Photo: Eliza Morse/Fox

When a show like The Gifted is premised on the introduction of one group of characters (in this show’s case, the Strucker family) into another group (the Mutant Underground), it’s damn tricky to wind up with a situation where some viewers aren’t going to favor one or the other, hoping the show will start to really downplay one of those groups (or at least absorb one group more fully into another). The sentiment I’ve seen expressed more often in reference to The Gifted is that the Strucker material is weaker (despite the presence of fan favorite Amy Acker) and that the Mutant Underground stuff is where it’s at.

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I’d tend to agree, although it’s not out of dislike for the Struckers so much as an acknowledgment of the charisma of main mutant characters, and the show’s deeper-than-expected bench of superpowers and well-executed action sequences. In other words, the Mutant Underground is often better than expected and the Strucker stuff is closer to the expected level of an earnest, fine-but-not-great network TV show. This in turn can futz with the expectations for future episodes; “got your siX,” for example, seems like it’s teeing up an episode focusing on Blair Redford’s John Proudstar (also known as Thunderbird), which seems like a good idea. It opens with a short flashback to John as a mutant vet, trying to raise money for victims of the 7/15 incident, facing indifference, harassment, and even terrorism as he just barely deflects a bomb chucked at him and fellow mutant crusaders.

Thunderbird is also front and center of the present-day storyline, at least at first: He and Eclipse agree to take more aggressive measures to find out what’s happened to Pulse and other captured mutants who may have been brainwashed or otherwise by Sentinel Services. This involves ducking into a federal building in Baton Rouge, which would normally involve leaning heavily on the break-in-friendly powers of Blink. But Blink peaces out early on, disgusted by the mind-invasion that Dreamer performed and Thunderbird kept secret.

It’s around this point that “got your siX” drifts away from being a Thunderbird-centric episode, and honestly, I’m not sure how much to complain about that. It winds up paying more attention than some other recent episodes to dynamics within the Strucker family, and that’s supposed to be part of this show’s deal, so I’m not going to call for their immediate ouster or anything. I even found Stephen Moyer, who often feels too intense by half, a bit more appealing in this episode, as he attempts to better understand Andy as they both tag along on Eclipse’s Baton Rouge mission (Andy having volunteered to use his smashy powers in place of Blink’s quieter portal creation). I’m not at all certain that the writers intended Reed’s powers inquiry of “does it hurt?” to echo what Rogue asked Wolverine in one of the best moments of the first X-Men movie (slash the entire X-Men series), but I liked it, intentional or not, and I liked Andy’s response, which is very different from Wolverine’s—he likens it to shouting, something you wouldn’t want to do all the time but can feel pretty cathartic in the right moment.

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Questions about both the physical toll of mutant powers and how involved young mutants should be in the resistance are dovetailed over in Caitlin’s subplot, as she bristles when Polaris begins battle-training some of the younger members of the mutant refugee influx. Caitlin objects to her daughter’s involvement in this unofficial program, observing the elevated blood pressure one young mutant experiences from using his powers multiple times per day. Caitlin also wants to spend some of her time putting together some kind of school-like curriculum for the younger mutants (one driven by a small and presumably pretty outdated passel of textbooks that she locates). It won’t be lost on many X-fans that Polaris and Caitlin basically each want to set up a makeshift version of Xavier’s school—except that each one disdains the other half of the typical X-Men curriculum.

That’s all pretty neat, but it’s hard to discern at this point what’s plot filler and what’s connective tissue. Because the conflict between Polaris and Caitlin doesn’t go anywhere especially unexpected—tensions flare up and then kinda die down—the episode feels like a retread of old ground about degrees of radicalization. Should the Strucker kids—and other teenage mutants—be treating this time in the Underground as a detour, or an entirely new path? Thunderbird might have provided some strong thematic echoes here—he’s a veteran and here he is, out of official combat but still fighting to get his friend Pulse’s back—but he doesn’t have much to do as the episode finishes up.

It’s especially noticeable when the episode finishes with another combination of break-in, roadblock, and ambush, and when that sequence again features Lauren standing from a vantage point and using her powers like sort of a sniper. The bit with her mirage-creating compatriot Wes was neat-looking, but it’s a variation on what we’ve seen in the show before. The Strucker parents aren’t so sure if their mutant kids should be up in the action like that. But they have to be. So they are. And it pretty much works out. Reed makes a little leeway in his somewhat awkward relationship with his son (and receives encouragement for his efforts from Eclipse), but not much else is changed, or challenged, or more than passably diverting, and Thunderbird doesn’t really get a showcase as strong as what Eclipse, Polaris, or Blink have received in the past. The Struckers may be adjusting to life in the Mutant Underground; it reads just as strong, though, that they’re adjusting to life inside a somewhat repetitive network TV show.

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Stray observations:

  • This episode also didn’t do a great job handling the fallout from the previous episode’s revelation about Jace’s screwed up memory. Here it’s just one more thing increasing his drive to catch those damn mutants—even though he’s been placed on mandatory leave. Though he’s willing to sneak into his office in the meantime, he doesn’t have to once Dr. Campbell (Garret Dillahunt) offers to bring him back into the fold early—provided he turn over his info on the Strucker kids. I’m getting the feeling that a lot of Dillahunt stuff may be something the show attempts to save for season two, but then again, there are still four more episodes to go.
  • Are we supposed to know where it was that Blink holed up at the end? My first thought was maybe she could go chill in some abandoned version of Xavier’s school, but this is the kind of thing I get wrong on this show with serial embarrassment.
  • This is a bizarre leap, but when Wes was using his sexy mirage powers to flirt with Lauren, I couldn’t help but think of Larry David’s SNL monologue about whether he’d be able to keep from chatting up women at a concentration camp. Obviously the Mutant Underground base is nowhere near as dire a situation as that, but the X-Men movies had enough holocaust-centric imagery (and I’d watched SNL recently enough) to put it in mind.
  • I haven’t mentioned the most direct and intentional reference to the X-Men movies: Dreamer is all, “the X-Men said a war is coming.” That’s kind of a weird attribution. I mean, I remember when characters said that in X-Men movies, but they didn’t say that to Dreamer, or even to big crowds. Was it subsequently featured in a press release?
  • The truck carrying Eclipse, Reed, and Andy makes a pit stop at... the Fox Forest! You know, that stretch of forested area where like half of the Fox-produced superhero movies inexplicably have a major action scene.
  • Polaris could really use a Danger Room. Her idea of training is basically just using her powers to throw metal shit at kids (not so different from the wrench gag in Dodgeball). This will be excellent preparation in case these kids ever have to fight Polaris.

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