FOX‘s The Gifted might have stumbled a bit in its second season in terms of pacing but it still remains an interesting corner of the X-Men universe.
Showrunner: Matt Nix
Summary: Marvel’s action-adventure family drama The Gifted tells the story of a suburban couple whose ordinary lives are rocked by the sudden discovery that their children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a hostile government, the family joins up with an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive.
There’s a standard notion among television fans that the second season of a series can be on the rough side. It’s known as the “sophomore slump” and it’s unfortunate to see The Gifted fall into this trap. When the second season ended it set up a very interesting but familiar set-up. The show broke up two major family units by having Andy and Lorna leave the Mutant Underground to join the Inner Circle. It’s a conflict that anyone familiar with X-Men lore will know. It seemed like the logical progression for the show to make. It set up two different versions of Charles and Magneto with Marcos and Lorna and Andy and Lauren.
It turns out this was a mistake and almost took the heart out of the show. The family dynamic turned out to be the fundamental piece of the show and when it was broken the show was weaker for it. The show was at its best once the main cast got back together and unfortunately, that takes pretty much the entire season. This also means that there are long stretches where not much seems to happen.
We have three groups that we are following this season; the Inner Circle, the Mutant Underground, and the Purifiers. Unfortunately for this show, the most passive of these three groups is the Underground and they are also where most of our main characters are. You start to wonder why they there at all and what they are trying to accomplish. While the Inner Circle might be going about all of this the wrong way they are at least trying to do something. The Purifiers are about as close to an analogy to the KKK or other hate groups. The show is not subtle about this but Jace Turner, the Sentinel Services agent from the previous season, eventually hooks up with the Purifiers. For some reason, the show keeps wanting us to sympathize with Turner despite the fact that he isn’t at all sympathetic.
This is not to say the season is bad – it just drags considerably at times. This is a show with sixteen episodes and it doesn’t feel like it used them properly. The finale was good but spreading some of that stuff out over a few episodes would have made it better. Showrunner Nix went on the record that the original script for the finale was two hours long. It feels like there was a lot cut and there were plenty of moments in the earlier season that could have been cut to make room for the finale.
That said, the thing that makes this show work is the characters and there were some great developments this season. Catelin Strucker went full Linda Hamilton and while that started off a little rough she basically ended the season as a total badass. Reed continues to be the least interesting character but him coming to terms with his powers is interesting to watch. Lauren and Andy are great but they work best when they are together. The second season wants to explore Fenris but it keeps the two of them apart for so long that it hardly matters. The highlight for the Strucker kids is them marching into a fortress and knocking people back as they work almost totally in sync.
On the Underground side, Lorna is the character that seemed to change the most from season one to season two which is something Emma Dumont has spoken about. She is much more passive but when she is given the opportunity to shine she is great. The scene where she gets her comics accurate tiara is one of the best scenes of the season. When she is given the chance to act opposite Sean Teale as Marcos they tend to bring the tears.
Reeva Payge is on hand as our “big bad” for the season and while Grace Byers does a pretty good job of making her interesting the problem is she doesn’t get the opportunity to do much very often. They keep talking about how she is one of the most powerful mutants alive but you wouldn’t know that if you watched the show. The show don’t tell is all over the place for Reeva and while keeping her motivations secret is a storytelling idea it makes things very boring. We know what Magneto and the Brotherhood are trying to do most of them. When it comes to Reeva we only find out her plan in bits and pieces as the season goes on. The show wants to paint her in the grey but unless we know what she is planning on doing we can’t do that.
The Purifier subplot is where the show decides that it is done being subtle. They are the mutant version of the KKK and the show isn’t beating around the bush when it comes to them. Jace Turner (Colby Bell) eventually hooks up with them which makes things a little awkward since he is a man of color. They are an armed militia who might as well be wearing those white hoods when it comes to their politics. Jace, however, becomes a sticking point as the season goes on. It doesn’t matter what he witnesses or how bad it gets he still doesn’t walk away from the Purifier’s. The problem is the show keeps trying to frame him as someone who can be redeemed. You don’t do the things Jace does and turn a blind eye to the things he does and get a sympathetic ending. That’s not the way this works.
The show also stops being subtle when it comes to the character of Benedict Ryan (Peter Gallagher). This is a media personality who made a name for himself based solely on hating mutants. He makes passionate calls on the news and despite the fact that the things he is saying are terrible they keep giving him attention. Where they ultimately go is interesting enough even if it isn’t life-changing.
The fate of The Gifted is very much up in the air right now. The ratings on Fox haven’t been good and the show seems to have lost a lot of viewers with a season that dragged its feet. However, the finale sets up some very interesting things to come. Nix has said that there is a chance the show could get picked up by Hulu – but at the moment we just don’t know and probably won’t know until the sweeps in May.
The Gifted isn’t a perfect show and the second season has some serious pacing issues – but when the show works, it works like gangbusters. It’s an X-Men show looking to change how we look at the mutants and in what context we use the metaphor. It’s trying to create it’s own little corner of the universe much in the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did and we can hope it gets the opportunity to continue to do so.
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