Photo: Eliza Morse/FOX

It’s not unusual for a show like The Gifted – comic-book pedigree; effects-intensive; hyped – to come out of the gate with a banger of a pilot and then slow it down for weeks or possibly even years on end as the showmakers struggle not to burn through too much material – or to come up with material to burn through. The upside of The Gifted having more of a respectable, snappy, but not world-beating pilot last week is that it clearly has room to maintain its speed.

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Though the first episode ended in a cliffhanger, the second does a classic TV delay, cold-opening with a flashback scene of the Struckers enjoying some family time a year earlier. It might sound sarcastic to say that I appreciate seeing a flashback revelation that Lauren used her mutant powers to cheat at bowling, but I honestly loved that detail, perhaps moreso than the boilerplate writing of the moment where Reed and Caitlin encourage a persecuted young mutant and her protective father to keep their heads down and run, rather than stand up for themselves. Oh, the irony that was pretty much established already! Even so, I hope they continue offering snippets of growing-up-a-secret-mutant grace notes as the series continues. They don’t have to be Lost-style revelations to add some color to the show (and on the other side, they don’t have to be Jack’s Tattoos, either).

After the credits, the story has split into three: Polaris is having a rough time in prison; Reed has been detained by Sentinel Services after missing his chance to leap through Blink’s portal; and Blink herself is in serious medical trouble after exerting her power so heavily to help the others escape. This also causes her powers to malfunction, leading to by far the coolest bit of X-Men power deployment in this episode, as portals keep tearing open, exposing the mutants on the run to danger as Lauren rushes to seal off the portals with her weird plasticky bubble thing. The one that sends half a squad car careening into their hideout is, as the bard once said, pretty rad.

To stabilize Blink, Eclipse and Caitlin head to the hospital where Caitlin works and purloin some medicine. Though these scenes also reiterate pilot business – Caitlin had no idea mutants were treated so badly! – it does benefit from Eclipse’s rueful comments about the state of mutant healthcare, noting that the doctor who treats his injury before calling the cops on him actually counts as one of the more compassionate ones. (Also: Mutant powers, he notes earlier, are major pre-existing conditions.)

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The scenes with Polaris adjusting (or, pretty much, not) to life in the big house serve as the major cues that this episode was directed by Len Wiseman of the first two Underworld series as well as other inessential pop-culture detritus. It’s kind of shocking that he hasn’t wound up directing an X-Men movie yet – and honestly, he probably could only have improved X-Men: The Last Stand or that first Wolverine solo movie. Also kind of shocking: That on TV, Wiseman looks like a decent stylist; this episode was pretty cool-looking, and the prison scenes were particularly eye-catching. For better and for worse, the combination of ogling and badassery of Polaris’s scene in the prison showers is pure Wiseman.

The episode leaves hanging whether her ability to beat her power-inhibiting collar long enough to exact revenge on an aggressive inmate will leave her in a more powerful position or more at risk, but I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying this storyline. It seemed like a classic stalling move – put one character with super-cool powers in a boring prison setting where she can’t use her powers at all – but perhaps more than any of the other threads, it provides a neat look at how mutants might survive in environments rarely covered by the X-Men movies (besides those plastic prisons Magneto always manages to get sprung from).

The least entertaining thread is Reed at Sentinel Services, squaring off against Jace Turner (Coby Bell). Turner reveals some predictable but still fairly compelling (and well-acted) mutant-bias backstory, recalling how an unspecified July incident – some kind of X-Men/Brotherhood of Mutants scuffle, sounds like – led to the death of his younger daughter, and maybe kicked off the period of mutant crackdown we’re seeing here. Despite Bell being saddled with lines like “I really need you to understand the stakes” (he might as well say, “just wait until the upcoming act break”), at least some of these scenes’ tedium can be chalked up to Stephen Moyer’s performance. If I’m being really unfair, his whole physicality feels off, with his coiled intensity and supervillain’s glower misapplied to a dad who may be in over his head. It could be interesting to see this weird energy channeled into a buttoned-up dad type, but the show hasn’t really given him the material to make this work yet.

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It doesn’t help that The Gifted has a lot of characters to deal with; it may well become one of those ensembles that keeps isolating or de-powering or shuttling off certain characters just to keep scenes down to manageable lengths. This particular episode sidelines Polaris in prison and Blink in a state of medical emergency, and does both of those things cleverly. But it also adds in guest star Garret Dillahunt, and a mysterious brother-sister mutant incident in Rio in the ’60s. Maybe The Gifted can find a way to burn itself out after all. But so (not very) far, so (pretty) good.

Stray observations:

  • Props for a nice, short cold open. Too many shows pack in three or four long scenes before throwing to the credits. Further props to Wiseman for those bowling-ball-eye-view shots. Yes, the Coens did it better, but I appreciate the effort anyway.
  • I also appreciate Wiseman or whoever else continuing to make sure this corner of the XCU has plenty of purple, pink, and blue. One thing I really liked about Apocalypse is how much of those colors it featured.
  • I can’t stop you guys from making Comedy Bang Bang jokes regarding Len Wiseman, but know in your hearts that I will be rolling my eyes every time I see one. I’m sorry, I just don’t watch that show or listen to that podcast and I’d honestly rather talk about the actual Len Wiseman.
  • I dug the Sentinel Services variation on the Tommy Lee Jones Fugitive search-every-outhouse-henhouse speech, but I wish it had gone further: Search every weird-colored matter, every stream of red or purple light, and anything that looks like it could be a mutant pretending to be an animate object. Search everything, basically. Your job is impossible. Good luck.
  • So yeah, jailed Polaris has a power-inhibiting collar, not unlike the dampener they use in Powers, one of my favorite comics ever. That one was also made into a TV show, but I couldn’t get past the very bad first few episodes. If my younger self found out that there were shows made out of the comics Alias, Preacher, and Powers, and that I only watched a full season of one of them, he would gasp and then slap me for my impudence.
  • Okay, I admit it: I paused this episode toward the end to flip over to the halftime show on ESPN so I could watch the Last Jedi trailer. It was like I was rigging up the spring of 2002, when an airing of The X-Files on Fox featured the premiere of the final Attack Of The Clones trailer. I have Attack Of The Clones nostalgia, just so you know who you’re dealing with here.

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