The Gifted is a Nice Surprise for Long-Time X-Men Fans (REVIEW)
The fall television season is officially underway, and after the success of last season’s Legion, Fox is back for another peek into the X-Men universe with the series launch of The Gifted. Premiering on October 2nd on the FX Network, Gifted begins with an action set piece, as viewers are taken along on a police chase through the streets of Atlanta. Our frantic pedestrian fugitive is cornered in an alley, and as she makes peace with her sense of self-preservation, it triggers her ability. A violet portal appears and the mutant steps through, vanishing with naught but a blink. This establishing shot sets up the series quite well thematically, as depictions of fantastic abilities litter the pilot; and likely throughout its duration as a series. This episode was directed by X-Men franchise architect Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, Valkyrie) and as such, keeps the cinematic feel throughout. As the story synopsis goes: At an indeterminate point in the future, those found to possess the mutant X-gene are held captive in detention centers. With social paranoia at a high, the mutant community is scattered about, forcing those not in detention to fend for themselves, band together, or face possible extinction. It’s mentioned early on that in this world, both the X-Men and Brotherhood have vanished, adding a further layer of urgency for an already scattered community.
We meet up with a few members of the new Mutant resistance in route to recover Clarice, the fugitive from the opening scene. You have Clarice, played by Jamie Chung, (Once Upon a Time, Gotham) a character that also appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past; so fans may recognize her as fan-favorite Blink, albeit minus the purple skin tone. Blair Redford, (90210, Switched at Birth) Emma Dumont (Aquarius, Pretty Little Liars) and Sean Teale (Reign, Voltron: Legendary Defender) round out our mutant cast as John Proudstar, Lorna Dane, and Marcos, respectively. Unfortunately for the characters, things take a turn for the worst, as what begins as a standoff escalates into a powers-laden shootout. One of our heroes falls, captive, and the title card comes into frame — apparently, some gifts are far more appreciated that others.
While not nearly as volatile, things aren’t going so well for the Struckers family. The matter is urgent as they meet with the Principal of a local High School, to discuss a bullying incident involving their son. Feeling ever so litigious, Mr. Strucker threatens to sue the school if the appropriate help isn’t offered. Stephen Moyer (The Bastard Executioner, True Blood) plays the family patriarch, Reed Strucker, who is soon interrupted by a message from work, pertaining to a “suspect.” Interesting to note, is that Reed is employed by Sentinel Services, a government enforcement agency specializing in “mutant affairs”–the term “bagging and tagging” may be more appropriate. The show’s central conflict is realized once his son, Andy Strucker’s abilities manifest at a school dance. Carrie comes to mind, as the scene is obviously influenced by the classic flick. Word of the incident spreads, and after an unannounced (and unknown to Reed) home visit from Sentinel Services, and subsequent escape, the Strucker family goes on the run. Although Andy’s powers have only just manifested, daughter Lauren Strucker had long been aware of her abilities (yeah, she’s a mutant too).
Despite the mixed reception of the last few standalone X-Men movies, The Gifted has some high points. While it’s certainly important to focus on characters, world-building is just as important. These Mutants feel far more “hated and feared” than in anything we’ve seen outside of a few protest scenes or news reports in past films. Sentinel Services acts more as a paramilitary group, than a government agency, and the Mutant Resistance is headquartered in a derelict bank, one of several damaged buildings throughout the city. I wonder if at some point we get a little insight as to what specific incident led to such far-reaching anti-Mutant sentiment. The Gifted also features heavy usage of mutant abilities, so whether it’s Lorna using her powers to deflect bullets, Blink’s portals or Marcos’ light projection, the show looks great. The Gifted sets up its own mythos, while still paying homage to what came before. Though no specific timeframe has been given, it wouldn’t surprise if this were to become a prequel series to the Days of Future Past movie. Between Blink, the Proudstars, and general state of the world, this isn’t as farfetched as it would first appear.
Natalie Alyn Lind (Gotham, The Goldbergs) and Percy Hines White (Edge of Winter, Defiance) play the Strucker siblings, Andy and Lauren, and both do a commendable job in conveying the relationship whenever they’re onscreen together. The brother-sister dynamic comes across as authentic, whether fighting in the back seat, or just normal interactions at school. Their chemistry is probably more important to the overall plot than any other characters. As audience stand-ins, the world already exists in its current state, but its how these characters navigate that world, which is how our connections to them are formed. I’m certainly looking forward to more personal development, especially considering the show is set to dive into Lorna Dane’s parentage. From the clever usage of a well known theme song, to Stan Lee’s odd, yet funny cameo, the spirit of the X-Men remains even if the classic costumes and characters are absent. This gift is surely worth the wait.
The Gifted premiered Monday, October 2 on the FX network, with new episodes being shown Mondays this season.