Photo: Eliza Morse/Fox

Michelle Veintimilla, who plays Eclipse’s ex-flame (pun not initially intended, but not avoided, either) Carmen on The Gifted, has to navigate what may be the show’s most uncomfortable gap between a natural, expressive charisma that makes her a compelling performer to watch, and terrible, cliché-ridden dialogue that kinda makes you feel bad for her while you’re watching. Almost every player on this show has to deal with this to some extent, and I’m not saying Veintimilla is the very best of the lot, though I do like the way she plays Carmen’s confidence so casually. I’m also not saying that The Gifted is a soul-crushing barrage of standard-setting bad dialogue. What I am saying is that within the confines of a single episode, Carmen has to say the following lines:

“We made a deal... or did you forget?”

“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to come.”

“Spare me the noble speech.”

These aren’t awkwardly worded like the worst of George Lucas, or even as vaguely tin-eared as some of the weaker lines in the big-ticket X-Men movies (I still bristle at the way Wolverine’s “you call that a landing?” in the first movie somehow manages to sound context-less even though he’s reacting to something we’ve just seen happen) (though to be clear, I love that movie, and Jackman’s reading of “you’re a dick” is note-perfect). But they’re exactly the kind of leaden building blocks that writers resort to when they don’t have the time, inclination, or ability to think beyond the hundreds of other movies and TV shows they’ve seen using these lines. They’re supposed to usher us through the plot clearly and quickly, but writers who use lines like this severely underestimate just how boring it is to hear people talk like this, even if it’s just for a few seconds at a time.

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This doesn’t mean that “eXtreme measures,” the seventh episode of The Gifted, is boring. This show is rarely boring. But it does mean that when the show eases up on the action (both of the action-sequence and plot-movement variety), it’s left with characters who spout really boring clichés with great urgency and conviction. Which is to say: Poor Michelle Veintimilla! Carmen is potentially one of the most interesting human characters on this show, and the writing actively works against her.

The “eXtreme measures” of the episode title refers primarily to Eclipse’s reunion with Carmen, who comes calling, exactly as she explained she would, to collect on his debt to her. She provided the information that led to the springing of “Magnet Girl,” as she refers to Polaris, and now he has to act as muscle for her cartel again. Eclipse lies to Polaris about going to seek out some more supplies for the ongoing influx of mutant refugees, and instead goes off with Carmen to set some rival-cartel stuff on fire. Polaris figures it out, and brings Dreamer along to track him down, just in time to witness the explosion—and a hilarious explosion kiss that Carmen pecks onto her ex in slow-mo.

“You lied to me/But I did it for you” is not one of the more interesting fights that people have on TV, but they are going to be having it forever, so I guess The Gifted’s version isn’t worse than average, at least. It’s just especially conducive to the kind of boilerplate Carmen spouts throughout the episode.

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But I prefer that time-stalling subplot to the Struckers’ business this week, where Reed and Caitlin learn some unseemly information about Lauren’s new crush, Wes. Get this: It turns out that Wes did not always use his powers for the bare minimum of survival in the past! He used them for criminal activity! This really puts a damper on his courtship of Lauren, which focuses primarily on his engineering of a bootleg version of the Disney World attraction Soarin’. Everyone in the Strucker family, Lauren included, seems unduly freaked out that a homeless mutant kid used his powers in untoward ways. It just seems so obvious that if a kid has enormous powers but also is also hunted, feared, and loathed by society, that yeah, he’ll probably end up doing some bad stuff on his way to growing up. I’d assume a lot of the mutant refugees have similar stories (is that racist?). The show engineers some talk of vetting the mutant refugees in the early scenes to try to make this into a bigger deal than it is, but I just didn’t buy that this would be a major obstacle given everything that’s happening around the Mutant Underground – even within the Strucker purview.

There are parallels, of course, with Eclipse returning to his former life of crime as Wes faces suspicion for his. But rather then enhancing the show’s sense of empathy or toying with any kind dramatic irony, this pairing comes close to painting a murderous drug cartel and a kid helping a gang pull some robberies in roughly the same light (to the degree that it says anything at all, besides: look, these two things are both kinda-sorta similar except when they’re not).

The revelations about Wes lead to an abrupt series of turns towards the episode’s end: He reports his transgressions to the Mutant Underground highers-ups, gets a pass for it, and then winds up leaving the base anyway. The turnaround from they-said-I-could-stay to but-anyway-I’m-leaving-now reminded me of that bit in X-Men: The Last Stand where Storm says she’s going to close Xavier’s school after his death, and then Angel pokes his head in the room and as all “I heard there was a school?” and then everyone is like “and the school shall remain open!” and all the mutant students must be thinking, wow, my scholarship is not worth shit, is it?

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That is to say: The Gifted at its worst has, so far, been pretty watchable, but as we head into the show’s home stretch, I hope we’re not in for more episodes that synthesize some of the worst bits of the XCU, paying lip service to human (and mutant) emotion, imitating it without finding idiosyncrasies to keep it fresh. I think Michelle Veintimilla and the rest of the cast is up for it, if the writers can hustle to keep up.

Stray observations:

  • There’s also a subplot in this episode putting Thunderbird on a side mission to bring Blink back into the fold. He sates her desire to investigate the stretch of road she located while her powers were malfunctioning, leading to the discovery that the foster home she grew up in has been annihilated by Sentinel Services. It says something about the “important” plotlines this week that I was more interested in this than anything going on with the Struckers.
  • Speaking of Sentinel Services: Trask!!!! Trask Industries is back to ruin everything! I hate to be the kind of nerd who’s excited by this subplot just because it has the Trask imprimatur, but they do make a damn good mutant-world villain. This really feels like it could be part of the Days Of Future Past timeline that leads into the beginning of that movie (rather than the altered time stream of that movie’s end), but who knows? I imagine they’ll keep it pretty ambiguous for as long as possible.
  • This week’s brief flashback shows us the initial recruitment of Eclipse, in what amounts to a shockingly conspicuous meeting between the Mutant Underground and a drug dealer in the middle of a diner.
  • “eXtreme measures” was directed by Stephen Surjik, who I often confused with Stephen Herek. Surjik is the one who made Wayne’s World 2 and a lot of Kids In The Hall segments; Herek is the one who did Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure before making a bunch of live-action Disney movies in the early ’90s. They both mainly do TV now, but Surjik has a ton of superhero experience; in addition to The Gifted, he’s also done episodes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher, and of course the beloved superhero classic No Ordinary Family.
  • The Polaris self-defense curriculum has moved on from metal-tossing to brick-chucking. I’m beginning to think she hasn’t written out a syllabus at all.

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