Marvel’s “X-Men” has never been particularly subtle in how it tackled civil rights. Sure, it swapped racial discrimination for mutant discrimination, but it wasn’t hard to read between the lines. One leader preached peaceful co-existence and the changing of minds, while the other called for an all-out revolution — a radical upending of the status quo. There was room for nuance and sympathy, and over the years the struggle for mutant equality in the pages of those comic books became a more complex mirror of our own struggles in the real world. And it’s that political spirit that Fox’s mutant drama The Gifted is leaning heavily into as it launches its second season. But honestly, watching the season premiere made me more uneasy than I expected — perhaps because while it hit so close to home in so many ways, its insistence on masking those parallels under a veneer of superpowered hijinx started to feel a little too uncanny.
Last night’s episode was mostly establishing where all of our characters are after a six-month time jump. The Strucker family is down one snot-nosed teenage boy, but is otherwise intact and continuing to help the Mutant Underground usher mutants to safety to avoid persecution. Only this year, those Sentinel Services raids are more brutal than ever, and the show is intent on demonstrating the way that brutality is exercised to rip parents and children apart. Because they’re clearly inspired by the ICE raids. But inside the resistance, there is fracturing. Marcos is desperate to track down his pregnant girlfriend, Lorna, while Mama Strucker wants to bring Andy back. Unfortunately, they both left of their own free will to join the Hellfire Club, and the rest of the Underground kinda doesn’t seem super eager to risk everyone’s safety just to bring them back. So Marcos and Kate team-up to get information from a shady tech-mutant named “Wire” (he, uh, controls the internet?) in an effort to figure out where the Andy and Lorna might be. It doesn’t go well.
Also? Daddy Vampire Bill Strucker is having problems with his hearing. And his hand. It looks like his latent, supposedly-cured mutant powers are starting to kick in. He probably oughta talk to someone about that.
Meanwhile, Andy Strucker and the ready-to-pop Lorna are doing just fine with Hellfire Club. Only, oh wait, they’re not really the Hellfire Club anymore, because a newbie named Reeva partnered with the Cuckoos and killed the rest of the leadership six months ago. They opposed her plans to use the Strucker siblings and Lorna to help with her “Mutant Homeland Project,” and Reeva opposed their opposition. Forcefully. So now the organization is called the “Inner Circle” — which is a name ripped straight from the comics, but loses its meaning when that inner circle just seems to be Reeva and her identical Cuckoo lackeys. Not that I’m complaining about a bunch of fierce female revolutionaries, mind you. I’m just curious if there are any hidden partners still waiting to be revealed, or if the circle really is more of a… square.
It’s also worth mentioning that Andy has hit his punk-rebel phase, with bleached hair and a leather jacket that I swear is actually Lorna’s from last season. It all actually kinda works for him, though. He was at least 50% less annoying this time around. Though that might be because he spends the episode being super protective of Lorna, whose powers are going haywire as she gets ready to give birth. Reeva buys her a bunker and brings in the best mutant doctor around to prepare for the event, but Lorna’s got concerns. If there’s a problem, she wants Andy to look out for the baby’s wellbeing because Lorna is convinced the Inner Circle only cares about making sure she survives. Whatever their Mutant Homeland Project is, it seems like they need Magneto’s daughter’s powers for it.
It all leads up to a big, messy, destructive birth sequence that shuts down the power grid around D.C. — but Lorna and her baby girl, named Dawn, both come through just fine. And now that THAT’S out of the way, presumably the rest of the season will focus more on the fracturing of the mutant resistance and the various groups that oppose them. Creator Matt Nix told The Hollywood Reporter that our favorite Sentinel Services agent, Jace (Coby Bell), would be joining an anti-mutant hate group called the Purifiers in the coming episodes, saying, “It’s a very human approach to getting involved with a hate group. He’s not just a random bigot.” Reeva gave a whole speech about how everyone is looking for peace, freedom, and safety — and that goes for the oppressed as well as the oppressors. It appears that The Gifted is gearing up to explore how far people are willing to go to achieve those goals, and who they think is standing in their way.
And I’m all for that, in theory — hell, I even admire it! Our country is divided along fundamental questions of civil rights, and there’s always room for more stories exploring the human motivations behind the hate we see around us. Because we’re not facing a bunch of cartoon villains — we’re at odd with our neighbors, here. But for some reason, this time, seeing it all reflected in a mutant fiction feels unsettling. The story The Gifted is capable of telling is so close to reality that it makes me not want the diluted, fictional version anymore. Maybe I’m just sick of dancing around the issues, because honestly? The state of affairs right now is scary enough as it is. And I think we all need to stop sugar-coating it. The real racists and sexists surrounding us are bad enough as it is.
But like, those are just my principles talking. I’m obviously still down to watch a weekly mutant TV show with Blink fighting the Stepford Cuckoos because I also need to take my joy where I can find it these days.
Header Image Source: Fox