Season 1 of FOX’s The Gifted ends on a note promising a different kind of conflict that goes well beyond the battle between humans and mutants, and instead opens the door for a classic mutant rivalry to be redrawn down ideological lines. The X-Men and the Brotherhood may no longer exist in the world that Matt Nix created for this series, but the legacies of both groups still have a part to play in how the series ultimately shakes out. And with season 2 now a sure thing, the show brings about an end to what has been an uneven first season by splitting its heroes apart and ostensibly recreating the X-Men and the Hellfire Club.
Whether or not either side will begin referring to themselves or one another as such remains to be seen, but the series wasn’t at all shy about name dropping the X-Men, the Brotherhood, or the Hellfire Club, though it didn’t exactly go all-in when it came time to deliver the goods on the name of Lorna’s father — either his birth name or the one he’d come to be known by on account of his powers. The closest The Gifted got to saying “Magneto” was a brief flashback of Polaris in a mental hospital playing with the medallion the Master of Magnetism wore on his iconic helmet.
It isn’t difficult to figure out what the scene was trying to accomplish. It worked as a bit of fan service that, like the series itself, was enjoyable but nevertheless came up a little short. Given how rights to characters work, there’s likely a legal document detailing why Esme Frost never referred to Polaris’ famous father by name, but in not doing so — for whatever reason — The Gifted created an unnecessary headache for itself as fans and soon-to-be published thinkpieces will no doubt take issue with the lack of verbal confirmation on Lorna’s parentage. Still, the medallion serves as confirmation enough, and for those who, like me, don’t really care whether or not the word “Magneto” is ever spoken on the series, the two-hour season finale still feels like a step in the right direction for a show that seriously sagged in the middle as the human/mutant conflict quickly grew stale.
The far more interesting conflict The Gifted chooses to focus on is the one that pits mutant against mutant in the battle against those aiming to wipe them both out. As the finale’s final moments demonstrate, everything boils down to a matter of choice, a single decision about how these characters will respond to a hostile world they literally have the power to change. That choice tears more than one family apart, and, to the credit of Nix and his writers’ room, The Gifted sowed the seeds that at least one half of the Strucker children was headed in the direction of the Hellfire Club, even if he didn’t know it existed yet.
Andy had been leaning into this turn down a darker path as early as the season’s third episode, ‘eXodus’, as his interpretation of the conflict was not only cut and dry, but also fairly reminiscent of Magneto’s. His decision, then, to join the reformed mutant society that consists of Polaris, Esme, Sage, Mustache Guy, and Bald Mustache Guy Who Slowly Punches Walls, is not entirely surprising, nor was it meant to be. Instead, the surprise comes as Polaris confirms she has much more in common with her father than just her magnetic powers; she’s willing to extreme action for what she believes in.
If anything, pushing Polaris to cross the Rubicon of political assassination, taking out both Dr. Campbell and Senator Matthew Montez, after witnessing the Humanity Today rally, is a demonstration of the show’s willingness to alter its course and complicate things in more interesting fashion than constantly pitting its mutant characters against Coby Bell’s Jace Turner and the forgettable faces of the Sentinal Services soldiers. Even with his villainy unchecked (the guy totally pulled a Greg Stillson by shielding himself with a kid) and despite a fine performance by Garret Dillahunt, Campbell offered the show little more than a two-dimensional villain hell bent on wiping out an entire species. Seeing Polaris take significant steps toward proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree affords The Gifted a chance to splash around in some morally gray waters. And in doing so the series demonstrates what Campbell’s role was intended to be all along: the catalyst for one of its most important characters to choose violent aggression over passive resistance, a choice that, once made, can never be undone.
The move is a smart one to be sure, as it ups the ante for the series moving forward, and gives The Gifted a chance to approach what it excels at from an entirely different angle. When the series first premiered, it was praised for the way it balanced comic book action with family drama. That balance was upended as the plot machinations of Dr. Campbell and his “Hounds” program gradually took center stage, overshadowing the plight of the Strucker family as they grappled with the hereditary X gene and uncovered the truth about Reed’s past. While it afforded the family a greater connection and emotional stakes in the world they’re now an integral part of, it temporarily lost sight of the dynamic that was the key to show’s early success. By tearing several families apart — with Lorna splitting from Marcos, Andy leaving his family, and the Mutant Underground being split in two — The Gifted appears to correct course by creating the potential for even greater family drama when the series returns.
In all, it was an uneven season that, like so many superhero shows, could have stood to burn through its plot a little faster. Episode counts being what they are — especially on network television — it’s just a relief The Gifted didn’t have a 22 episode order for season 1. A solid finale that sets up a far more complicated collision on the horizon may not be enough to entirely make up for how many dead ends the series eventually traveled down, but it does give enough of a reason to tune in for season 2, if only to see where this path takes the show’s not-so merry mutants.
The Gifted season 2 does not yet have a premiere date.
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