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THE GIFTED Series Premiere Review: The Show Still Has a Lot of Work to Do

By on October 3, 2017

THE GIFTED: L-R: Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker in THE GIFTED Co. Cr: Ryan Green/FOX

By Emma Crow

The Gifted has been promoted as a gritty drama “set in the X-Men Universe” and the pilot delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect from that synopsis. If you’ve seen any trailers for this show then you basically already know the plot of this episode. That’s really what a pilot episode is, though — an elongated promotional trailer for an entire season of story. Pilot episodes are often messy because they are attempting to do so much: establish characters, plot, tone, and themes and present them in a concise narrative form in less than 45 minutes. It’s a tall order, so I cut The Gifted some slack, even though it struggles in some of these areas.

The Gifted’s pilot episode, titled eXposed, opens up during a police chase in the middle of a stormy night. The show doesn’t waste any time establishing itself as dark, gritty, and serious. The lone runner turns out to be a young mutant (the term used to describe a person with “special abilities” in the X-Men Universe) woman who can create portals. While on the run, she is rescued by three mutants from an underground mutant organization. This organization’s mission is to save mutants from imprisonment.

John Proudstar seems to be the leader of the three; He has the ability to track people and uses it to find the portaling mutant on the run named Blink. The other two mutants are Eclipse, who can shoot light out of his body, and Lorna, who can levitate objects from afar, and they are in love. During the escape, Eclipse is shot, and Lorna lashes out at the police officer who shot him. Eclipse was clearly not mortally wounded, but instead of escaping, Lorna fights police officers until she is finally captured while Proudstar, Eclipse and Blink escape.

This scene not only quickly establishes the tone, but it also establishes the central themes that the show wants to explore. If you’ve read or watched anything in the X-Men Universe, then you know what these themes are: bigotry, racism, and police brutality against those perceived as “other.”

Next we are taken to a completely different setting with completely new characters. Mr. and Mrs. Strucker are at school in a meeting with the principal discussing the bullying their son has been subjected to. It’s a nice scene framing the inadequacy of anti-bullying systems in schools and supports the themes listed above. While heavy-handed, this is what The X-Men has always been about: emphasizing the suffering of marginalized groups by an exclusive and oppressive society.

THE GIFTED: L-R: Amy Acker, Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White in THE GIFTED
Co. Cr: Ryan Green/FOX

Mr. Strucker turns out to be a law enforcement officer specifically tasked with bringing down the underground rebel mutant organization. But everything changes when his daughter Lauren takes his son Andy with her to a school dance. Andy gets cornered by his bullies and under duress unleashes an immense power that topples the school. Andy is a mutant! But that’s not all. As the building collapses around them, Lauren is the one that gets them out of the building- using her mutant shielding ability! Mutant hunter Mr. Strucker has not one, but TWO mutant children. Oh, the irony.

Mr. and Mrs. Strucker are shocked, but ultimately they will do anything for their kids. With his inside knowledge, Mr. Strucker knows they will only be safe if they cross the border into Mexico.

Meanwhile, at the “Mutant Underground Headquarters” Eclipse is frustrated because he wants to rescue Lorna, but Proudstar tells him that its too dangerous right now to try and break into a prison. Remember when I said this show is “set in the X-Men Universe”? Well here’s where we get that name drop. Eclipse says, “We don’t even know if the X-Men exist anymore.” Intriguing.

Mr. Strucker uses his connections to contact Eclipse and offer him a deal. If Eclipse gets the Strucker family safely across the border, Mr. Strucker will help Eclipse save Lorna. Eclipse is hesitant to trust the man who has been hunting them, but then Mr. Strucker reveals… Lorna is pregnant! Eclipse has no choice but to agree, but he has his own condition. He will get the Strucker family to safety, but Mr. Strucker has to stay behind until Lorna is a free woman. The deal is struck.

Back at mutant headquarters, Blink learns that the underground mutant organization was “founded just before the X-Men disappeared.” More X-Men Universe intrigue. We are also treated to the now-obligatory Stan Lee cameo! Blink confesses to Proudstar that Eclipse has gone out on his own, but she worries that he is in mortal danger, so the two set out to find him.

Of course, Blink was right. The escape mission doesn’t go as planned and soon Eclipse and the Struckers are surrounded by federal agents armed with mutant-fighting robotic spiders. Just as things seem truly dire, Blink and Proudstar arrive! Blink struggles to create a portal, but gets it going enough for everyone to escape, except Mr. Strucker. Just as he is about to go through, he is shot and unable to make it with the rest of the group. The episode ends on that cliffhanger, but was it enough to get you hooked?

Personally, I have mixed feelings. I really love the X-Men and the X-Men Universe. The X-Men tells the story of a group of outcasts who become a family. It illustrates how fear leads to brutality and cruelty, and highlights the ways in which our society treats marginalized groups. This series has potential, but so far, the narrative hasn’t taken any risks. This episode was very predictable and none of the characters are fleshed out at all.

The season preview that immediately followed this episode’s conclusion offered intriguing possibilities for the show’s direction. We see Mr. Strucker in prison alongside Lorna and it appears the two will have to work together. This could be a great storyline for Mr. Strucker in which he has to face the prejudices he has from a career of hunting mutants. There’s also the big question of what happened to the X-Men?

It’s enough for me to stick around, but this show still has a lot of work to do on its characters, its world-building, and its narrative risks.

 

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