The Gifted: “eXposed” Series Premiere Review

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The best moment in all of the X-Men films comes in 2003’s X2, with which The Gifted‘s pilot shares a director through Bryan Singer, the man partly responsible for the superhero craze since his original X-film launched the modern genre in 2000. But in X2, Bobby Drake, a.k.a. Iceman, returns home to his family with Wolverine, Rogue, and Pyro at his side. Due to the film’s circumstances, he decides to “come out” to his family as a mutant. Prior to this, Singer has dealt with the body horror typically associated with some of the mutants’ powers, but this is the first time the live-action adaptations really addressed how being a mutant impacted your personal life and your relationship with your family. What makes The Gifted such an exciting prospect is that it’s a series that evolved out of this deeply emotional, staggeringly complicated moment.

Since their inception, the X-Men have always been Marvel’s stand-in for minority groups. Stan Lee, who naturally cameos in the premiere, created Xavier and Magneto as parables for Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively. With the openly gay Singer including coming out scenes in his big-budget superhero extravaganzas, the X-Men evolved into an allegory for LGBT rights as well. And now, under President Trump, the allegory has evolved again. The opening scene of The Gifted sees the mutant Blink (Jaime Chung) being chased by police until a small group of mutant freedom fighters intervenes and tries to help. One gets captured, Polaris (Emma Dumont), who’s powers will be familiar to even just casual fans of the films (and if her background is the same as it is in the comics, that’ll be significant down the line too). She’s carted off to an unknown facility. With the events of our world—such as rampant Islamophobia and the horror ICE has been conducting—mutants now permanently on the run from the government seems like a natural evolution for the franchise to grow into.

Grim stuff to be sure, but it’s not like The Gifted isn’t fun. The real stars of the show are a seemingly normal, though instantly charming family, with kids going through puberty, bickering with each other, and yes, using their powers. A constant target of bullying, Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes White) unlocks his powers when a couple of jocks rough him up in the locker room. He almost brings the school down when his sister, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind), saves him, thus exposing her own abilities, creating force fields of sorts. They’re now forced to come out to their parents as mutants, even though their father (Stephen Moyer) works for the very organization holding Polaris in a cell.

And so, the Struckers are forced to go on the run from the ruthless Sentinel Services (wink, wink fans). While the front half of the pilot is expertly paced, the script forces together the two character groupings through haphazard means. Strucker patriarch Reed meets Polaris’ lover, Eclipse (Sean Teale), at a bar to beg for help from the mutant underground. Their mission for safety, paired with the mutants’ hopes to rescue Polaris, looks to be the drive for at least the next couple episodes, which leads to should lead to some excitement should the series maintain its creative momentum, strong sense of urgency, and focus on family.

But despite its winning formula, “eXposed” falls into a few pilot trappings, not to mention those from network television. While the Struckers are pretty well established and almost immediately likable, the episode’s other mutants, save for Polaris, need more time to come into their own to better serve the story. The narrative issues in the middle also deals a blow to the pilot, even if its a convenience factor that likely won’t be needed again with all the main characters now fully aware of each other.

As far as where The Gifted fits in with the larger pantheon of live-action X-adaptations, it’s a refreshingly scaled back version that is closest to Singer’s own original film from 2000. It’s certainly no Legion, but it doesn’t have to be. With the recent film entries in the franchise stretching the series to its limits in both good and bad ways (Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse respectively come to mind), this back to the basics approach to the X-mythos is very welcome.

To draw us in next week, “eXposed” also ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. It didn’t necessarily need one to get me excited to watch more, but the moment is genuinely thrilling because this episode succeeds in making us care about the Strucker family. There are definitely things to be nervous about heading into the rest of the season, but for now, this is a good start. It’s nice to have some more mutants to root for again. They still represent all of us who’ve ever faced a form of oppression, which is perhaps why this franchise hasn’t died off yet like so many others. A relatable mutant is empowering, and why they have a leg up on the other superheroes, agents and defenders alike. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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