The Gifted: 1.12 eXtraction, 1.13 X-roads
Despite being labelled as separate episodes, eXtraction and X-roads were very much one feature length episode, broadcast continuously with no break between each part. It was a story that started to really deliver on the promise of the series and setting up a more dramatic second season. And I'm really glad that the show has been renewed; it still feels like it is finding its feet. As the first of possibly several seasons, the debut run will feel like a satisfying set-up. But as its own season, it feels as if The Gifted got going far too late in the game.
eXtraction delved deeper into the motivations of mutant-hating Dr. Roderick Campbell, the true villain of season one, who saw his own brother die of a genetic defect (cystic fibrosis) while mutants everywhere exploited their own genetic enhancements. Personally, I didn't feel as if this added much to his character; unlike Jace Turner, who saw his own innocent daughter die in a catastrophic battle between mutants - Campbell used his skills to exploit and demean mutants. No amount of sympathy for a dying family member will change that. Plus the show needed a good villain and Campbell fulfilled that role far better in recent weeks. Shades of light and dark are necessary for good human drama - something The Gifted does well - but this was superfluous to the overall story.
What this episode, and indeed the finale, did, was show the true face of hate. On their mission to capture Campbell, the Frost trio, Thunderbird, Polaris, Blink and Eclipse saw not vengeful masses but people that took pleasure in applauding the persecution of human rights among mutants. It's what grounds the show with a sense of reality; given the current state of the world, you could quite easily imagine events like the anti-mutant summit portrayed in this episode cropping up everywhere, funded by the elite and supported by government. In some ways, the hatred against mutants, is a much more credible threat than any Sentinel Service robot or solider.
The fight to take down Campbell - aided by the duplicitous Frost trio - naturally didn't go as well as planned, but there was a certain excitement as they closed in other prey only for Campbell to use children as human shields to make his escape and turn these characters into fully fledged villains in the eyes of the government, something that paid off well in the following episode.
The plot with the Strucker family rushing to save Reed's mother from interrogation was less successful, partly because they learned nothing of value save for the mysterious assistant that helped his father in their experimentations. Instead, it brought out the worst in the siblings; one of the things I've remarked about the series is that Andy and Lauren aren't bratty, squabbling teenagers, instead sharing a close bond with each other and their parents. But while Lauren survived these episodes relatively unscathed, Andy descended into angry, hormonal teenager, first attacking Sentinel Services officers with excessive force and then turning on his sister. It was obviously set up for the season's closing scene, but this change felt cliched.
Moving into X-roads then, we had an exciting finale that set up the mission statement for season two. Confronted by the truth of who her father was (though Magneto was not mentioned by name), Polaris turned against her lover and friends to take down Campbell in the most brutal fashion. This felt much more believable than Andy's descent into anarchy, thanks in much to Emma Dumont's deeply conflicted performance.
It still made her final act no less shocking though, as she forced Eclipse, Thunderbird and Blink away and crashed Campbell's plane, taking with him Senator Montez and several innocent crewmembers. This was cold blooded murder, but you still believed her convictions, destroying the alliance between these two men that would put the full force of the US government against mutantkind. A few lives to save many more; its those kind of impossible choices that make for great drama.
Meanwhile the attack on the Mutant underground headquarters was a long time coming but well earned and well executed. This was Kate and Reed's moment to shine and prove their worth, rallying the mutants to make their desperate escape while fighting off Jace Turner and his Sentinel Services forces. It literally tore down the central base of operations for the series, ending with the full use of the Strucker sibling's powers to save the day, even if they did obliterate the mutants controlled by Campbell's Hound program and several soldiers as a result.
While painfully slow to progress the plot at times, the season has taken the time to build this world of mutants where the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants are gone, where persecution of mutant rights has led to a desperate underground war. And that is why the final twist of Esme and Polaris arriving to recruit a new, stronger Hellfire Club felt earned. It might have been a surprise to have characters like Sage join the enemy, but by the time they marched away - Andy in tow - and the credits rolled, the show had taken things up to the next level.
Now Eclipse and Polaris are on different side of the war between mutants and humankind and the Strucker family are divided too. I will be interested to see where this new dynamic goes. Mutants fighting mutants, family, friend and lovers battling one another? And where does Jace fit in, now that he has been made a scapegoat and quit Sentinel Services? It opens up new and intriguing possibilities for season two. Plus, with Campbell dead, we need a bigger and badder villain to fill his shoes.
I believe The Gifted needs to continue to up its game now to truly be a success. It has taken its time to create this world and these characters and now it needs to have some fun, exploring the next evolution of this conflict. Playing it safe, got the show through most of season one. Now we need to see what these mutants can really do...