I personally find that the best Superhero and Fantasy series have some sort of basis in real-world issues. DC Comics has done a fantastic job of that with shows like Arrow and The Flash, and even with their more “fantastical series” like Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. On a Television platform though, Marvel has struggled to find their footing in a show that has longevity and a real-world feel. The Gifted is the first show that I have seen come out of a Marvel Comics property (despite the film and TV rights being owned by Fox) that has correctly captured what is necessary to create a “realistic” superhero narrative.
The Gifted’s first 10 episode season is over halfway finished, and I can’t help but feel like Fox (and Marvel by extension) has captured something special here. By using a cast of television veterans like Stephen Moyer (known for his role as Bill Compton on True Blood) and Amy Acker (known for her roles in Angel and Person of Interest) alongside newer, less known actors like Sean Teale (of Reign) and Jamie Chung (of Once Upon a Time and Gotham,) they have crafted a great ensemble that works brilliantly together.
The Gifted is a series focused on members of the Strucker family who become fugitives after Andy (the youngest sibling) manifests mutant abilities while being bullied. His sister Lauren is also a mutant with the ability to control the air (though in dialogue it is revealed that she can control water and “other things” but with more difficulty,) and while trying to protect her brother and contain his powers, they find themselves in the sights of Sentinel Services. The Strucker family finds themselves joining forces with the Mutant Underground, consisting (partly) of Marco Diaz / Eclipse (portrayed by Sean Teale,) Lorna Dane/ Polaris (portrayed by Emma Dumont,) John Proudstar / Thunderbird (portrayed by Blair Redford) and Clarice Fong / Blink (portrayed by Jamie Chung.)
The series doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of being a mutant. Like in the film series, The Gifted shows mutants as oppressed, marginalized people who are treated like terrorists. While it isn’t clear whether it takes place in an alternate universe or if it is set in a precursor to the dystopian future found in Logan or X-Men Days of Future Past, it is referenced in the first episode that the X-Men and Brotherhood have been missing for some time. Despite this, references and nods to various characters and aspects of the universe are evident, such as the Sentinel Services, who are not a group of mutant-hunting robots but instead are a government agency that has refined technology to capture and detain mutants. Mutants have been largely branded as terrorists and fugitives, to the point that the Mutant Underground was created as a network to smuggle mutants to safe havens (or countries where mutant laws are looser, such as Mexico.)
Ironically, the world of The Gifted mirrors our own in a few noticeable ways, for example in Episode 2 Caitlin Strucker and Marco Diaz venture out to get medical supplies to stabilize Clarice who has lost control of her powers after overextending them in the previous episode. During the adventure to a clinic that is one of the last to treat mutants, Caitlin discovers that many mutants are unable to have access to health care. The importance of this is that to the average homo sapien in The Gifted’s version of America, the government paints mutants as either terrorists, extremists, or as people who are “taken care of” in special facilities.
To the average person, they have no concept of how mutants really live, much in the same way that marginalized people in our society are painted with one specific “media brush” while the truth lies somewhere in the shadows. This is dressed up a bit by showing that in some ways this treatment can be seen as justified due to the dangerous nature of many mutant abilities, but in a lot of ways, the comparison is quite noticeable even in a subtle context.
I have to take a moment to mention that while I am a fan of Amy Acker’s previous body of work, and despite the fact that I believe that anything she touches turns to gold, I was greatly impressed by her portrayal of Caitlin Strucker. I am impressed more and more each week due to the fact that even when presented with the fact that her children are mutants, Amy brings a fantastic range of emotions to Caitlin and portrays her as more than just the “token nurse” or “worrying mother.” Throughout the series thus far, Caitlin has gotten her hands dirty, whether it was using her nursing training, or being an overall supportive mother. In some ways, she provides a voice of reason that encourages the rest of the cast not to give in to mindless violence and vengeance, while in others she showcases a woman who will do anything to protect her family.
The visual effects are well done in The Gifted, and if the series continues on the path it is on so far, I can see it being a series that lasts a while. I wasn’t exactly sold when Fox started bringing the X-Men franchise to television and while I know many people enjoyed Legion, it wasn’t something that caught my attention very well. The Gifted on the other hand actually feels like a part of a cinematic world and focuses on what makes series like this great: the characters and their storylines.
From concepts like “How do we bring a child into a world that would hate them?” to “How do you make things right when you realize you’ve been the villain all along?” The Gifted takes powerful real-world dilemmas and brings them to life. If you haven’t started watching The Gifted yet, it really is great television. With that being said, The Gifted isn’t perfect, and where it really needs work is in terms of the villains or antagonists.
The showrunners have attempted to make us feel for one of the antagonists in particular, who lost his daughter as collateral damage during a mutant rights rally before mutants were oppressed. Despite this, the villains don’t really give the same screen presence that the heroes do. This is mostly a problem because, in other superhero shows, you really want a villain that commands the screen or at least provides an interesting foil to the protagonists.
With Sentinel Services being a “big, scary, oppressive, shadow-organization” that hides what they do to mutants they capture, we may be getting closer to the villain viewers want. For the mean-time, the day to day struggle for survival is enough, but there will come a point in the series where viewers will want a more formidable villain for the Strucker family and their allies.
While it isn’t perfect, The Gifted is a well-crafted bit of television and in our divided world these days, I can’t help but think that it is a necessary show, if not to take our minds off the insanity that is day to day life. Even if you aren’t interested in the social commentary aspect, The Gifted is just a fun show to enjoy with friends and family, especially if you are an X-Men fan.