it rob Turner of his child, but also it apparently was a big enough tragedy to have opened the door for the government’s crackdown on those with mutant abilities.
Referencing the X-Men is a good way to get most viewers’ ears to perk up, but it also gives The Gifted a unique mystery to solve that’s destined to provide it with more than a few names to drop as the season moves on. And not to let such an opportunity pass it by, the series quickly adds the Mutant Liberation Front to its collection of x-gene-carrying groups it has managed to casually reference in its two hours of existence. But Turner’s mention of the July event and the Mutant Liberation Front does more than prove The Gifted‘s Marvel mutant bona fides, it further explains why the world is as fearful of mutants as it is, while intimating yet another not-so subtle real-world equivalent to the mighty mutant metaphor.
After so many X-Men movies, the device is incredibly familiar by now, but given how well The Gifted has used it so far, up to and including Kate and Marcos’ trip to one of the few hospitals that admit mutants, the effectiveness of the representation is undeniable, and though it’s not exactly used sparingly, it’s not worn out its welcome either. Besides, the writers have managed to keep their characters busy enough – what with Polaris being attacked and her unborn child’s life put in jeopardy, and Reed turning the tables on Turner – that even the most transparent symbolism can get a pass. That might not be true as the season progresses, but by that point, hopefully The Gifted will have found different ways to make its point. And with the introduction of Garret Dillahunt’s Dr. Roderick Campbell, and the Rio De Janero Easter egg the accompanies his arrival, it seems the series will have no shortage of ways to distract itself.
In all, ‘rX’ is a strong second outing for a series that hit the ground running in its premiere. With its demonstrated ability to handle multiple ongoing story lines and still deliver a solid episodic installment, The Gifted is off to a great start. And although strong performances from Amy Acker, Sean Teale, Emma Dumont, and Stephen Moyer suggest it may not need to drop X-Men hints every episode, the world building the series has done to this point has made an already absorbing series even more so.
The Gifted continues next Monday with ‘eXodus’ @8pm on FOX.
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