Saturday, January 20, 2018

Too Much TV: THE GIFTED (2017 - ?)

Disney's purchase of Twentieth Century-Fox most likely marks the beginning of the end of the X-Men mythos as an independent media franchise. The news comes amid an ambitious schedule of mutant projects including three feature films in the coming year and Matt Nix's series for Fox, which has been renewed after a short first season. Like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. relative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Gifted is consciously limited in scope, excluding mutants familiar from the movies on the pretext that Charles Xavier and the X-Men have disappeared following a mutant-involved mass-casualty event that provoked a government crackdown. In their absence, a "mutant underground" has been tasked with sheltering persecuted mutants. The underground mutants will be familiar to longtime comics fans but mostly new phenomena to moviegoers, though Blink, an Asian girl who teleports through breaches in spacetime, appeared in the dystopian scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The other principal mutants are Marcos (Sean Teale), who can manipulate light and has ties to a Mexican drug cartel; his girlfriend Lorna Dane (Emma Dumont), a green haired girl with magnetic powers that raise understandable suspicions about her parentage; and John Proudstar (Blair Redford), who has superior strength and senses for tracking. Their paths cross with those of prosecutor Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) and his family when Reed and his wife Caitlin (Amy Acker) discover that their teenage children, Andy (Percy Hynes White) and Lauren (Natalie Alan Lynd) are mutants whose latent powers have just begun to manifest. Formerly a prosecutor of fugitive mutants, Reed Strucker must now trust his family with, and lend his expertise to the mutant underground, as all are pursued by Agent Turner (Coby Bell), a vengeful officer for Sentinel Services, a sort of anti-mutant Pinkerton agency, and Dr. Campbell (Garret Dillahaunt), a scientist dedicated to turning mutants into docile government agents. Turner hates mutants because he lost a daughter in the mass-casualty incident, while Campbell takes great interest in the Struckers because he knows more about their family history than Reed himself does.

The show proceeds according to formula as the mutant underground undertakes various missions to liberate prisoners or acquire information while bickering among themselves over the usual issues (secrets, lies, etc.) The larger storylines keep the show interesting. We learn, for instance, that Reed Strucker is the son and grandson of mutants, but that his father succeeded in repressing any latent powers his son might possess. Reed's kids are a different story; Andy and Lauren have reproduced the abilities of the first generation of mutant Struckers; the 1950s vintage brother-sister terrorist team known as Fenris. This is a case where Fox and Marvel Studios have shared some comics history. In Marvel Comics, the Fenris twins are the children of the Baron von Strucker who was the founder of Hydra. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Baron was moved forward to modern times, first appearing in the epilogue of Captain America: The Winter Soldier before getting summarily dispatched in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Once the MCU disposed of him, presumably, Fox was free to develop the mutant side of the Strucker lineage as part of an evil-mutant history that appears to predate Magneto, whose name apparently must not be mentioned despite his presumed tie to Lorna Dane. In the X-Men's absence, and with the underground operating, well, underground, the Sentinel Services crackdown, which involves turning mutants into anti-mutant "hounds" and combining their abilities through an artificial recreation of the Fenris effect, has created opportunities for evil mutants. The most interesting part of The Gifted so far is its slow-burn buildup of evil-mutant ascendancy. Andy and Lauren Strucker recreate the overall ethical dilemma in microcosm, the once-bullied boy growing increasingly eager to lash out at all enemies while his sister resists the temptation. The underground begins to fall apart when they rescue a manipulative telepath (Skyler Samuels) allied with a resurgent Hellfire Club (last seen cinematically in X-Men: First Class). She and her identical siblings, who possess a mutant group mind, goad the underground mutants into increasingly ruthless attacks on their increasingly ruthless persecutors, until Lorna crosses over to the dark side in the season finale by crashing a plane and killing Dr. Campbell and a U.S. Senator. Tantalized by the prospect of victory, Andy and a number of others join forces with Lorna and the Hellfire Club, over the objections of the other lead mutants and Andy's parents, to end the season with a moral cliffhanger. While the characters are mostly rather bland, this development gave The Gifted a greater sense of something meaningful actually happening than many other superhero shows have had recently. The momentum it acquired over its last few episodes overcame some uncertainty I had about the show and assured that at the least I'll give the second season a chance.

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