The Gifted’s Sophomore Season Could’ve Been More Talented

I haven’t discussed The Gifted since the premiere, so this is going to SPOIL the rest of the second season. This is one of those times where I was writing the blog along with the series, so let me know if my amendments are coherent.

Lorna

Drunk with power after beating the Scarlet Witch at tiaras by default, Polaris turns her ultra-competitive gaze towards the Stepford Cuckoos!

Season one wasn’t groundbreaking, but it did lead up to a strong conclusion. Despite a promising start, it’s stumbled into a sophomore slump. It’s longer by three episodes & it shows in pacing. (Gotham would’ve put three extra episodes to better use!) The second episode had Reeva stressing about DeStruckt-O being able to destroy a door in time for her big plan, but we don’t get to see him blast one open until the mid-season finale! At least the superpowers are flashier than on Marvel’s Netflix side. Season three should just be The Polaris & Stepford Cuckoos Power Hour. That’d cut like 85% of the filler.

The Inner Circle doesn’t feel like The Hellfire Club. They don’t do period cosplay with chess rankings or have masked goons doing their dirty work. They’re actually on the frontlines fighting for mutant rights, not pitting both sides against each other while they profit. Aside from having tons of money, they’re indistinguishable from the Brotherhood of Evil Misunderstood Mutants & the Mutant Liberation Front. At least they’ve got the “treating Sage like ambulatory furniture” bit down.

Liberating the asylum was a good sequence, but I’m disappointed the Inner Circle recruited a brand new character instead of someone like Tempo, Senyaka, Phantazia, or Dragoness. At least Twist has a unique power. Too bad they fuzzy CGI blocks around what she’s twisting inside out look so cheesy. Ironically that guy who was twisted up all body horror in an alley was the best effect this season.

The heist was fun as fiction tends to present them. The adamantium safe even provided a reason for recruiting Twist. Will Creed Bank will lead to us meeting Graydon Creed? It doesn’t seem logistically sound that all the nation’s control collars would be run via a single server farm.

Reeva Payge’s horrified reaction to Twist slaughtering all the hostages would’ve worked better if we spent more time with Reeva so her inconsistent stance on whether or not to kill looks nuanced instead of slipshod. Wanting to save her boyfriend is totally understandable, but it’s her unwillingness to kill the other bankers that’s off. She already killed her Inner Circle compatriots & was mad when the Cuckoos bribed that one guy instead of offing him. I actually like her as a villainess that doesn’t feel the need to murder everyone, but it doesn’t quite line up.

The Stepford Cuckoo’s flashback was the one that felt the least like filler since they hadn’t already told us what happened to two of them. This was an effective way of showing how humans exploit mutants that tied into the Frost sisters’ comic background. When Esme recounts it to Lorna later, it has the emotional weight of the audience knowing she’s sincere. It underscores how superfluous the other flashbacks are.

These Morlocks were underwhelming. They cut M’s into their own faces? That doesn’t sound like a great plan for mutants who’re already stuck in the sewers. (Although Erg was invented first, his new M-scar combined with racebending makes him very similar to the like-powered Bishop.) I guess they don’t have the makeup budget for an assortment of freakish mutants. (That’s why Pedro was captured & Shatter was murdered.) They’ve only got Membrain & just for one episode. At least they believe in cornflakes.

Every time we get some momentum with the Inner Circle, it snaps back to the Mutant Underground. They just suck so bad now. Blink doesn’t even teleport mutant refugees to safehouses. It’s not even fun to watch them struggle. They obsess over sabotaging the Inner Circle to the detriment their mission just because they don’t respect Polaris & DeStruckt-O’s choices. Thunderbird even pettily distrusts the Morlocks for upstaging them! Without Xavier’s funding, these fill-in X-Men are the most ineffective mutant rights activists. Just ditch them altogether so we can focus on the teams that gets stuff done. (The finale ends with Erg & Esme added to the Mutant Underground, so maybe they can whip them into shape for some E-episodes?)

Reed von Strucker is better when he suffers because Stephen Moyer has Scott Summers energy. I’m surprised the glowing veins running up his hands while he grimaces about not being able to control it haven’t resulted in more masturbation jokes. Treatment for his dangerous latent mutation leads to the development of The Cure again. (Or is this the first time thanks to Days of Future Past retconning the timestream?) This is a really ethically interesting development, as we see many mutations are debilitating instead of making fight scenes cooler. While forcing The Cure on everyone is bad, there’s plenty of mutants who’d appreciate the option to be free of their mutations. This series has shown mutants with uncontrollable powers are unfairly incarcerated & institutionalized, so The Cure could be an alternative. (Amy Acker’s husband plays a justly incarcerated career criminal with Gambit-esque powers, which increases the amount of Gotham alumni.) Rather than explore this, Dr. Risman turns out to be an anti-mutant eugenicist, & her lab is destroyed. So they took a subplot I was disinterested in, made it surprisingly intriguing, then immediately squelched it.

How do the Struckers remain so unengaging when the weirdest stuff happens to their family? Haunted music box is silly. That swordcane’s handle is wrapped in Strucker sister skin! Sadly they don’t highlight this ghoulish fact or the show would risk acquiring too much personality. “I am pretty sure speaking German is not a normal drug reaction!” is probably the best quote of the season if not the whole series.

I have a better notion of who Thunderbird is now. He’s suicidal because of survivor’s guilt. Unfortunately he was also a huge jerk about Clarice helping Morlocks. The scene in the finale where he just wrecks Purifiers was great though! More of that Thunderbird instead of jealous mope Thunderbird please!

Eclipse is the most well-adjusted character. Although he misses Lorna & their baby, he’s not crazy possessive like the other characters. Blink also has her head on straight, volunteering to live in the sewers aside.

Polaris’s father is He Who Must Not Be Named! She turned his magenta Pog Slammer into a headband that somehow matches her hair. It’s much better than the MCU Scarlet Witch’s by default. Holding electrodes whilst her The White Lady makeup was applied caused Emma Dumont to manifest magnetic powers. She’s also disappointed Polaris has been so passive after being a force of nature last season. She spent too much time cowering in the finale’s climax instead of crushing the Inner Circle goons with all the metal in the car park.

Ooh, what other obscure canon characters will we see as Mutant Underground leaders? Nevermind, they all died offscreen! No epic mutant melees here! More like Mu-Can’t Underground, amirite?

Jace Turner quit Sentinel Services because there was too much red tape in its state sanctioned fascism. He’s now softening The Purifiers’ image for the media. It’s similar to Ben Lockwood on Supergirl, but he has the advantage of also being Agent Liberty. Turner’s descent into bigotry seems so restrained that it’s dull. (The bit where he feels ashamed that his ex-wife only called him after he covered up his traumatized Purifier buddy accidentally killing a mutant teen on the news was effective though.) He keeps almost realizing what he’s doing is wrong then commits more hate crimes. He’s too far gone for a redemption arc so just make him the X-Cutioner already!

This series highlights how badly mutantkind needs someone in public relations. The Purifiers, including two law enforcement agents, stubbornly believe there can only be one mutant group that ever does anything. The Mutant Underground can’t be bothered issuing press releases to deny responsibility for the Inner Circle’s crimes, which are at least trending with #MutantUprising. This is why the public doesn’t trust any muties!

It turns out Reeva is secretly colluding with Benedict Ryan of The Purifiers, much like Magneto & Senator Kelly in the Wolverine & the X-Men cartoon. This is to make sure the audience sees them as villains for their hypocrisy, but it makes them look unrealistically counterproductive. Real opposing extremist groups don’t coordinate with each other how to boost recruitment. (It’d be more interesting if they were brokering a real ceasefire that their underlings would ruin.) Furthermore she was the one who set him up with a TV show & gives the Purifiers their marching orders. This makes sense for the plutocrat Hellfire Club that are war profiteers, but it seems to fly in the face of having to claw her way to the top after seeing her friend, the equally obscure Benazir Kaur, murdered. You’re supposed to put moles in the opposition to sabotage them not improve them! For a mutant separatist, she only murders her own kind. Reeva went from being an ethically ambiguous character to blatant villainess whose policies are clearly terrible for both mutants & humans. Way to assassinate a once compelling antagonist’s character!

Reeva’s overall plan is to destroy the US government so that the country can be partitioned off into a separate mutant homeland. That just sounds like a recipe for an ongoing border war. Good luck getting other countries to recognize the United States of Mutopia! Have she & Ryan even put any thought in the logistics of splitting the nation? It sounds like just claiming the whole country for mutantkind would be less of a hassle.

While the Inner Circle is much more successful than our ostensible heroes, its long-term strategy is dubious. Its well coordinated attacks are still more likely to incite more anti-mutant hysteria than empathy for its cause. She’s riling up mutants but hasn’t bothered uniting them. What Reeva should be doing is using the group’s abundant resources to win at politics & public outreach. Since ethics are off the table, the Stepford Cuckoo’s telepathy would be instrumental in undermining anti-mutant politicians & kiboshing their laws. Meanwhile its funds could fund pro-mutant politicians & outreach instead of anti-human hatemongers like Ryan. If they can afford to put a mutant with a US birth certificate in the White House, it’d still be more Constitutional than Olivia “literal illegal alien” Marsdin’s presidency on Supergirl. The Inner Circle could still do freedom fighting missions on the side but they’d need to be subtler about it & keep civilian casualties to a minimum.

They did a riff on Mutant Massacre substituting Purifiers for Marauders. Since these Purifiers don’t get power armor, it was dull in its realism. It would’ve been more horrifying if they’d bothered to let us get to know any of the Morlocks present besides Erg. Reeva ordered this so she could use their tunnels to launch attacks, but the Morlocks would’ve probably let them pass in exchange for food anyway.  I can’t believe Jamie Chung was wise enough to avoid being killed on Gotham only to get fridged here! (Nah, it looks like she discovered how to teleport herself to the future for medical attention, because all X-Men stories require time travel now. Or maybe she’s dimension-hopping ala Exiles to shake things up?)

It doesn’t even look like unrestricted access to the Morlocks’ tunnels was crucial to the scheme. Rather than attacking from below, the Stepford Cuckoos walk Fenris right up to Sentinel Services to destroy it. Sentinel Services doesn’t have any Sentinels on site to protect itself from mutants? I thought these strikes were supposed to be synchronized, but the others were delayed until nightfall so the Mutant Underground could finally be successful.

The finale climaxes with Reed tricking Reeva into destabilizing his motor control. This unleashes the full might of his uncontrollable powers to explode them both! Reeva got hoisted by her own petard! Reed’s intentional sacrifice was legitimutantly effective! This overprotective control freak realized the only way to save his family was to forfeit control. Hopefully they don’t undermine the high note of his character arc by un-deading him.

Matt Nix said there’s a reason the 7/15 attack happened in Dallas. It sounds like he’s alluding to the X-Men temporarily dying to defeat The Adversary during Fall of the Mutants. So that’d be a good reason for the X-Men to not be around anymore. Fighting a nigh-omnipotent trickster could be a fun change of pace since Sentinel Services & the Purifiers seem to have run their courses (for the time being), although then I’d inevitably complain that Legion’s Shadow King is still superior. It’d be keen to meet Forge though.

Dazzler would be a great character to shake up the series’ dynamic (& that of the X-movies in general) since it’d be refreshing to finally see a mutant with a mainstream career. Would she conceal her genetic status to avoid alienating audiences, or would she be an outspoken activist regardless? Look for her to get animated exposure at least in the forthcoming Tigra & Dazzler Show on Hulu. (Redesigned Tigra resembles reboot Cheetara Cameron Esposito, which makes sense given she’s a Thundercat. Meanwhile Dazzler looks like Dagger.)

It’s not that The Gifted’s second season is bad per se, but so many comic book shows are better than it at the moment. Supergirl & Black Lightning are both using the X-Men’s anti-prejudice message to much more dynamic effect. That was unexpected! It’s put me in the position of having to pit Caitlin Strucker against Lynn Pierce for best powerless wife with medical expertise in a superpowered family. (Lynn’s plotlines feel more autonomous while Caitlin is becoming more violently unhinged.) Even The Flash has a superpower-cure this season. As far as network Marvel shows go, Agents of SHIELD is superior. The Gifted isn’t even the best X-Men show. (As inscrutable as Legion can be, at least it’s rarely dull.) The comparisons get worse if you factor in streaming shows like the superlative The Umbrella Academy. Inhumans being mercifully cancelled doesn’t leave many options for it to look down upon.  Arrow is still probably inferior though.

Despite its movie to a new time-slot (& Black Lightning thoughtfully moving its own), ratings for The Gifted continue to decline. So it probably won’t get a third season, unless Disney decrees it stays while it figures out its plans for the X-Men franchise. The Gifted season two didn’t wow me that much, but more importantly it didn’t royally piss me off. I’ll probably appreciate it more once Let’s Not Give Dark Phoenix Her Iconic Costume, Redux is unleashed. This season ended on a satisfying note that could double as a series finale if need be or launch a new direction. I won’t be heartbroken if it’s cancelled, but I’d also be glad if it returns. We just need to convince Marvel Studios to keep Emma Dumont as Polaris regardless of its MCU X-Men plans!

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Thanks to Black Panther, now Marvel Studios can hold its heads up high next to Suicide Squad! (If Moses Magnum is the villain for Black Panther 2: Vibranium Boogaloo, Marvel can cross-promote with ice cream & condoms!) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also rightly won an Oscar! These were two of the best from a crowed crop of quality comic book movies last year. While I’m not sure if First Man (the Riddler’s in that) was worthy, I’m just happy the inferior Infinity War lost!

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Captain Marvel opens next week! Before I review it, should I write about Gotham, “King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd,” or a new custom?

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