The first season of The Gifted was given a very difficult task. Create a series about the X-Men without actually using the X-Men. The solution however is very interesting. Set the series in a post-X-Men world and focus on the seemingly ordinary Strucker family. As it turns out, both the Strucker children are mutants and in order to protect them, their parents make a deal with the Mutant Underground for protection and escape Sentinel Services. The opening episodes make a big meal out of this, throwing in plot twists and turns at every available opportunity and making the parents do anything to protect their children. What the series really suffered from was a lack of budget and as such, the whole thing looks like it has really low production value and a repetitive plot structure. But The Gifted accomplishes what it sets out to do. Well to a degree, thanks to some brilliant performances and some very satisfying season long plot threads. But to enjoy this series, you have to forgive some of the less than stellar elements along the way.
With the series beginning with the Strucker family at the forefront, the members of the Mutant Underground are also important characters. Polaris, Eclipse, Thunderbird, Blink, Sage and Dreamer all have lives of their own but they quickly realise they have to help the Struckers in order to survive. In fact, as the series progresses, the Struckers actually fade into the background a little bit, with the heads of the Underground getting to do all the cool and exciting stuff. The Strucker's are brought forward again with some interesting developments concerning their family history but it is easy to see why the producers and writers would be more interested in looking at the actual X-Men characters. And that is easy to understand as they all have cool codenames and awesome powers.
The best moments from The Gifted come when the Mutant metaphor is used in interesting ways to reflect the real life issue of discrimination. Early episodes explored issues of Mutants like how their medical care is done. But half-way through the season these more thoughtful episodes are side lined for more plot heavy and action packed ones. Now, while some of the season long plot threads were brilliant, it is a shame that The Gifted didn't continue to take that mutant metaphor and give it a spin with real world problems.
Despite the fact that this show exists in a world where the X-Men and the Brotherhood aren't around, the main cast of characters carry their legacies well on their shoulders. Some of the main characters even come to understand the Brotherhood's more violent ways, causing a rift between the members of the mutant underground. It is that very tug of morality and the difference between right and wrong that fuels some of the very best moments in this show.
Eclipse, (Sean Teale), Thunderbird, (Blair Redford), Kate, (Amy Acker), Andy,( Percy Haynes-White) and Lauren, (Natalie Alyn-Lind), find themselves in trouble.
For those of you who are wondering and like me, are very familiar with the source material, there is plenty of nods and Easter eggs to keep you happy, littered throughout the run.
Following the show having established its foundation, unfortunately, it does fall into a formula that grows pretty tiresome later; a conflict will arise, the main characters stand around and discuss it, they'll go on a mission and sort it out and then they return to the base and talk about how it went. And you can always guarantee that someone will have a personal issue that will lead them to make good or bad decisions causing drama for everyone involved.
And looking past the plotting which isn't always as strong as it could be, most of the characters and their relationships are!
The brilliant performances from Emma Dumont and Sean Teale as Polaris and Eclipse, help us to believe that they are a real life couple. Comic book fans know that Polaris is the daughter of Magneto and her struggle with the dark legacy of her father is what brilliantly forms her character's backbone. She has the most interesting of worldviews and this leads to some genuinely interesting moments and debates. Dumont is brilliant in the final episodes, having a full on Magneto moment that will change her character and the direction of the show in the second season.
Dreamer, (Elena Satine), Andy, Lauren and Blink, (Jamie Chung) are on a mission.
Brother and sister, Andy and Lauren start out as rookie-mutants who don't understand the full extent of their powers, let alone what their place is in this mutant war. Parents, Reed and Caitlin Strucker round the family out, they give emotional support and help out on mission's whenever they can. More importantly though, they provide the human voice in a room of mutants and while they can be side lined and given nothing to do, the Strucker's as a family unit, get a nice story-arc throughout the course of the season, that ends on an interesting hook for the second season.
This might be a minor spoiler but for those of you who have read the comics, you'll know who they are anyway but later on in the season, the hive-minded telepaths and clones of Emma Frost, The Stepford Cuckoos make their appearance. Actress Skylar Samuels brings the trio to life expertly. When they were introduced in the comics they all had such a voice, something that Samuels emulates perfectly, quickly making them the big baddies for the second half of the season. And I loved the little nod to Emma Frost when the man from the Hellfire Club gave them a diamond. (For those of you who don't know, Emma Frost has a secondary mutation that allows her to turn to diamond.)
Looking at the villains, at the beginning of the season Agent Turner and Sentinel Services provide the antagonism but that changes when they introduce Doctor Roderick Campbell, who will no doubt go on to become his comic book counterpart, Ahab, at some point! He takes on the real bad-guy role, more so than the Cuckoos, but that leaves Turner in an awkward position where he is only the stooge. Unfortunately, Campbell is far less interesting as only plays the evil scientist archetype, leaving Turner to struggle in his position. It looks like the producers weren't really sure what to do with Mutants going up against human opponents so just shoved them to the side.
Polaris, (Emma Dumont) is given little clues to who her real father is over the course of the season.
Oh and there is a brilliant cameo from the Purifiers, one of the worst villains the X-Men ever came up against!
There is a very strange love triangle that just doesn't work between Thunderbird, Blink and Dreamer early on in the season. In the beginning, it is supposed to be as it was a false memory implanted into Blink by Dreamer to get her powers to work to their fullest extent. But as the season went on, it became more contrived. But the end, something awful happens to one of the character and the whole thing is ironed out. But it is so awkward in the middle that one wishes it hadn't happened at all!
In a show with a low budget and lots of mutants with extraordinary powers, the producers did an excellent job of making everyone look fantastic with visual effects. Some characters look brilliant and some look a little weaker but what matters is how they are used. Movies have the budget to do things like Magneto moving The Golden Gate Bridge in The Last Stand but a television series never has that opportunity, so everything has to rest on a characters' emotions and motivations. Their powers come out to play in moments of joy or sadness, they are used in a way of producing fear or inspiration and more often than not, that approach allows us to understand the characters who wield these magnificent abilities.
One of the best examples of the visual effects comes in the second episode, where Blink's abilities are going haywire and she is opening portals all over the place. She opens one in a road and closes it again around the backend of a car which then speeds through the base, it hits the invulnerable Thunderbird in a way that looked like it genuinely hurt. It is one of the most exciting moments in the show.
Esme, Sophie and Phoebe Cuckoo, the Stepford Cuckoos make their presence known, all played brilliantly by Skylar Samuels.
While the acting gives the make up and visual effects a pass, most of the action takes place on abandoned country roads, empty warehouse of wide open spaces, again because of budgetary problems. And the evil laboratories where the evil experiments happen look like typical offices.
Even though this is a show that can be a bit of a rollercoaster in terms of its quality, it manages to bring it brilliantly home in the end. It is a brave, bold and unexpected conclusion to the first season and creates a bold new landscape for the second season.
I said at the beginning of this review that The Gifted set out to create a world set in the X-Men universe without The X-Men and it does largely succeed. There are a number of stand out characters and plot threads that use the mutant metaphor brilliantly. But the show's over reliance on one story formula makes it fumble through the middle as does its approach to its human villains. The resulting television show is a rocky but enjoyable look at a world where a group of mutants are trying to tackle a corrupt system and world.
Who cares if it doesn't always have the biggest production value of all time or if the writing and visual effects can be a bit shaky, it has the heart to go back to the original message of the X-Men. They are the oppressed, they represent people being bullied or hurt because of them being themselves, they are the people who don't conform to societies system and they are people who are willing to help those who hurt them in order to prove that they will always be right at the end of the day. They are the perfect heroes in an imperfect world. The Gifted rides that message throughout its debut season and manages to bring everything to a brilliantly strong close...