The Show: The Gifted
The Network: Fox
The Genre: Science fiction/Drama/Superhero
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Like the X-Men universe? Wanna give it a kick up the backside? Fox is offering that opportunity in The Gifted. Telling the story from the Strucker family’s eyes, we see parents Caitlin (Amy Acker) and mutant prosecutor Reed (Stephen Moyer) discover their children Andy (Percy Hynes White) and Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) possess the X-Mutation. That is: they’re mutants. Instant conflict arrives intimately and forcibly: Reed’s job automatically means his children are the enemy. It means he takes the bullet for his kids and wife as they flee, welcomed by an underground mutant movement led by Eclipse (Sean Teale). Polaris (Emma Dumont), his girlfriend has been taken for imprisonment. Together, they work to free Reed and Polaris, unwittingly unleashing all-out war against mutants as they do so. The Gifted also stars Jamie Chung, Coby Bell, Blair Redford and Elena Satine.
The Gifted is the superhero show everyone’s raving about—and they have very good reason to.
Conflict is key to any successful drama. Believable conflict. The kind that’s presented to us on The Gifted is so unimaginable, yet it works because the entire world is colossally ridiculous. But what The Gifted does well is toe the line of melodramatic. Having two children discover mutant abilities is one thing. Giving Moyer’s Reed Strucker, their father, a secure job as an infamous mutant prosecutor is another. It’s the kind of conflict that is impossible to reconcile. And you wonder: the more time Andy and Lauren spend with the mutants, who become almost like a family, how much will they start to resent their father?
There’s an age-old question: is blood thicker than water? Judging by the bloodthirsty kings and queens in our history, the answer’s a definite ‘no’. But in a drama with such an important familial anchor, can it be overcome? Andy and Lauren obviously adore their over-protective yet well-meaning mother, but she doesn’t send mutants like them to prison for a living. Reed may have changed, yes, but pasts can’t. So let’s modernise that question: is family thicker than the X-Mutation?
Caitlin: “You can always talk to me. Always. Your-your dad, too. Whatever your issues.”
Lauren: “Are you serious? Dad puts people like us in jail.”
On a show that is advertised with mutants and superpowers (and they’re awesome), the USP is the Strucker family. That is why The Gifted works. It’s common ground for us. These are regular people on the run from a horrid government-backed organisation.
Does that sound relevant? Yes. Does it detract from the fact that it’s fiction? No—absolutely not.
We went into it expecting, and being okay, with the guys taking the lead. Then Polaris knocked down the door, Caitlin tranquilised everyone, and Carmen fed us tequila.
The guys leading the show are pretty excellent (and pretty). Redford’s John has the potential to be the muscle-man douchebag but he doesn’t. He’s tolerant, sympathetic and uses his strength when needed—not to show off. Leading them is Teale’s Eclipse, whose episodic inner struggles coinciding with his loss of Polaris are difficult to watch. It’s painful. And Teale plays it well enough that it’s real pain, not exaggerated man-pain.
Undoubtedly, the most refreshing aspect of The Gifted is the women. Jamie Chung’s Clarice is almost buoyant in her naivety sometimes, but contrasts it spectacularly with how utterly badass she is. Caitlin, who is potentially The Annoying Mother trope, is anything but. In the fourth episode, she steals a car, is a getaway driver, and knocks out a hulking guard all in ten minutes. And she’s human.
We meet Michelle Veintimilla’s unapologetically sassy Carmen in the fourth episode, where she’s not only a mob boss but shamelessly boasts about her three million dollar industry in crime. Don’t root for her, okay? But she then leads an appalled Eclipse and uses his abilities to torture information from a source, and hauntingly tells him that if she needs him, she’ll call him—not the other way around. She’s a frickin’ boss. She’s nobody’s call for help.
Lastly, we have Polaris.
Oh, Polaris. There isn’t much to say other than Emma Dumont is a legend. Mentally scarred, beaten, chained and eyes older and sadder than her youthful face—Dumont plays her with the sensitivity of a war veteran who’s seen it all. She is, by far, the standout performer of the show. And it’s hard, like Carmen, to root for her when she does do ‘bad’ things. But it’s a testament to Dumont’s ability to manipulate instant empathy from us to a degree that means we have no choice but to support her.
Though the show has proven it has such an extended universe of characters, with it being so Strucker-centric, can it maintain its frenzied pace?
So far, the winning formula of The Gifted has been its manic storytelling. Constantly, we’re jumping from one portal to the next (thanks, Clarice). One minute we’re with Reed and Polaris, and the next Andy and Lauren are exploding a tire.
It works. As we explained in the episode four review, the story is firing at us like turrets. And it’s been planned out well enough so that by the end of the season, it will surely not run out of bullets. Likely, it will have plans for further seasons, too. Furthermore, that comes as no surprise. These characters have endless history and relationships, and the universe can only expand.
But that’s the problem: the story isn’t about the mutants. It’s about the Struckers.
The Gifted works when the Struckers are deep in the middle of it. Undoubtedly, Matt Nix will have thought of this. But what about when Andy and Lauren grow up? What of Reed and Caitlin, who surely cannot die. Whilst the conflict between mutant and non-mutant is strong, it’s not as intimate as safekeeping the lead prosecutor in Reed. And what of Caitlin, who is truly the Struckers’ anchor? Tragedy works in stories, but not needless tragedy. In a way, they’re immune—and that almost ruins the suspense.
Maybe we’re horribly wrong. But is that actually something we’d want to happen? To lose what made The Gifted exceptional above the usual superhero crowd?
FINAL VERDICT: For once, let’s go with the mainstream and jump aboard The Gifted hype-train. We promise you: it’s worth it!
Like anything that’s ever been on television, The Gifted isn’t flawless. It’s got overly-clichéd lines. There’s a horrendous memory-implant storyline that just needs to fade off the earth’s existence because Jamie Chung does not deserve that. The kids are, admittedly, kind of annoying (er, Andy) but that one we’ll excuse because kids are so rarely not annoying on television. Lastly, there’s Reed as a character. We literally just said keeping Reed would give momentum and angst to the story—but is there a fate better for him, fairer for him, than death? For all he’s sorry about, what can he do about it? It requires such a large part from Reed, whereas the appeal of The Gifted is undoubtedly the ensemble. So what is the solution?
There are so many questions The Gifted needs to answer. Its relentless pace is advantageous but sometimes deviates with tepid episodes like the third one, “eXodus”.
But do you know what? Matt Nix has created something real. The Gifted doesn’t pretend to be X-Men. It links in, yes, but that’s it. Dialogue often wears too much Stilton, but the visual effects and cinematography are great—not just for television, but for any form of media. That’s impressive. It’s what’ll keep audiences. But Nix hasn’t tried to form a tacky, television X-Men universe. He’s gifted Marvel fans with something they don’t need to buy an overpriced cinema ticket for, and a weekly, jam-packed ride.
Flawed, yes. Imperfect, yes. Unabashedly fun? Oh, yes.