Following on from the critically acclaimed success of Legion, Fox continues to work on bringing the world of the X-Men to the small screen. With the initial attempt at creating a Hellfire series being abandoned after creators Evan Katz and Manny Coto moved onto a new series of 24, Fox changed direction and turned to Burn Notice‘s Matt Nix to work on a new property set within the X-Men movie universe.
Opening with pilot episode eXposed directed by Bryan Singer, no stranger to the series having been behind four of the feature films, most recently Apocalypse, The Gifted is set in a time when the X-Men have vanished and the world has become darker for mutants, though it is unclear so far whether this was a cause of or a response to their absence.
An oppressive government has clamped down on the freedom of those with the X gene and a specialist federal unit, Sentinel Services, deals with containing mutants. The nature of this containment is yet to be seen but there are references to detainment facilities and mutant risk their lives to escape capture.
Exemplified by suburban mom and dad Caitlin and Reed Strucker (Angel and Dollhouse‘s Amy Acker and True Blood and Detour‘s Stephen Moyer), the general public are happy not to look too closely at what happens to those different from themselves, instead focusing on the protection they receive until it impacts their family directly.
“Did you know it was like this, with the mutants?”
“I knew it wasn’t easy. But you remember how it was. The mutants fighting each other and innocent people getting hurt. Dying. People wanted something done.”
“Well, they got what they wanted.”
Their suburban life shattered when they discover their children are carriers of the X-Gene, a high school dance going quite predictably Carrie when the building-shattering powers of their son Andy (Murdoch Mysteries‘ Percy Hynes White) are awakened during a beating by high school jocks. Recognising in him what she has already kept hidden from her family, his sister Lauren (Gotham’s Natalie Alyn Lind gets him out and home, using her own powers to protect them both.
Now on the run from Sentinel Services, the Struckers turn to the only people who may be able to help, the mutant underground, not fighting to save the world but fighting to survive against a world that sees them as dangerous freaks, a call back not to the days of the first X-Men when anonymity was protection enough but to the witch hunts of the alternate timeline of Days of Future Past.
The pacing rapid despite the early diversion for teen drama at the high school dance, The Gifted offers characters who are competent and aware of the dangers that surround them, a darker world which aims for the mood of Netflix’ Marvel inspired dramas, though with the caveat that the audience of a broadcast network is necessarily broader and unable to offer the same intensity of experience.
That compromise is evident in the Mutant Underground themselves, operating without resource or direction other than their desperate bid to find and take in those who escape from camps and get them to whatever relative safety can be found, their first action the rescue of the portal opening Clarice “Blink” Fong (Big Hero 6’s Jamie Chung).
Led by Marcos “Eclipse” Diaz (Incorporated’s Sean Teale), John “Thunderbird” Proudstar (V/H/S: Viral’s Blair Redford) and Lorna “Polaris” Dane (Aquarius’ Emma Dumont), they do a competent job as a rough-around-the-edges group unaccustomed to working as a honed team of X-Men but as survivors who have managed to stay alive on the streets.
“Under the Amended Patriot Act we have to secure the safety of the community first.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means they’re coming with us.”
The X-Men comics have always shone a light on relevant social issues, and The Gifted seems to be staying true to that and with references to enhanced Patriot Act powers and trigger-happy specialist units seizing anyone deemed “other” there are many parallels to be drawn with current events from refugees to immigration enforcement.
How well the show deals with and develops these issues remains to be seen but setting the viewpoint as that of a nuclear family living in white privileged America having to deal with suddenly being on the receiving end of treatment they previously turned a blind eye to, or in the case of prosecutor Reed Strucker tacitly participated in, is a good place to position the mirror.
As would be expected given Singer’s experience with the subject matter eXposed draws the viewer into the events giving enough of each character to begin to care what happens to them though the stand out is Dumont’s Polaris, a recognisable character who in the source material is the daughter of Magneto.
Whether that thread will be woven into the series later is unknown and will depend how closely the studio intends to link the show with the movies or the currently running Legion, but certainly this is a much more conventional and accessible show than the tale of Charles Xavier’s offspring David Haller.
Sidestepping the issue of having the established characters and actors appear, The Gifted is set in a world where the X-Men have vanished with the implication being that this is not recent, giving the show room to do things without having to tie-in closely with the movie universe currently in limbo following the conclusion of the recent trilogy and the closure of Wolverine’s story in Logan.
While fans may have wanted a closer tie-in such as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have with the Avengers, so far The Gifted feels constructed to be a standalone which, if it becomes sufficiently popular, could be incorporated later, almost as if Fox are currently hedging their bets, reluctant to commit beyond the currently confirmed ten episodes of this season.
In their favour it is a strong pilot with a good cast which deserves further attention, and there are some nice little nods for fans from a broken neon sign making Tex’s Lounge “X’s” where a welcome familiar face is glimpsed to Marcos’ ring tone, the catchy theme from the nineties cartoon series. With a clear affection for the X-Men property within the creative team it will be interesting to see how the show evolves and mutates into its ultimate form if given the chance to flourish.