“eXodus,” the third episode of The Gifted, opens with another flashback, this one of Eclipse (whose “street name”—superhero name if you wanna be a geek about it—is used repeatedly) and Polaris three years earlier than the events of the series, sharing what is presumably their first kiss when Eclipse first comes to the Mutant Underground. It’s probably the best single scene in the episode, in large part because it plays like an actual scene, rather than a series of strategic plot movements. It’s predicated largely on Polaris asking Eclipse a question about his history, one that recalls those X-Men mini-origin scenes I mentioned back when I reviewed the pilot. It may be inelegant TV dialogue that can’t match the power of clear visual storytelling, but it’s a great mutant interview question: What was the first joyful thing you did with your powers?

The scene doesn’t go far back enough to show these experiences firsthand, but there’s emotional weight in seeing Polaris answer her own question first by recreating her moment for Eclipse, showing off how she can use metal-studded bracelets and stilettos to levitate herself (it’s also nice to get a more specific example than what they use in the X-Men movies, which basically go with: eh, there’s metal everywhere so Magneto can fly and stuff). Eclipse in turn makes a little light show, and together they make Aurora Borealis—at that time of year, at that time of day, in that part of the country, localized entirely between two mutants in love. Or on their way to being in love, anyway. (Maybe next they’ll share some delicious steamed hams.)

Showing two mutants in a burgeoning relationship flirt through sharing their powers is not new territory for the XCU, but it is the type of moment that these movies and now this TV show do very well, not least because so many other superheroes perform a one-sided version of the same ritual (the dude or the gal —and let’s be honest, almost always the dude—showing off his specialness for his intended). It also hinges on Polaris and Eclipse sharing memories, which ties into the other interesting aspect of “eXodus”—the way that, in a moment of desperation, Dreamer (Elena Satine) decides to give a memory of romantic attachment to John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird (Blair Redford) over to Blink to facilitate the kind of emotional intensity that helps inflame a mutant’s powers.

Blink is on the mend since last week’s episode, but while in sickness her powers flared up dangerously, now she can barely generate enough energy (or whatever it is) to rip open a tiny portal, let alone the size she’d need to break Polaris out of jail. Thunderbird gives her some extremely vague training—never has it been more clear that the Underground’s base is a poor man’s School For The Gifted—and later in the episode, when he, Eclipse, Caitlin, and the Strucker kids are being pursued by anti-mutant neighborhood vigilantes, Dreamer gets impatient and takes a shortcut, giving Blink the attachment she needs to overcome her difficulties. It’s a wonderfully thorny and potentially dangerous use of mutant powers, exactly the kind of uneasy what-if the X-Men are great for exploring.

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Unfortunately, “eXodus” doesn’t really follow through on making a whole episode about the non-mutant powers of memory. In fact, it seems a little early to be breaking out the title “eXodus,” not least because this episode doesn’t ultimately move the characters anywhere so much as prepare them to maybe eventually be moved. The Strucker storyline again retreads some familiar ground: Reed, who has made a deal with Sentinel Services to lead them to the Mutant Underground in exchange for a reunion with his family, realizes that hey, turning in a bunch of innocent mutants is kind of a shitty thing to do. Caitlin realizes that hey, just because it seems rational to talk things over and try to get non-violent, non-renegade help from family members doesn’t mean that said family members will be more than a little bit helpful; she and the kids sneak out to solicit help from her well-to-do and well-connected brother, which is how they wind up in a car chase in dire need of a Blink portal. I’m getting the sinking feeling that the show is going to have Reed and Caitlin learn and re-learn these lessons in empathy (or lack thereof) all season. It’s one problem with a shorter season: Sometimes it leads to TV writers thinking they need to stretch a pretty thin conceit over all the episodes they have, just because it’s more feasible than if they had 20 or 22.

I hope there’s more in store for the Strucker family than these lessons; I hope the kids, at least, start exhibiting as much personality-through-powers as the twentysomething and thirtysomething non-X-Men who currently make the show more interesting. The best moments of “eXodus” tap into the vast and bizarre power of memory. The worst act like several of the characters’ memories — or the audience’s — are extremely limited.

Stray observations:

  • Remember how last week I praised the short cold open? This week, practically a quarter of the episode goes by before the title comes up. I know this is pretty standard for serialized TV and unlikely to change any time soon, but it really bugs me when a show’s opening cycles through four or five different scenes. Guys, watch some X-Files some time.
  • Mostly, the halfhearted attempts at laugh lines on this show are not great. (Singer’s X-Men movies have a much surer way with the occasional deadpan joke.) But I enjoyed Blink’s mild reaction to Thunderbird flexing his tracking powers: “Oh, this is your thing.”
  • I feel like knocking over a row of parking meters and then scraping enough change for a substantial cab fare might not be the most adroit use of mutant powers to get from one place to another. Not to backseat write, but this is a situation where it might be more fun to have Caitlin come up with a smarter use of her kids’ powers, rather than just folding under the pressure.
  • Jace offers Reed a Mary Jane-like “go get ‘em tiger,” though it does not produce Spider-Man-like results.
  • The mutant mom who re-teaches Reed that mutants are people too is sort of an anti-Wolverine: He heals himself but still gets hurt, while she can remove pain from others, but not heal them.
  • I know this doesn’t have much to do with this show, but what did you guys think of that New Mutants trailer that dropped last week? I love the idea of an X-Men movie going full-on haunted-house horror, though I’m not as certain that it looks like Josh Boone actually made a really good haunted-house horror movie. Also, I liked The Fault In Our Stars (that kind of sensitivity should serve him well as an X-Men director) but the actual directing of it was often clunky. And the less said about his debut Stuck In Love, the better. Still: an off-season XCU horror movie! I’m excited!

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