The Gifted: Season 1
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The Gifted: Season 1

There is absolutely nothing new about movie franchises. Studios have leveraged the benefits of a series of movies, all connected through a constant set of characters, storylines, and themes. This degree of continuity permits the audience to be pulled into the narrative becoming more invested in the characters and situations that would be feasible within the constraints of a single film. Ten years ago, in 2008, a franchise was launched that not only broke most box office records but effected changes in the cinematic arts that affected significant, lasting changes in filmmaking. Of course, that franchise was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, better known as simply, the MCU. Suddenly, comic books transcended their place as juvenile entertainment, mostly for pre-teen boys, to become an incredibly rich and boundless source of material. The potential of the MCU is so broad that it was a simple matter to expand into other forms of entertainment. This includes both television and streaming video services. One of the most recent entries on the broadcast arena is on Fox, ‘The Gifted.’ Due to complications in rights, this series is not formally part of the MCU, yet. It set in the universe that currently includes ‘The X-Men,’ whose rights have been controlled by Sony which excludes them from inclusion in the main MCU character set. The legalities are in flux, and it appears that the merry Marvel Mutants will follow Spider-man and share the spotlight with the Avengers and Guardians.

The Gifted is set in the same universe as the X-Men, slightly in the future. The established backstory is intentionally vague, teasing the audience with the slow exposition. Referring to an event that occurred on July 15th, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. On that date, a mutant rights march turned into a riot resulting in thousands of civilians' death by mutant powers. This resulted in the public viewing mutants as a threat to not only public safety but challenging Homo sapiens as the apex species. One group is notable by their absence, the X-Men. They disappeared, along with the adamantly pro-Mutant Brotherhood of Mutants, for reasons barely alluded to and never clearly established in the current political environment, mutants are below second-class citizens, many humans considering mutants as little more than vermin to be eradicated. A very aggressive, quasi-military government agency, Sentinel Services, is mandated with the control of the mutant population including the apprehension and detention of unregistered mutants. The authorized methods were expansive, encompassing various techniques that go beyond the ‘enhanced interrogation methods,’ that generate such controversy in the real world. These methods sink below the nadir of morality to the point of handing mutants, women, and children, over to unethical scientific research. Laboratory rats are treated, far more humanely than these mutant test subjects. A group of mutants established the Mutant Underground, diligently working to protect mutants frequently placing them in a type of witness relocation program.

The primary point of view is provided through a typical, middle-class American family, the Struckers. Reed (Stephen Moyer), is a dedicated lawyer working with the Mutant Task Force. After Sentinel Services apprehends a mutant or anyone aiding and abetting, Reed prosecutes them to the full extent of the law. His wife, Kate (Amy Acker), is a nurse and mother of their two teenage children, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind), and her younger brother, Andy (Percy Hynes White). The spark that ignites the main story occurs when Andy is bullied at a school dance. Backed into a corner, he lashes out, manifesting very strong psychokinesis. Later, he discovers that Lauren is also a mutant only her powers compliment his.

While Andy can pull objects apart, Lauren can pull them together. One manifestation is to create a shield by making the air exceptionally dense. When their parents find out the news presents a moral and professional quagmire for Reed. His he built his career on prosecuting mutants only to discover his children possess the ‘X’ gene. Mutations run in families, and within the first few episodes, the Struckers would discover how deeply their family was involved in the mutant struggles. Reed finds himself on the other side of prosecution after his arrest for harboring unregistered mutants, his children. It is obvious that several central themes relate to the current political climate, particularly relating to the administration’s fear-mongering targeting undocumented immigrants. In the past, mutants have served as an allegory for the LGBT community highlighting the social dangers inherent in coming out. Here, the focus concentrates on the militarization of enforcing laws created to oppress a minority intent on eradication. Reed is rescued and along with his family are now fugitives. They are reluctantly taken in by the Mutant Underground, a group of the ruminant free, powerful mutants. There is some mention of the missing X-Men but again, nothing in the way of clarification as to their fate.

The Underground uses a deserted bank vault as their base of operations lead by John Proudstar (Blair Redford), whose nom de guerre is Thunderbird. He is a member of the First Nation with greatly enhanced senses, strength, agility, and nearly impervious skin. Combined with his training from the U.S. Army Special Forces, he can track anyone. John is the ideal leader of the group capable of logistics and inspiring comradery. His right hand is Marcos Diaz) (Sean Teale), aka Eclipse. He can use the ability to absorb and manipulate light on the quantum level. His girlfriend, Lorna Dane (Emma Dumont), Polaris. She has complete control over magnetism, possibly inherited from her father, he was considered a King in the sinister Hellfire Club. Their hierarchal designations were model on a deck of playing cards with her father set as a royalty due to his extreme power and control. Fans will understand this to be Magneto. This approach of minimalistic exposition can be frustrating for the audience but can be an intriguing plot device is properly deployed. Fortunately, this series is an example of successful usage. Most of Marvel’s mutant themes stories are crafted with a central theme of community as family. In the beginning, the good versus evil dichotomy was represented by the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil. Now, with both groups mysteriously gone, within the context of the series the two sides are represented by the mutant underground and the draconic government agency. Both sides are seen through a microcosm of single families. The Underground by the Struckers and the Sentinel Services by through the home life of one of its lead agents, Jace Turner (Coby Bell). During the tragedy of 7/15, Agent Turner and his wife Paula (Frances Turner), lost their only child. His daughter’s death resulted in Jace spirally into a vengeance-driven need to use his position to hunt down every mutant he can. This is a well-executed use of a time-tested means to personize an ideological battle into personal, readily relatable terms.

The primary advantage to his degree of personalization is the ability to transform plot contrivances and standard tropes into crucial elements in building the overall narrative. An example is an archetype commonly found in mutant based science fiction, the teleporter. The ability to instantly move between locations is a device able to accelerate the action and avoid the use of tedious second unit travel this drama that role is occupied by Clarice Fong (Jamie Chung), aptly known as Blink. She is among the subset of mutants unable to fully pass as human. It is not so much the pastel hair color, which is even now an increasingly mainstream fashion choice. Her eyes are silvery with elf-like pointy ears. Her character is fully developed by flashbacks and side threads revealing forced detainment and a fugitive running from lethal opposition to her right to exist. Blink is useful when the team must go on a mission or enact a rescue, but her physiological and emotion ordeals provide insight from the perspective of the victimized mutants. While superpowers are great for instilling wish fulfillment with the audience, it is prone to isolate the viewer on an emotional level. One thing that has always differentiated Marvel from their rivals is their ability to make even the greatest super-powered individual someone that shares common ground with the audience. The ideological conflict between vastly powerful groups is esoteric, but a mother’s overwhelm concern for her children is universal.

There is plenty of action to maintain a brisk pace but just beneath that layer is the true heart of the story. Towards the end of the season, a new mutant refugee is taken in by the Underground, Esme Frost (Skyler Samuels). Initially introduced as a minor telepath, it is revealed that not only is she exceptionally powerful, but she has an agenda reducing the heroes to pawns in a sinister plot. The full extent of the machinations would provide the foundation for the second season. Again, in typical Marvel fashion, their grand narrative requires time to unfold properly. While the series seems to be light-hearted action but on a much deeper level, there is so much more to appreciate.

Posted 11/02/2018

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