Fox’s The Gifted is giving us the X-Men we need right now.
The X-Men film franchise may be a complete mess right now, what with its three, (or is it four?) concurrent storylines, but at least The Gifted is trying to pave a new path for the world’s favourite mutants on our television screens.
If you have not watched the show yet, or are unsure whether to give it a go, take a look at the reasons why you should be watching The Gifted.
1 – Gripping Plot
Set during a time when the X-Men no longer exist, following an ‘incident’, Fox’s The Gifted follows a group of refugee mutants as they hide from Sentinel Services, humans, and pretty much everyone who isn’t a mutant. Mutants Thunderbird and Polaris, co-leaders of the mutant underground, are aided by their partners, Eclipse and Dreamer to take in these refugees and care for them.
On a regular trip for supplies, Thunderbird, Polaris and Eclipse come across Blink, a mutant on the run. While trying to protect her and the team, Polaris is taken captive by Sentinel Services. In detention, she is visited by Reed Strucker, a lawyer prosecuting dangerous mutants. Strucker informs Polaris that she is pregnant, in the hopes that she will share the location of the mutant underground. However, Polaris is stronger than that and refuses to give up her friends and fellow mutants.
Strucker, though, is in for a shock. A man who has spent his career putting mutants behind bars, soon finds out that both his children are mutants. His son Andy wrecks his school when his power manifests for the first time and Sentinel Services soon descend on the Struckers, demanding that Andy be taken into custody. But, daughter Lauren intervenes, revealing she discovered her mutant powers almost a year ago. The heretofore regular Struckers find themselves on the run and need to be rescued by the very same organisation they had been hunting – the mutant underground.
With the Sentinel Services closing in on them, the Struckers learn some harsh truths about themselves and how the world treats those who are different.
2 – Politically Relevant
The X-Men’s nemesis may have been Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil, but their real enemies have always been humans. Since the comic series’ first issue, the X-Men have made one overarching statement – love your fellow humans, no matter the differences between us.
This message continues to be relevant today, especially in the wake of the refugee crisis, Brexit, Weinstein, DACA and rising homophobia, sexism and racism. Entertainment needs to show these harsh truths and shows such as The Gifted have taken the opportunity to engage with some of these issues.
The mutant underground is all about taking in refugees and nurturing them. By having the Strucker family be affluent, white and anti-mutant, and then put them dead centre in the middle of the mutant crisis, the show makes a statement.
During the refugee crisis, far too many countries, and their citizens, wanted to keep refugees out, refusing to acknowledge the dire circumstances that lead them to flee their homes in the first place. The Struckers deal with this situation in the show, struggling to get any help from their human family and friends. Their anti-mutant stance changes not just because the issue hits close to him but also because when interacting with mutants, they realise that mutants are just like everyone else.
There is a powerful moment early on in the season when Kate Strucker takes Marcos Diaz, the mutant known as Eclipse, to a human hospital. He is immediately under suspicion, the doctor taking Kate aside to ask if Marcos is dangerous and if Kate is afraid for her life. At least Marcos gets medical treatment, but the constant glares he receives almost makes the hospital trip not worth the effort.
And, of course, the inhuman treatment of the mutants during the show, especially the Hound Program, is similar to the treatment of people of colour, especially in America. They are experimented on, tested, drugged, treated like subjects rather than people. Though these are all sourced from the comic book stories, they continue to have real-world relevance, even in 2018.
3 – Comic Book Connections
There are several Easter eggs in the show and many obvious connections to the X-Men comics.
The Gifted is based on the X-Factor comic series where a group of X-Men set up an organisation for the government to take in mutants, especially the dangerous ones. Unbeknownst to the government though, X-Factor is not apprehending the mutants, it is instead helping keep them safe and teaching them how to use their powers.
Sentinel Services is a successor to the Sentinel robots, who menaced the X-Men in the comics and the film X-Men: Days of Future Past; a senator mentions how badly the robot programme went at one point in the show. There is also a looming threat from Trask Industries, named after Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinels.
But, the connections go further than just the comic books. There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to Jack Kirby at the tail end of the season.
Stan Lee, one of the creators of the X-Men makes an appearance in the show, the first time since X-Men 3: The Last Stand. It is great to see that the man behind Marvel has given his stamp of approval to the show.
4 – Great characters
X-Men has always been about the characters – Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm are household names – and though we do not have these famous characters in The Gifted, we get a handful of well-known names from the comic.
Polaris makes her first live-action appearance in the show. Played by Emma Dumont, Polaris is angry, fearless and exceptionally powerful. She is a good friend to fellow mutants, Dreamer and Thunderbird, and her partner Marcos but has strong principles that she believes in, even when they aren’t always right.
Thunderbird is the strong, silent type, a war veteran who also has a bleeding heart for anyone who walks through his doors. Thunderbird’s powers aren’t like his namesake in the comics, who came to a quick end one issue after his introduction. Instead, he is similar to Warpath, Thunderbird’s brother in the comics.
Marcos is the heart of the show. He loves Polaris dearly, is a fierce friend to Thunderbird and has the best interests of the underground at heart. He is also reckless at times in his haste to save everyone which gets him into several sticky situations.
Dreamer initially seems to be styled as a love interest for Thunderbird, but when she has room to stretch, she shows she is a powerful mutant who sometimes uses her powers a bit carelessly. She is impatient for results and is set in her ways but her heart is in the right place.
Clarice is the newbie. She is cynical and annoyed, unsure of her place in the world or in the underground. Clarice is also trying to get some control over her power, which adds to her irritation about everything around her. Her lack of control puts people in danger eventually, which puts things in perspective for her and makes her a better fighter.
Then there are the Struckers. Daughter Lauren is kind but rebellious, desperate to do something good with her powers. Son Andy is constantly angry and wants to fight. Mother Kate is shell-shocked by the family’s situation but goes out of her way to assimilate into her circumstances and protect her family and the mutants. Father Reed takes time to adjust but is ready to sacrifice everything to keep his family safe.
There are other characters, especially on the side of the Sentinel Services, people who have more layers to them than just being the bad guys. And, that is the kind of balanced view we need. Not everything is black and white, good people do bad things, bad people do good things. That is what the X-Men are all about.
So many characters, so much diversity, so much to love. They may not be the X-Men we know best but The Gifted gives us the kind of heroes we can definitely get behind. Season one was gritty, relevant and took us back to a world where mutants are fighting for the same things we are. Waiting for season two is going to be hard!