Hounds, Purifiers, Cuckoos, even the Hellfire Club: As the first season of Fox’s primetime mutant gamble The Gifted winds down, it’s finally showing its cards. The show has always dealt with the same X-Men themes we’re familiar with: prejudice, hate, fear, and the struggle for survival. But what started as a side-story, set in a safe little corner of X-Men universe, has turned into a surprisingly compelling bit of everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink storytelling. Instead of being hamstrung by its inability to rock the larger Fox/Marvel continuity or use the bigger players from the comics, The Gifted has found strength in mining the forgotten characters or secondary villains that have always made for strong X-Men story fodder — proving that you don’t need Wolverine or Professor X to have a good time.
Admittedly, this is probably more exciting for fans of the comics, who get a thrill out of seeing the way the show weaves in all these elements, but by no means does that make them easter eggs. Each one serves a real purpose, and more importantly, each one has become something wholly unique to The Gifted. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the show has put its own spin on some Marvel standbys this season!
The Stepford Cuckoos: A hive-mind is a terrible thing to waste, so it’s a good thing The Gifted seems to have big things in store for the telepathic Frost sisters. In a reveal that comic fans were hoping for since the moment a blonde mindreader named Esme joined the Mutant Underground, there is officially a Three-In-One complicating things for our renegade heroes. In the comics, the Stepford Cuckoos were a group of 5 teenagers (eventually whittled down to 3) who emerged as Emma Frost’s protégés — only to later discover they were actually her clones, created as a part of the Weapon Plus program (they were designated Weapon XIV). Whether the inclusion of the Cuckoos is signaling that the White Queen, cloning, and the Weapon program could be tackled by the show in the future is uncertain. But frankly, Esme and her sisters are interesting enough to stand on their own. They have manipulated the Struckers, Polaris and the Mutant Underground, killed a whole lotta humans, and are apparently members of the Hellfire Club! Speaking of which…
The Hellfire Club: Holy shit! Here’s another group that will be complicating matters between mutants and humans, though not much is known about their goals just yet. They are using the Frost sisters to gain the assistance of the Mutant Underground for… something? In the comics, the Hellfire Club was a fancy, elite social club filled with wealthy members. Their purpose was to amass even more power, and exert it economically and politically — though the whole thing played like a hedonistic yacht club with pretensions. Still, within that strata there was another, even more elite layer operating: an Inner Circle, often dominated by powerful mutants. They’ve battled the X-Men. They’ve joined the X-Men. Sometimes the X-Men have joined the Inner Circle. Hell - they even caused the original emergence of Dark Phoenix!
Purifiers: Shown only in flashback, the Purifiers are a hate group that terrorized Clarice (Blink) while she was on a date with her boyfriend. In the comics they are a bit more than that… but, yeah, basically they were a super religious hate group dedicated to eradicating mutants. Yup, because The Gifted needed MORE people with an anti-mutant axe to grind, apparently. The thing that makes the Purifiers slightly more interesting is that, at least in the comics, they were founded by William Stryker. Yup, THAT guy…
Fenris: I don’t wanna brag, but I kinda called this one back when The Gifted premiered. Ok, so I maybe didn’t expect the show to tie the Struckers to their more obvious comic book counterparts — because of that whole white supremacy angle — but the show surprised me and introduced Fenris anyway! In the comics, Fenris was the alias for Andreas and Andrea von Strucker, the twin children of notable Marvel Nazi Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who could unleash a powerful energy when they held hands. Instead of being mutants, they were actually the products of in-utero experimentation performed by Armin Zola. On the show, the von Strucker twins were mutant terrorists, former Hellfire Club members, and the ancestors of the Strucker family. Reed was unaware of his family’s past, because his father Otto (Andreas’s son) used his work at Trask Industries to suppress Reed’s own X-Gene. Too bad Reed’s own children are not only mutants, but have the exact same power set as their great-grandfather and his sister — and it’s putting the family in the crosshairs of pretty much everybody, ever.
Lorna’s Dad: There’s not much to say about this one just yet, but Esme did reveal to Polaris that her father was a member of the Hellfire Club. More than a member, in fact, but a King. Now, comic book readers will be like “fucking duh — Magneto is Lorna’s Dad!” And based on the details Esme reveals, show-Polaris’s backstory lines up pretty accurately with comics-Polaris (right down to the pilot she thought was her father).
So what does this mean for The Gifted? Well, since the whole show is operating in a time when both the X-Men and the Brotherhood are off the grid, having Polaris as a key character makes sense. You can have all the powers of Magneto without the man himself — and since the films already HAVE Magneto, they wouldn’t be likely to do much with his illegitimate daughter other than mention her in passing. And really, maybe that hint was the only easter egg they’ll include in the show. But so far, show-Polaris has already demonstrated that she is militantly pro-mutant (edging into anti-human), and with a child on the way she’ll do anything to protect her family and give her baby a future. If nothing else, they could be setting Polaris up to be the new Magneto, in ideology as well as powers.
And if that’s the case, could Polaris one day split off from Eclipse and the rest of the Mutant Underground? Could The Gifted be an origin story for all-new, all-different mutant team line-ups who will go head-to-head someday? Instead of operating in a closed corner of the X-men universe, could The Gifted actually be remixing that universe in the absence of the X-Men? With only two more episodes left this season, and a second season already ordered, I have a feeling this show is gearing up for one hell of a finale next week…