The Gifted 101
The X-Men universe's appeal is owed in large part to its central themes of discrimination, prejudice and the struggle for equal rights and individual liberties. These issues have come to form an inextricable part of the X-Men's DNA. Some of the X movies have sought to explore this. But on the silver screen, an examination of such themes can sometimes be drowned out by the noise and pyrotechnics.
The Gifted attempts to deal with these matters on a smaller family / street-level scale. It seeks to give a face to the faceless; an identity to the identity-less. It’s not a bad effort from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix.
Right at the start, the brutal, trigger-happy cops set the tone for the show. As a hail of bullets is unleashed on a fleeing Clarice Fong, the anti-mutant hate is appreciable. The mutants are very much here to stay, and so are their persecutors.
Each time a mutant employs his / her abilities, there is a palpable sense of danger and fear. Eclipse, Polaris and the Strucker kids take turns to display some formidable powers. The ramifications on the human population are felt. For instance, the hapless high school students scatter like flies, as the building threatens to cave in on itself. As we are shown in the various human-mutant interactions, there is a great deal of fear, as well as hate. In the current climate of hostility and fear, this is unfortunately all too familiar.
We know that the District Attorney's office, where Reed works, has a mutant division. Further and more importantly, the X-Men are said to have disappeared. There is therefore no white knight team in place to swoop in for the hunted, dispersed mutant underground. That heightens the odds that the minority is up against.
The Gifted seems to take place post-X-Men 3 and pre-Days of Future Past. While its place in the timeline is not entirely clear, what is evident is that it takes place in a gloomy, oppressive setting. The elements come together to reveal a place and time that foreshadows the eventual full-scale homo sapien-superior confrontation, and outright persecution of the latter population. It seems that we are very much in the nascent stage of the full-blown dystopia in the comics' Days of Future Past storyline. In Tex's, “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood” fittingly rings in the background of the wrung-out dive bar.
Oscar Isaac-lookalike Sean Teale, as Marcos Diaz / Eclipse, takes up most of the mutants' screen time. He shows some promise, appearing to be a bit more than an angry young revolutionary. Jamie Chung's Blink, Blair Redford's Thunderbird and Emma Dumont's Polaris appear to a lesser extent, but do enough to evoke some interest in the characters.
The use of a typical suburban nuclear family is an important tool. The interaction of that mundane world with a dangerous super-powered reality is integral to the plot. As the two realms gradually come together, sparks for the eventual conflict begin to fly.
The muggle leads are fairly strong, and TV veterans Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest, Agents of SHIELD) bring some gravitas to the proceedings. Moyer's conflicted role as a mutant crimes prosecutor and father to a pair of powerful mutants is ironic as well as a central source of conflict. Acker is convincing as the protective maternal figure. Mr and Mrs Strucker's telephone conversation about their kids' true nature is well acted and played out. One feels their sobering realization about their children, as the difficult and chilling truth hits home. Said children, played by Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White, share good chemistry and do well to channel their vulnerability.
There's some consideration of the role of law and big government, as we get a few allusions to state-based mutant laws. As was the case in Logan, Mexico appears to be one of the sanctuaries for the persecuted.
The security vs liberty theme is explored with Andy Strucker's earth-shattering manifestation of his powers. Of course, the men in black come calling in due course. It is refreshing that Coby Bell's Agent Jace Turner carries out his duties with a smattering of sympathy and empathy (?). Perhaps the most significant line from Turner is his reference to being a parent to a mutant child, which suggests a more complex background to the character.
The elements of a maximum security, monolithic government are gradually drawn together. There's the citation of the amended Patriot Act, as well as the sinisterly-named Sentinel Services. The mention of disappearing suspects, coupled with the use of drone technology, completes the picture of an Orwellian, big brother state. The use of drones also shadows the real-life debate relating to surveillance and the invasion of privacy.
The mini “spider” sentinels are a disturbing precursor to the giant robots that we have grown to love in the pages of the X-Men comic book. While it is only early days in the Days of Future Past-like timeline, one harbors the hope that we will finally get to see the visual spectacle of the full-fledged sentinels in all their mechanistic glory.
The tone of the show is appropriate, and it is notable that countless scenes are filmed in dark, de-saturated shades. Most of the events take place at night and in some cases, in the rain. The drab, sombre environs heighten the sense of disquietude and trepidation. The general dystopian vibe sends out a clear and perturbing message to our muties – the future is very much against you.
One of the fun easter eggs was Marcos' phone ring tone. The nostalgic '90s X-Men: The Animated Series cartoon theme is unmistakable. Stan Lee also joins in with an obligatory random cameo, as he nonchalantly strolls out of Tex's.
In terms of The Gifted‘s exposition and pacing, the story generally plods along at an OK speed. While it can feel marginally pedestrian on some occasions, the pilot manages to hold one's interest without really threatening to be too captivating. In summary, it's a credible production with some potential. To put it one way: if The Gifted were an X-Man, it would probably be Colossus / Bishop / Thunderbird – fairly sturdy, not too spectacular, but doing just enough to be somewhat interesting.