For better or worse, season 1 of FOX’s Marvel mutant drama, The Gifted, put family drama first and X-Men-related super heroics second. It told the story of the Strucker family and the lengths they went to keep their mutant children, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), safe from a world that actively hunts their kind down. The premise stretched the usual thinly veiled metaphors of what was once Marvel’s most popular property to the breaking point, turning Reed (Stephen Moyer), his wife Kate (Amy Acker), and the kids into fugitives and members of the Mutant Underground. But as the season moved on, the metaphor’s potency waned, the narrative lost steam, and it became apparent changes would be necessary to keep interest alive in season 2.
Those changes became evident in a surprising season finale that saw the Mutant Underground split in two, as Polaris (Emma Dumont) sided with the Hellfire Club, taking several mutants with her, including Andy. That left the rest of the Strucker clan, as well as Eclipse (Sean Teale), Blink (Jamie Chung), and Thunderbird (Blair Redford) in a tricky war of ideologies with their friends and family, while still being on the run from the folks at Sentinel Services. But as the season 2 premiere, ‘eMergence,’ demonstrates, although the composition of the two sides of the mutant equation have changed, and the show is leaning more on comic book action than family drama, The Gifted isn’t taking Marvel’s mutants anywhere they haven’t been before.
What it does is shift the point of view around so that the series can better explore both sides the mutant drama. Again, this is nothing new, not really. The X-Men films all made a point trying to understand and relate to characters such as Magneto, painting them as atypical villains, someone whose actions, though extreme, were understandable and came from a place that revealed their humanity. That is, in essence, what The Gifted is trying to do by pitting Polaris/Lorna and the father of her unborn child, Marcos/Eclipse, on opposite sides of the mutant conundrum. The result is a storyline that feels more in line with the source material (tangential though its relationship may be), but it comes at the expense of both the Sentinel Services story and that of the Strucker (or von Strucker) clan.
What that means for the new season is anyone’s guess, as ‘ eMergence’ spends most of its time reacquainting viewers with the main characters and explaining the new status quo. As it turns out, it’s been months since the showdown that ended season 1. Kate’s desperate to find her son, but Lauren and Reed aren’t too sure chasing him down is the best way to get him to come home. Andy, meanwhile, seems to have settled into his new digs just fine, having found a bottle of peroxide and a leather jacket to better suit his place in the Hellfire Club, alongside Esme (Skyler Samuels) and Reeva Page (Grace Byers). What’s left of the Mutant Underground has been driven further underground, forced to settle for rescuing what few mutants they can from Sentinel raids and setting them up with new identities.
Some of the changes here are largely superficial and temporary. The series is going to have to push Marcos and Lorna together again if it’s going to develop any kind of meaningful drama from their conflict. The premiere gets away with keeping them apart by focusing on the actual birth of their child. If you’ve seen one child being born on television you’ve pretty much seen them all, but The Gifted attempts to create a uniquely mutant situation with the idea that Lorna’s labor pains are causing her magnetic powers to go haywire. Presumably that’s a significant enough threat that Reeva commissions some sort of chamber for the expectant mother to give birth. It’s all a very circuitous way of giving Lorna the appropriate motivation to follow in her father’s footsteps, creating a future fit for mutant kind, by any means necessary.
The rest of the hour is spent developing a similar but smaller rift between Kate and Reed, mainly over Andy and his decision to abandon the family to partake in some Draco Malfoy cosplay while hanging out with a pregnant woman. There are some inklings that The Gifted will spend more of its time this season exploring these potential divisions and how ideological divides can break families apart, whether they’re just starting out or have been a functioning unit for years. That Reed appears to be developing powers of his own should be an interesting wrinkle to the show’s narrative going forward, but for now it’s put on the back burner along with the rest of the Strucker family drama.
In all, it’s a middling premiere that doesn’t quite address some of the pacing issues that plagued the series through much of its first season. Character threads seem to begin with fits and starts only to peter out after too long, like the chase sequence to find Lorna while she was in labor. With any luck The Gifted has definite plans to pit the Hellfire Club agains the Mutant Underground, and that the show will find a way to incorporate the family drama back into the fold in a way that satisfies its many character needs as well as the audience’s desire for more mutant action.
The Gifted continues next Tuesday with ‘unMoored’ @8pm on FOX.