The Gifted – Season 1 Episodes 12 & 13
“eXtraction” & “X-roads”
The Gifted brings its first season to a close with a double episode showing the Mutant Underground fighting for survival and making choices that affect their future.
Before I begin I’ll point out that the two part finale aired on the same night so I had the usual internal conflict over whether to cover them individually or combine the two. After seeing them I decided to combine them into a single review as this is how most people would have seen it and the episodes do very much compliment each other while still being reasonably distinct.
“eXtraction” isn’t all that eventful as episodes go. There’s a lot of posturing and continued repetition of the same arguments that seem to crop up every week. We’ve heard this a lot of late and it has become really tiresome as there’s only so many ways Lorna can speak up about taking the fight to those that mean them harm. That’s just one example but the arguments are predictable and never seem to go anywhere.
The baffling thing is that this is deliberate as evidenced by Esme’s natural ability to take the opportunity to widen the schism created by divided opinion. She and her sisters consistently demonstrate an ability to say exactly the right thing at the right moment to further fracture the relationships between the group. A good example of this was when she gradually dropped in a reference to Clarice’s past forcing her to come clean about the fact that she was once a reluctant member of the Brotherhood. This causes John to lose trust in her and question her morality as well as her honesty. It’s a conflict that is entirely manufactured much like the mistrust created by finding out about Wes’ past a few episodes ago.
Having this crop up again through different characters presents a systemic problem this show has around the preoccupation with the past when it isn’t relevant. It confuses me that the writing would be consistent on this because characters are failing to factor in that every Mutant in the Underground probably had to compromise themselves in some way to survive in the past. Marcos is a really clear example of this because of his prior involvement in organised crime. Fair enough he was honest about that but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that he did it at least according to John’s logic when dealing with Clarice here. She kept it from them because it was a long time ago and no longer relevant to the person she is now so spending time with this being held against her makes no real sense especially when John comes around to that way of thinking in a really clumsy way later on.
The most interesting scenes in “eXtraction” feature Lorna and explore her current state of mind. Esme sees her as a kindred spirit of sorts as they are both willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done even if that means causing harm to people. It’s very much an “ends justify the means” way of thinking and it suits those characters. Lorna has been expressing these sorts of views for a while now and her desire to protect her baby will only intensify her desire to create a more secure world so it can grow up without having to live in fear. It’s a relatable ambition for any parent to have and it’s easy to see how this fuels her outlook on the world. Esme building on this to awaken Lorna’s more violent tendencies makes a lot of since given how she operates prior to this episode.
Further mention is made of her father who occupied a very high up position in the Hellfire Club which is definitely a way to push Lorna’s buttons. She has no desire to be anything like her father because she doesn’t have fond memories of him and wants even less to do with him after finding out about his involvement in the Hellfire Club. Her outlook on this changes as the episodes progress as she starts to understand his point of view before coming to that decision point herself. I’ll cover her actual decision at a later point in the review but the groundwork in the first episode helps sell the ending and make it feel more earned than it otherwise would have been.
Other than that the first episode doesn’t dazzle with its content as much of it is busy work setting the stage for the final episode. Outside of the repetitive arguments there is the initial hint that Andy is gaining newfound respect for his grandparents after reading about them and starting to see their point of view. Again, this will become important later on and it’s good that the ground work is laid.
One thing that could have been cut entirely was Reed going to find his mother and bring her to the Mutant Underground. His mother was previously mentioned as being used to get leverage against him so from that respect it was a dangling plot thread though I had honestly forgotten about it and don’t really feel that this was the right time to revisit it. There is catharsis to the fact that Reed is able to make his family whole again and the acting is strong across the board especially from Natalie Alyn Lynd who makes Lauren seem genuinely delighted that she can see her grandmother again but beyond that it does little than provide a sounding board to summarise the events of the season. It’s clumsy and unnecessary as it adds little to the episode as a whole.
The titular extractions both fail which is somewhat expected but the whole setup is fairly disappointing since we have seen other similar heist scenarios in prior episodes. An ensemble cast does lend itself to these sorts of action sequences as the success hinges on crafting a plan where everyone plays a part. It gives the characters involved a defined place in the sequence and presents an opportunity to showcase teamwork which can deepen the character dynamics if done well. Sadly there’s nothing interesting or remarkable about the sequences themselves though the corridor fight scene is reasonably impressive while it lasts with good use of powers and the overwhelming nature of the sequence coming across well.
In many ways the first part is a microcosm of everything bad about the show. I’ve already talked about the repetitive arguments, questionable characterisation, bizarre plots that seem to do little more than waste time and action sequences that are competent yet somewhat routine for this show at this point. Most given episodes of this show bring you these things in various degrees so having it concentrated in a single episode is really jarring. That doesn’t include the well executed portions of the episode but The Gifted being as bad as it is good in a lot of ways appears to be the norm which still makes concentrating it into a single episode an uncomfortable experience.
“X-roads” is a far more interesting episode as it is where the characters are able to reflect on everything that has happened and make choices that move them forward for better or for worse. It also brings the thing that every member of the Mutant Underground had feared all along in the form of an all out assault by Sentinel Services.
This sequence is pretty limp as it fails to deliver the scope that is necessary to sell how terrifying this is for all concerned. It feels like a normal heist scenario with different characters doing their part to solve the crisis. Sentinel Services also fail to come across well here as they use few guys carrying riot shields and their Mutant “Hounds” but not their advanced spider robots or any of the other tech that is presumably at their disposal. This makes Turner seem completely incompetent and the whole of Sentinel Services look like they’ve never dealt with Mutants before. This could easily have been an exciting sequence where Turner devised a clever strategy.
Some impressive moments did come out of this sequence such as the desperate escape by freezing metal to make it brittle enough to break and create an exit. Lauren and Andy use their powers outside of a laboratory without showing any restraint and it turns out to be just as devastating as expected. It does solve the current problem though it comes at the price of the Mutant Underground headquarters being destroyed leaving them with no home and seemingly no hope.
This is where the episode gets really interesting as the characters all have to take stock of what they have lost and what they still have. It’s mentioned that this should be seen as inspiration to continue fighting and build the Underground back from nothing but some don’t see it that way. Caitlin tries to be the idealist and the optimist in this situation and it falls on deaf ears as many of the Mutants blame the Struckers for what has happened to them recently. It’s hard not to see why they are so resented after it’s pointed out that most of their bases have been destroyed since the Struckers came into their lives. At least some of this situation can be blamed on them since Reed insisted on going to find his mother, there has been a lot more attention on the group in general after the Struckers went on the run and they would often go their own way which would result in them needing rescued. Intentionally or not they do have to accept some of the responsibility and make amends for that in some way.
The Strucker children are completely divided by the situation to the point that they go their separate ways. I’ve mentioned in the past that they embody the two traditional sides of the common argument in X-Men properties. Lauren upholds the ideals of the X-Men and wants to find a way for everyone to live in peaceful harmony where Andy embodies the ideals of the Brotherhood/Hellfire Club who believe in the superiority of Mutants and have no time for Humans. This works well because both sides of the argument are valid and it’s easy to see why someone would arrive at either conclusion. Spending so much time this season bringing Lauren and Andy closer together through the application of their powers only to have them separated at the end because of ideological differences is both tragic and dramatically satisfying.
When thinking more about these conclusions there is a lot to unpack here. Lauren tries to appeal to Andy’s humanity by pointing out that they are no longer young children playing X-Men and have to make life changing decisions about what to do with their powers. This show has been dancing around the X-Men all season and slowly sneaking in more references and implying the role they once had in this world. It is established in this episode that they were at one point considered to be heroes but went into hiding -or were mostly wiped out- as a result of growing anti-Mutant sentiment. As such they don’t exist as physical role models but they are a symbol of what the Mutant Underground represent and are fighting for. In effect they have become legends and a collection of ideals to strive towards rather than anything physical or practical. It’s easy to be principled when nothing tests those principles but Lauren and Andy are now in a position where their ideals have been tested and they have to make a decision on what the next step is.
Using the teenage perspective for this makes it more interesting as they have recent memories of playing X-Men as children which likely involves re-enacting noteworthy battles simply because they’re cool in the eyes of kids. There’s nothing wrong with that as it boils down to harmless hero worship but now they are in a situation where they are living their own versions of these battles. They aren’t exactly the same but they are variations on a theme and now they’re faced with the fact that they aren’t casually virtuous and prone to knowing what the right decision is. All they have at this point is what feels right which is to stay with the Underground for Lauren and to go with the reformed Hellfire Club for Andy. It doesn’t make either of them right or wrong as it just interprets things differently.
On the same token the realisation that the X-Men weren’t all they were cracked up to be in the harshness of the real world it’s possible that the Hellfire Club have been similarly exaggerated. They are known for being a less than reputable organisation certainly and the utterance of the name carries with it a sense of dread that can’t be ignored but Andy’s perspective is that the truth might be somewhere in-between and their values might be worth looking at because he shares at least some of them. If and when there is a season 2 I’d be interested to see where this goes.
The scene itself where Andy decides to leave is really well performed by all concerned. Amy Acker delivers an excellent performance that leaves Caitlin completely devastated and Reed has no idea how to react. Lauren is noticeably upset as well thanks to Natalie Alyn Lynd’s acting ability so as moments go it was appropriately moving and felt like a family being torn apart.
Lorna has a similar choice to make though hers is a lot more visceral. I’ve already mentioned that she rejects the memory of her father because she wasn’t close to him but as time goes on that opinion changes to the point that she is willing to embrace at least some of her heritage. The pivotal moment for her is when she chooses to bring down Dr. Campbell’s plane therefore committing to the notion of Mutant superiority and casting off any sympathy she might have had for Humans. As I’ve mentioned it’s relatable because she will soon have a baby that will grow up in a world where it is persecuted for being a Mutant. Lorna has learned how to deal with that to a certain extent but forcing that life on a child is unthinkable as far as she’s concerned.
Marcos represents the more hopeful and compassionate side of the argument which would have been enough to convince Lorna in a lesser episode but that’s not what this show is about and Lorna isn’t that sort of person. Her maternal instincts have amplified what was already there as evidenced by her increased powers and she makes the decision to get rid of one very real threat to her and her people. Whether this will really make a difference is irrelevant as she believes in what she’s doing and it’s very much a turning point for her to becoming something of a villain.
I’ve mentioned in the past that Lorna shares a lot of personality traits with both live action versions of Magneto which ultimately foreshadowed the next step in her journey that she takes here. It’s strange that the show never mentions Magneto directly but his distant influence is clearly a big part of her character.
It’s too early to say if Lorna is truly a villain because X-Men properties don’t tend to make things as black and white as that. She is certainly in opposition to the Underground and has motivations of her own that don’t match up with theirs but that doesn’t necessarily make her an antagonist. For one thing there is still a lack of closure to her relationship with Marcos who fathered the child she is so committed to protecting so there’s a lot to work with there. Having her take Andy with her as well as some of the other members of the Underground who have lost hope sets things up nicely for an exploration of where these decisions take the characters.
Everything surrounding her decision is really well done. Marcos’ pleading with her to reconsider is wonderfully acted by Sean Teale and the slight uncertainty on Emma Dumont’s face sells the difficulty of the decision and makes it clear that Lorna isn’t bereft of passion. The moments leading up to her decision are appropriately tense and the event comes across as a shock.
As for Dr. Campbell I’m going to assume for now that he isn’t dead because there was no dead body to confirm that death. In shows like this that usually means that he will make a return at some point. There is scope to develop the character as these episodes fill in some backstory in the form of his brother who died of cystic fybrosis. This motivates his hatred for Mutants because he sees their genes as being bad and wants to eradicate them as a result. It’s really flimsy and makes very little sense no matter how compelling his evolution lecture was. It was a half baked attempt to humanise him before an ambiguous death and it doesn’t really work.
Turner fails to make any sort of impression as well though his resignation does create interesting opportunities. He still has no love for Mutants so it’s good that the writers didn’t shoehorn in a sudden change of heart which means that the character could go pretty much anywhere should he return. Having him join the Purifiers is one option.
As with most episodes of The Gifted the final two episodes manage to deliver helpings of both good and bad. The bad takes the form of repetitive arguments, unnecessary subplots, action sequences that fail to be all that interesting and questionable characterisation. Esme and her sisters continue to be compelling in the way they are able to manipulate the group by teasing out their weaknesses and exploiting them. The character decisions made in these episodes such as Lorna choosing to kill Campbell and the Strucker children splitting apart because of their differing outlooks. The sense of loss associated with the Underground once these events are over and the lingering question over what to do next makes for compelling viewing especially since there are a range of opinions and set things up nicely for the second season if there is to be one.
These episodes make some attempt to humanise Campbell but it falls flat as his motivations still make little sense and it feels like too little too late. Similarly Turner just comes across as completely incompetent in the way he handles the assault on the Mutant Underground base though his resignation does open up some interesting possibilities.
If there is to be a season 2 I would like to see tighter focus on the characters and far less meandering stories. Cutting down on the repetition of the arguments would do the show wonders as well. There was a lot of promise in the earlier episodes when the writers were finding new and interesting ways to explore the concept of Mutants representing any number of “others” in society. Expanding on that and finding a way to say something slightly different about persecution through the lens of Humans vs. Mutants could make for some fascinating viewing.
There is a lot of potential created by the fractured group. I’ve already mentioned that Lorna’s unborn child will be something that will involve Marcos’ in some way and the Strucker family dealing with the fact that Andy has gone his own way offers a lot of scope for compelling character drama. The show should also fix the villain problem by developing them in a way that makes sense and having their position in the show clear relative to the other characters. This hasn’t really happened this season but it is possible to salvage it.
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