When I first started watching The Gifted, I was prepared to hate it. In fact, if I’m honest with you (and I always am), I think I wanted to hate it. I had convinced myself that I didn’t need more of the Bryan Singer-version of mutants presented as a metaphor for bigotry and persecution caused by (pick one) race, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever. I felt we had gone to this well once too often.
I owe Singer an apology, of course. The idea of persecuted mutants was there since the beginning, in the Lee/Kirby days. I have many of the X-Men comics from the 1960s, albeit in reprint form. The metaphor and how it relates to current events may continually change as the times do, but the prejudice was always a part of the story, just as prejudice, unfortunately, seems to always be a part of the world.
Even so, I didn’t think I wanted to watch a television show about poor mistreated characters with super-powers. A couple of episodes in, I still wasn’t sure if I liked it, but I was interested enough in the show to keep watching. We are introduced to members of the Mutant Underground in the very first scene of the series. This is a secret organization of mutants across the U.S. (at the very least) that formed when the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants disappeared after the passing of strict anti-mutant laws. Unless we’re counting Deadpool, I haven’t watched any of the X-Men movies since X-Men: First Class (and I have only a dim memory of watching that one). I’m not sure if the disappearance of the X-Men is a part of any of the movies I haven’t watched yet, but everything seems to revolve around some sort of mutant terrorist event that’s referenced in the television show several times but never fully explained. I don’t mind that the X-Men won’t be a part of this show. At least not the movie X-Men. I like the idea of the Mutant Underground, obviously inspired by the Underground Railroad from the U.S. Civil War days.
The first mutants we meet are Eclipse (Marcos Diaz), Thunderbird (John Proudstar), Polaris (Lorna Dane) and Blink (Clarice Fong). I recognized Thunderbird and Polaris from the comic books I used to read. The other two were new to me. The first sequence was an exciting one, as the Mutant Underground saved Blink from the Atlanta police. But, if this sort of thing was all the series was about, I would have lost interest quickly.
What really drew me in was the Strucker family. Not really the children, Lauren and Andy, who are all right, I suppose, although a bit too Disney Channel for my tastes. It was the parents, Reed and Caitlin, played by Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker, that I first identified with. Two non-mutants, from first impressions anyway, who are the parents of two mutant children. Reed Strucker is an ADA in Atlanta who has been responsible for prosecuting mutants in the past, so his having mutant children seems overwhelmingly ironic. Reed first meets Polaris, who was captured in the initial sequence, trying to get her to accept a plea deal and help track down other members of the Mutant Underground. Andy, who is being bullied at school, uses his mutant abilities Carrie-style at a school dance, inadvertently outing himself as a mutant.
Here’s where Sentinel Services comes into play. Fans of the comics remember the Sentinels as giant, mutant-hunting robots. In this series, it is an organization devoted to hunting mutants. Maybe the giant robots come later. We’ll see. Sentinel Services show up at the Struckers to take Andy and Lauren away, but the Strucker children use their mutant powers to escape capture.
Another touch I like about the show was the introduction of Sentinel Services agent Jace Turner. He’s not just a cardboard villain. He blames mutants for the death of his only child, his daughter, and it’s difficult not to empathize with him, even though it’s obvious that we’re meant to be on the mutants’ side. Giving this “villain” character more depth and motivation makes him a better character. Bad guys never think they are the bad guy.
Reed Strucker is struggling a little with this himself. He finds himself cooperating with the Mutant Underground now that he’s discovered that his children are mutants. He was technically the “bad guy” before this turn of events. Later in the season, we discover that Reed is actually a mutant as well, only he was “cured” by his scientist father, whom we meet briefly later on. Reed’s father was a mutant as well. The X-gene seems to be dominant in his family.
Even though this conflict would probably have been enough for the first season, the Hellfire Club is also introduced, with several members of the Underground defecting by season’s end to join them. The pregnant Polaris (whose father is Magneto, as any self-respecting comic book fan could tell you) is one of the first defectors. As we end the season, Polaris seems to have become a full-fledged “evil” mutant. But, she has her reasons.
I’m not going to ruin the entire season more than I already have. I just want to add that there are a lot of Easter Eggs for long-time fans of the comics (and probably the movies as well, though I’m no expert on that). Not the least of these is the fact that the Strucker name used to be “von Strucker,” which makes me wonder if one of Reed’s ancestors was a baron. Hmm? Many of the other names, both of people, organizations, and businesses are also familiar. By the time I finished watching these first thirteen episodes, news of a renewal for a second season had been released, and I was glad to hear it.
I am intrigued enough to continue watching, to see where this show is heading.