Usually when a show does a “two-hour finale,” I roll my eyes a little at the attempt to create an event out of what is, more often than not, just two episodes of the show run together (I’m also a big believer in the power of the episode, so I get a little twitchy when shows start getting all feature-length on us). I know that The Gifted had a 13-episode season, and so tonight’s “finale” included the twelfth and thirteenth episodes of that order. But the combination of “eXtraction” and “X-roads” did feel something like a single supersized episode of the show, in ways both good and bad. (I’ve decided to grade it as one, not least because the unevenness of a typical Gifted episode makes parsing out grades for two installments that run into each other seem kind of arbitrary. If you’re really into that sort of thing, I arrived at my single grade by figuring the first episode as approximately a C+ and the second as approximately a B. But that range of C+ to B- to B is about where I’ve graded most of the series, so, again, a little arbitrary.)
For one thing, “eXtraction,” though largely structured like a typical episode of The Gifted, has a bit more time to develop its stories without needing to rush to some kind of nominal conclusion-for-now around the three-quarters mark. Though one of these stories involves the Frost triplets joining up with the Mutant Underground in an uneasy alliance to take down Dr. Campbell and the Hounds program, the other somewhat inexplicably catches Grandma Strucker up on a lot of the season’s recent plotlines while the kids bicker about how to use or not use their powers. A B-plot where the Strucker parents go and talk to another family member whose story and character contributions amount to little of much interest and the Strucker kids rehash the same arguments that more interesting characters are already having feels almost like a parody of The Gifted’s worst tendencies involving its family-drama side.
But as the show stretches into its second hour of the evening, the parallels between Andy Strucker and Polaris feel less repetitive (which is not to say non-repetitive) and more productive, because they both turn on an interesting question for this world of mutants, hereditary and non: the question of whether a family’s past can or should dominate their present-day lives. The more Andy reads (or really, re-reads) about his murderous Von Strucker relatives, the more he thinks they’re getting a bum rap. Polaris, meanwhile, doesn’t ever visibly or vocally accept Magneto as her father (and the show’s reluctance to say “Magneto” in a pair of episodes that say “X-Men” like half a dozen times is becoming a little silly), but she clearly wrestles with an awareness of how other mutants have reacted to oppression in the past, and whether she wants to stay on the X-Men-approved side even if it involves lots of, yes, “sacrifice.” It’s an understandable feeling from a pregnant lady who wants a more just world for her kid, and it’s an understandable feeling from a young, impulsive guy who seems like he’s about to enter the mutant version of his Ayn Rand phase (Andy Strucker is still kind of the worst, but give the show some credit for making him the worst in a pretty realistic way).
Both storylines also take advantage of the fact that as the season has gone on, The Gifted has become bolder in incorporating X-Men mythology and name-drops into its main deal. Maybe this was always the plan, to start from a more obscure vantage point and work up to the XCU stuff, but it also feels like the show has figured out its relationship to the X-Men as it goes.
“The X-Men chose us” has become a major refrain in the last few episodes, and the finale gets more explicit about this than ever; the cold open of “X-roads” shows Polaris in a mental hospital, visited by a mutant lawyer who basically tells her she’s been recruited by the missing/departed/undercover/whatever X-Men to help with the resistance.
And though the Strucker children continue their boring-ass arguments that echo the boring-ass arguments Polaris and Eclipse have on a semi-regular basis, one of their lines stands out from the finale (and gets echoed in the effective final moments): “We’re not little kids playing X-Men anymore.” A bunch of second-and-third-tier mutants, and a bunch of kids who are just coming into their powers, know the stories of the X-Men, and now attempting to work through their own versions of battles they have understood in the abstract but now find themselves in directly. It’s a neat trick, sort of a diet version of how last year’s Logan used the X-Men comic-book mythology as both just that (a comics mythology even in the world of the movie) and something more (a possible blueprint for how the mutants can attempt to save themselves). If the X-Men adventures can become aspirational to some young mutants, it follows that the Hellfire Club might start to look a bit less evil and a bit more pragmatic than it really was.
I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that while everyone on this show understands that the Cuckoos are manipulative—that this is literally one of their superpowers—they’re only ever really attacked for their arguments, not their mind-invading powers. It’s very ethical, I guess, but it seems like the more X-Men-ish members of the Underground should be more concerned about this, especially when Polaris rolls back into their lives sporting a new jacket, more cleavage, and a Cuckoo BFF. Then again, it’s apparently not that hard to stumble into these groups. When needled by one of the Frosts, Blink confesses that she more or less accidentally joined the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants when she was younger, something that really ought to have been played for laughs rather than pointless and borderline nonsensical melodrama with Thunderbird. (Pointless melodrama between Blink and Thunderbird that I can get behind: Kissing!!!!!! This should could really use a romance that isn’t more of a fraught-domestic thing, and also that doesn’t involve Wes, who went back to Augusta. Good riddance.)
Anyway, not all that much happens in “eXtraction” (both attempted extractions fail), but a fair amount happens in “X-roads”: Polaris agrees with the Frost triplets that they need to make one more attempt to really take down—as in murder—Campbell and his political crony; Thunderbird, Blink, and Eclipse try to stop her when they realize what’s going on; and Agent Jace Turner (whose role in this last run of episodes has seemed like kind of a shruggy dead end) leads Sentinel Services in a final attack on the Mutant Underground HQ, the kind of large-scale action sequence this show continues to do quite well. When the Underground is attacked, even the Struckre stuff, with the family rising to the challenge of leading with a lot of the actual leaders out of the picture, is pretty tolerable following a lot of patience-testing Lauren/Andy conflicts.
In the end, Campbell’s plane goes down, the Underground’s actual building is destroyed by Strucker Power, and Lauren in particular is shaken by the fact that she used her abilities to knowingly kill fellow mutants—the Hounds who were about to bring the Underground to its knees. As the Underground regroups and contemplates starting over “from nothing,” Polaris and a Frost enter to recruit some of them over to the Nu-Hellfire Club side, in a divvying up that recalls a similar scene at the end of X-Men: First Class. Most of the other primary mutants stay, but Sage peaces out, and so does Andy Strucker.
It’s a decent combination of conclusion and cliffhanger for a first-season show that we now know will be back for a second season. And like much of this season of The Gifted, the two-part finale has some great ideas, plenty of cool mutant action, and a number of points where interesting developments are simplified into boilerplate dialogue and do-you-trust-me-or-them non-dilemmas. The brief scene with Polaris in a mental hospital serves as a reminder that the show could pay more direct attention to how Polaris navigates mutant persecution with her bipolar disorder (rather than just engineering situations where her friends ask if maybe this is part of her disorder and Blink has to point out that assassination attempts are not a symptom) (and I’m not sure if I agree with Blink on that one, only because hubristic assassination attempts could totally be a symptom if the bipolar person is an assassin).
The Gifted started out as a more grounded exploration of mutants on the run, and I’ve enjoyed its forays into bigger, crazier, more X-Men-like adventures. But I do hope the second season finds some more interesting ways of going small than just having the Struckers argue amongst themselves. The best moments of “eXtraction” offer a glimpse at a world that is not always in the superhero purview but very much affects the heroes of this particular universe. The XCU often treats mutant powers as a barely-coded stand-in for homosexuality, but there are more parallels here to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, complete with calls to end “politically correct” tolerance at a rally in a southern city where a bunch of destructive bigots gather under the guise of concern for “humanity.” (Sound familiar?) Now that the show has gone ahead and drawn the lines between characters that they’ve been tracing all season, I hope they can take this opportunity for its smaller stories to get more nuanced and idiosyncratic than this year’s endless arguments. I’ll certainly be watching to find out.
- Andy is the kind of dude who reads one book about a
particular subject and suddenly feels like a goddamn expert, huh?
- Setting the Humanity Today conference, the convergence of
anti-mutant groups, in Charlotte, North Carolina, sometimes confused with
Charlottesville, Virginia: Clever allusion, or pointless silliness?
- You know an episode has a lot of ADR when you’re hearing it constantly
despite not watching the unfinished screener version.
- I like Amy Acker. I like moms. So why doesn’t Acker going
into badass-mom mode barking orders and stuff land for me at all? It just feels
so cheesy and self-conscious, but I’m not sure why.
- Shatter in action!
- Wait, was the mutant who visited Polaris in the hospital to
sorta-recruit her an actual lawyer? Specifically, Evangline Whedon? Who I’d
never heard of before Googling around trying to figure out if that was
somebody, but apparently can turn into a dragon? More of her, please!
- Agent Jace Turner has quit in disgust. It seems like the show is fully prepared
to either give him some cool off-the-grid role in the new season or maybe just
write him off all together.
- Speaking of antagonists: Are we assuming Campbell is dead, like we would in real life, or are we going by comic-book gotta-see-the-body rules?
- That’s a wrap on my season-one coverage of The Gifted! I hope I’ll be able to come back and do it for the next season. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter (I’m more into movies than TV but on the plus side I do talk about Riverdale and Degrassi a fair amount) or just read my every single stupid word elsewhere on this site. Seriously, though, thank you guys who have followed along with me, offered comics-related color commentary, corrected my weird oversights and mishaps, and generally had fun with this pretty cool mutant TV show. It’s been fun!