The complication of telling an ensemble story is that, inevitably, some of your characters and storylines are going to be more interesting than others. In the wake of the Von Strucker reveals of The Gifted’s last episode, the Strucker family took center stage in “outfoX.” The thing is: while the Strucker family drama is becoming a vital part of this show’s internal mythology, the characters who make up that multi-generational drama are some of the least interesting on the show.
Take tonight’s episode, for example. We watched as Reed told Caitlin about his past as an almost-mutant, how Lauren and Andy started to process the extent of their new powers, and how the entire family’s dynamic was changed by these new revelations. The problem is the Struckers are, well, boring. They’re at their most interesting when they are bouncing off other, non-Strucker characters. This is why this episode gets so much better once the Struckers get pulled into the Mutant Underground’s latest plot: a daring rescue attempt at the Trask Industries laboratory.
How did that go? Not great, leading to some major shifts in the Mutant Underground v. Sentinel Services balance of power. The latter now has Lauren and Andy (aka the mutants Dr. Campbell has been trying to get his evil hands on since the beginning), as well as Clarice and Sonia. (And, judging by that promo, Sonia’s chances are not looking great…) Meanwhile, the Mutant Underground will no doubt have two desperate, panicked Strucker parents to deal with. I guess that’s what you get for having no security culture.
I’m not saying it was only Esme’s fault that the rescue mission went so wrong for Team Mutant (Agent Turner’s instincts helped a heck of a lot), but it was Esme who encouraged the Mutant Underground to attempt the rescue attempt in the first place. The new psychic in town was skulking around the shadows this episode like the Phantom of the Opera, and is so obviously one of Campbell’s turned mutants, it makes you wonder how the Mutant Underground has survived this long with such bad instincts and so few protocols when it comes to inviting new mutant friends along on missions.
Perhaps the Mutant Underground has survived because they prioritize helping the cause, no matter what. The best parts of this episode came with Lauren, Andy, Clarice, and Sonia’s heart-stopping race from Sentinel Services. Clarice and Sonia both sacrifice themselves to try to the get the Strucker kids to safety. Later, Andy and Lauren join hands and are set to take the building down before Andy stops them, not wanting to become a mass murderer before he even gets his driver’s license.
It’s a surprisingly powerful scene for two characters I don’t care that much about, but an example of what The Gifted does so well: setting up high stakes and then calling them in. There are no easy escapes here, and these mutants often get caught—not simply because they are facing off against a competent opponent, but because these mutants are just people and there are lines they often will not cross in their efforts to escape.
It’s a killer ending for a mostly lackluster episode that relies too heavily on overdone superhero tropes. With their tale of the young and the (too) powerful, The Gifted is obviously trying to do their own version of the Dark Phoenix storyline, but don’t have permission to use the Jean Grey character. The Strucker children are the next best thing, but this is a storyline that’s hard to do well.
I have never been a fan of the “a power so powerful that it turns someone evil” trope because it is usually applied to female characters, a fable about the bad things that happen when women are giving too much power (i.e. they can’t handle it). Regardless of whom it applies to, the trope tends to undercut the internal logic of a world, unless done very well. Why do powers turn some people “evil” and not others?
So far, The Gifted has partially subverted the trope by having the Struckers resist the urge to use their immense, dangerous power—though, it should be noted, it was the male character and not the female character who did so, despite the fact that it makes much more sense given characterization so far for Lauren to be the one with enough control, perspective, and courage to stop. We’ll have to wait and see if The Gifted decides to go down the Dark Strucker path or if they will subvert it in some interesting ways. With the anxiety-inducing dreams Lorna is having, I have a feeling the Mutant Underground might have to worry about a different character going off the deep end with her powers.
Rating: ★★★ – Good