Photo: Eliza Morse/Fox

No wonder Reed Strucker’s face radiates so much consternation so much of the time. In “threat of eXtinction,” we learn that he suffers from the hoariest of backstories, the father he resents for never being there. And so he then must suffer through the hoariest of resolutions to absent-father resentment: the revelation that his father was absent because he was attempting to protect his family, and was wracked with guilt over the distance he put between himself and his son.

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I don’t mean to trivialize these character details (well, maybe a little). In fact, the neglect-because-he-cared angle nearly counts as novel when Reed’s dad is played by Raymond J. Barry, a character actor who has played Bad Dad to everyone from Raylan Givens to Dewey Cox. His Arlo Givens was a particularly nasty yet (in his way) complicated piece of work, so when his character on The Gifted turns out to be not so bad, well, it’s still not entirely unexpected or even a particularly well-earned bit of cliché-mongering. The Gifted is not a show that avoids or transcends clichés. But it does sometimes step through them with a certain nimble economy.

Reed confronts his dad when the Mutant Underground learns that Trask Industries is behind the latest round of Sentinel Services’ scary innovations in mutant-hunting and also mutant-brainwashing. Knowing that his father worked for Trask for years, Reed and Thunderbird set out to question the man who now owns and operates an antique shop in Chattanooga. That’s where Reed learns, after some standard stalling, the truth about his father: That he is directly related to the von Strucker twins seen in the episode’s grabby cold open, set in 1952 London, where the fugitive mutant siblings are cornered by Interpol, and escape in some kind of white destructive flash, all with a vaguely scary sort of nonchalance.

Moreover, Reed’s dad is a mutant, and worked at Trask to suppress the X-gene, something he successfully did to Reed in childhood, before his powers were able to manifest (explaining a newly mentioned childhood sickness). It nearly killed him, hence the guilt, hence the further distance, hence the resentment. All of that stuff is pretty boilerplate. But the self-loathing mutant who keeps his power on the DL and toils to genetically modify his kid so he doesn’t live the mutant life, well, that’s a pretty interesting version of the boilerplate, at least, and Barry does what he can to bring what is mostly just exposition to life on screen. This turn also provides a belated origin story for the present-day Strucker siblings, who Barry somewhat nonsensically warns against holding hands (I mean, I guess it’s not obvious that two teenage siblings would definitely have held hands at some point in the past month or two, but they are siblings), and then Reed nonsensically decides not to ask any further questions about (again, if it’s not a given, it at least seems like something that could happen very easily).

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Anyway, a fair number of characters die in “threat of eXtinction.” If that title somewhat oversells what’s actually happening in the episode, it tries to make up for it in body count: The elder Strucker lets his power run wild to stave off Sentinel Services, which kills poor enslaved/presumably drugged-up Pulse, while another sleeper agent discovered in another gaggle of mutant refugees dies after Caitlin, the Strucker kids, Polaris, Eclipse, and a new telepath (also known as Plot Mutant) attempt to extract some information from her. She brings about the other strain of poignancy in this episode: Eclipse notices that she has the twitchy physicality of a drug addict, and it seems that Sentinel Services is keeping its captured mutants doped up on kick, a “mutant drug.” Even in her comedown state, she’s barely able to speak, and eventually her body gives out. Michelle Kim gives this character a scary, then kind of heartbreaking intensity (and not to get all nerdy about what is really a sad character, but that first fight scene where she’s revealed and the Underground mutants have to subdue her is another cool bit of Gifted action in an episode relatively light on it).

The loss of Reed’s father, the captured mutant Chloe, and the chronically unrescued Pulse don’t really affect the episode-to-episode proceedings of the show, ranging as the characters do from single-episode monologue-dispenser to mostly-silent performance. As such, they don’t really land with quite the individual emotional force I’m sure the show-makers were hoping for. But put together in a single episode, they do illustrate the collateral damage sustained by the mutant community at this point in whatever timeline this is. Even the death of a crusty old man like Raymond J. Barry can feel senseless and unfair.

Stray observations:

  • I know from comics-world osmosis and reading the comment sections here that the von Struckers, also known as Fenris, are totally a comics thing, and the show even name-checks Fenris when finally bringing them in for some XCU-style slightly-more-grounded-but-still-interestingly-weird treatment. I looked up more about the von Struckers on Wikipedia and, as is the case with almost every Wikipedia entry I’ve ever read about anything related to the X-Men, I got real confused, real fast.
  • Is it better to have a generic-sounding slangy drug name like “kick,” or a patently fucking ridiculous one like, say, “jingle-jangle”? I’m honestly not sure.
  • Polaris spends a fair amount of her screen time in this episode messing around with knives. She must be practicing for her next round of highly detailed and meticulously planned mutant training (just kidding, she’s going to throw knives at them). I have to say, when confronting a super-fast mutant zipping around an enclosed space, floating a bunch of knives in their path doesn’t seem like a bad way to mess with them, unless you think cutting someone with knives is bad, in which case it’s probably really bad.
  • This is a war, you guys. In case you were unclear about that, two different characters point it out within 10 minutes of each other in this episode.
  • I know I haven’t paid much mind to subplot about the traumatized young mutant who turns out to share foster parents with Blink, even though I chose it for the main photo above. I’m generally into Blink subplots, but this one felt so weighed down by coincidence and the neatness of its Dreamer-related irony. Looks like Blink gets in on the action next time, though!
  • Thunderbird, mutant detective: “There’s a car outside – I think it’s Sentinel Services.” Then cut to a car that says “Sentinel Services” on its side in giant letters.
  • “Don’t turn your back on desperate people because one of them might be dangerous.” I’m starting to think some of the Gifted folks might not wholeheartedly approve of the current presidential administration!

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