After a string of strong episodes, The Gifted stumbles as an action-packed prison break turns into an overstuffed attempt to reset the status quo.
As far as new network television series go, FOX's The Gifted has been off to a strong start, blending it's merry mutant antics with just enough family drama that the show doesn't feel overwhelmed by either element. With concurrent threads giving characters like Thunderbird, Blink, and even Dreamer something to do, as the Strucker family attempts to adjust to their new life on the run, and the fact that their two kids are now wanted fugitives because of their genetic makeup, the show has maintained a relatively balanced approach to its episodic and serialized storytelling attempts. That all changes as 'eXit Strategy' offers up a more action-packed hour of television that tips the scales in the favor of showcasing its mutants' abilities over the kind of drama that the series excels at. And the result somehow winds up falling flat.
The Gifted's early episodes have had success bringing the show's mutants' abilities to the forefront. Episodes like 'rX' managed to turn Blink's portals into the hour's main problem, while still leaving room for human characters like Kate to have her moment to shine. But 'eXit Strategy' lacks the character focus of 'rX' and instead feels like it's standing indecisively at what is essentially a mutant buffet, switching its attention from Eclipse, Thunderbird, Blink, and the Strucker children (who have yet to be assigned codenames) without there being an underlying need for their powers to be used other than their apparent offensive capabilities. And given that the intent of the hour is to free Polaris and Reed from a Sentinel Services prison transport, you can understand why the writers would want all of their mutants front and center for the assault. The only problem is the episode winds up feeling overwhelmed by all the mutants, especially the one introduced in a hasty flashback whose only real function is put the Mutant Underground at an extreme disadvantage by turning off their powers.
The introduction of Pulse in the episode's cold open starts 'eXit Strategy' off on the wrong foot, and though there are some satisfying moments scattered throughout, the hour never fully regains its balance. Pulse's powers aren't explained well enough for the audience to know exactly what he's capable of, and given that his introduction is so short and his abilities and relation to the rest of the Mutant Underground is as unclear as when or where the action is taking place, his appearance later in the episode doesn't have the intended impact. Thunderbird is left doing the heavy lifting as he has to explain to Blink why their powers are on the fritz and who the catatonic guy with the yellow glowing eyes is. Blair Redford is essentially doing the job of the storyteller, and it winds up grinding what should be a fast-paced episode to a halt.
Until the final push against Sentinel Services, the hour largely moves in fits and starts. That kind of inconsistency is constantly working against the intentions of 'eXit Strategy', even as it tries to introduce new components, like Lauren's correct assumption that her and Andy's powers work better in tandem than they do on their own. Though a relatively small development that, like so much of the hour seems introduced simply to facilitate the progression of the prison break, it does suggest there's something to Dr. Campbell's interest in mutant siblings. The series is clearly headed to something bigger and perhaps more complex with its exploration of Lauren and Andy's powers, but it's to the hour's credit here that they were relegated to destroying a bus tire and Dr. Campbell was left out entirely.
The hour likely could have done the same with Marcos' superfluous subplot that revealed his past involvement with the Atlanta cartel and also introduced former flame Carmen (Michelle Ventimilla), who uses their breakup as a reason to make things as difficult as possible for her ex. The entire exchange is unnecessary as it relies too heavily on tropes (Marcos was the heir apparent to Carmen's father's cartel and he tossed it all aside for Polaris) and unfortunate stereotypes to reveal anything truly compelling about Marcos or his past. The excuse that the cartel would have intel on when and where Sentinel Services was moving its two prisoners is facile at best, and at this point in the game the The Gifted doesn't need another group out to get one of its main mutants, regardless their connection to him personally.
It feels like 'eXit Strategy' was written backwards from its ending, which explains why so many of its parts feel so clearly manufactured to arrive at a predetermined destination. The hour's saving grace is bringing Polaris and Reed back into the Mutant Underground's fold, and in Lorna refusing to let Reed off the hook for his participation in the persecution of mutants now that he finds himself and his family on the wrong side of the law. If this is the next step in a more expansive storyline, then 'eXit Strategy' will be a little more than a small misstep in what has otherwise been shaping up to be a strong series. With any luck the ends will justify the uneven means.
Around the X-Verse:
What's that tattoo on Pulse's wrist? That sure seems like something important, doesn't it?
Reed's willingness to allow Lorna to use the metal screws in his leg may have bought him some leeway with her, but it seems like a bad idea to willingly injure your leg when you're about to be on the run again, no?
There has to be a better way to write around mutant powers other than simply negating them.
The Gifted continues next Monday with 'boXed in' @9pm on FOX.
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