The Gifted takes place in the X-Men universe, but all of the major franchise players are either missing or hiding underground. So instead of Mystique and Storm, we’re introduced to a ragtag gang of B-list mutants: Marcos, a.k.a. Eclipse (Reign’s Sean Teale); Lorna, a.k.a. Polaris (Emma Dumont); and Thunderbird (Blair Redford) as they attempt to hide out from government capture and rescue fellow mutants in need. Their first charity case? Clarice Fong, who we meet running from police through the rain, hitting a dead end, and then conjuring a portal that delivers her to a safe location while her eyes glow Danny-Phantom green.
Thunderbird’s vaguely defined tattoo-related mutant powers allow the group to track Clarice to a hideaway that’s quickly surrounded by police. While Lorna’s vaguely defined magnetic mutant powers allow her to trash the squad of police cars, her boyfriend Marcos’s vaguely defined mutant powers mean he can emit a massive flash of light that blinds the police long enough to allow them to escape — but not before he’s shot (causing a bullet hole that inexplicably emits light). Lorna is captured, but the rest of the gang manages to escape and bring Clarice to the safety of their mutant hideaway.
On the other side of the mutant-human divide, Reed Strucker (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer) is a district attorney who works with the government to keep “dangerous” mutants in custody. But then, at the world’s most casual high school dance, his son is provoked by bullies and unleashes his own dormant powers, and it turns out his daughter was hiding her own supernatural abilities as well. Strucker knows immediately that the government won’t be reasonable in respecting their constitutional rights — the Sentinels are coming to lock them up — and so he takes his family on the run.
The Gifted does ask the viewer to make a fairly sizable leap of faith there: Strucker is the story’s protagonist, presented as a good father and if not a benevolent government worker then at least a moral one. It’s a bit abrupt to swallow the immediacy with which he reveals his complete lack of trust in the system he works for. Was he unaware of the human rights violations perpetuated on mutants, or just tolerant of them until they threatened his own children? There is not even a moment of “Maybe we should cooperate with the government, they just want to register mutants, they won’t hurt you unless you’re a threat.” He immediately goes to “Get in the car, we’re going to Mexico.”
Inevitably, the Strucker family collides with the makeshift mutant family, when Marcos agrees to help Reed Strucker in exchange for information on his captured girlfriend, who he learns is also pregnant. One Stan Lee cameo, and this Marvel TV show is officially on its way.
Although The Gifted lacks the tongue-in-cheek humor of Netflix’s Jessica Jones or The Defenders, it stays afloat with quality special effects and surprisingly excellent performances across the large ensemble cast. It’s straightforward comic book fare with familiar beats, but with an earnestness and well-paced storyline that elevates it above the other gritty, supernatural fall TV choices. If you’re told to decide between Marvel’s Inhumans and The Gifted, choose The Gifted every time and then laugh whomever presented you with that choice out of your life forever. B+
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