Photo: Guy D’Alema (Fox)

I spoke briefly last week about my trepidation over using Baby Dawn, daughter of Polaris and her estranged love Eclipse, as a peril generator for stories on The Gifted. Part of this probably has to do with me being a parent now, but really I’ve never much cared for movies that hinge on child endangerment (give or take a Hard Boiled) to generate thrills. So the prospect of “coMplications” following up on last week’s Baby Dawn cliffhanger—she’s feverish, she’s not easily roused from sleep, Polaris is doing what most new parents do and flipping the hell out—was not especially exciting to me, even as my lizard brain wanted to know, well, what was up with Baby Dawn.

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It turns out it’s jaundice?

This is one of those situations where I can’t tell if a TV show is being clever or stupid. Jaundice is indeed common in newborn babies (more often male babies, but fine). It is also usually not life-threatening. But I can buy that somehow the baby of mutants might have a particularly dire case of jaundice, and the idea that the child of a mutant might receive light therapy from her mutant-powered dad is pretty cool—even lovely. And I give The Gifted a lot of credit for stepping back from full-on baby peril, even if it requires the show to make baby jaundice seem like an all-hands-on-deck emergency.

The Eclipse/Polaris family material is easily the most compelling storyline in “coMplications,” though Blink and Thunderbird taking a trip to the sewer to check out some Morlocks has its charms. Last season, in between their glowy canoodling, Eclipse and Polaris had a lot of repetitive Strucker-style arguments where they would go back and forth on the degree of extremity that was permissible in the fight for their lives. The more pronounced swing now that Polaris has decamped for the Inner Circle and Eclipse has been left behind has a bit more dramatic weight: Polaris looks more wary and cautious both as a less murderous member of the Inner Circle and as a new mom who wants to protect her baby above all, while Eclipse’s dissolution now turns to greater desperation once he finally lays eyes on his daughter. The Inner Circle summons him to try helping Baby Dawn, and unceremoniously boots him from their lair after the baby’s super-jaundice improves in his glow. (I didn’t catch why they weren’t afraid that Dawn would get worse again without her dad’s powers around; if this really was some kind of next-level jaundice, that would make sense. Otherwise it seems kind of like she just got better on her own while Eclipse happened to be there.)

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In the present, this illustrates how The Gifted has matured (if ever so slightly) now that it has pulled back a little on the big-ticket action sequences. But as wrenching as the Polaris/Eclipse material is, especially Eclipse’s desperation as Polaris shoots down his suggestions—his willingness to join the Inner Circle, even!—for how he can stay more directly in Dawn’s life, I’m not a huge fan of the show’s explanation.

I should say, I’m not really a fan of an explanation at all. Again, this might be the parent part of me talking, but you don’t actually need to explain why a new father would be absolutely desperate to stay in his child’s life, especially after missing her birth and then meeting her for the first time a week or so later. Yet “coMplications” frames its Eclipse story as part of a larger cycle of daddy issues by offering an opening-flashback glimpse of Marcos and his fractured relationship with his father. We learn, as Marcos visits his dying father in Bogota, that his dad doesn’t approve of his cartel-related activities, but also considers his mutant powers the work of the devil, and refused to ever accept his son. Snapped out of trying to make sorta-nice by his dad’s moralizing, Eclipse offers a pitiless assessment of the old man’s condition. Despite surrounding himself with nuns on his deathbed, “we both know where you’re heading.”

Solid ending to a cold open, for sure, but when Eclipse breaks down to Polaris that he can’t bear to be an absentee father like his own dad, it’s too tidy. Eclipse’s pain is neatly framed by his own upbringing, and while I guess you could argue it’s there for dramatic irony rather than pure explication, it still bugged me. What it comes down to is that for the most part, male characters aren’t supposed to have the same reaction that Polaris has to Dawn, where she instantly knows she’ll do anything to help or to save her. They need to have some extra male motivation, even if it’s a purportedly sensitive one as it is here. It does make sense that Eclipse would feel all the more devastated about his separation from Dawn once he spent some time with her; it makes a somewhat abstract idea (after all, Polaris was barely showing when Eclipse last saw her) very real and weighty. So weighty, in fact, that I don’t know why his dad really has to enter into it. He may only mention it once, but it’s clear from the placement of the flashback that we’re supposed to have an ah-ha moment when Eclipse mentions it toward the end of the episode, marring an otherwise effective moment.

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Still, at least the cliché-o-meter doesn’t go quite so far into the red this week, and episode director Michael Goi shows off his cinematographer roots with a surprising number of noticeable flourishes. The camera angles are more extreme, often canted or particularly low, and he breaks out a vaguely James Wan-like pivot move to use both when Eclipse wakes up at the beginning of the episode and passes out towards the end of it. A lot of the show is still kinda boilerplate, but, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a potent enough mix of good action sequences, neat filmmaking, uneven but varied characters and storylines, and occasionally affecting genuine drama to keep this show interesting, even if its network may be spreading it thin (or, come 2019, throwing it to the Disney lions).

Which is why I’m bummed to announce that this marks the end of regular Gifted coverage at the A.V. Club for now. I’m hoping to come back at the end of season, maybe even midseason if it’s feasible, to talk about how the show has progressed, and I do wonder if maybe that might make more sense for a longer season. Would I have had sixteen reviews’ worth of interesting criticism for this show, or would I just log a bunch of Blink lines that I liked and bag on Andy Strucker? Either way, I’ve really enjoyed going over the show’s minutiae with the folks in the comments, and I’ll miss that routine even without a tortured daddy backstory.

Stray observations:

  • Stephen Moyer, as ever, does not have a great “normal guy, everything’s going fine” look, but he’s had to try one on as he keeps covering up his emerging powers. His adventure with Lauren was kind of a clusterfuck but him melting his steering wheel and crashing the car was at least a pretty good mutant-powers-gone-wrong moment.
  • Blink is skeptical about both Erg’s name and choice of habitat.
  • Maybe she’s right to be. Erg refers to himself as part of “we who choose not to hide our nature,” from behind a massive one-eye goggle, from his home inside a dank sewer. I agree, Erg. You have not hidden yourself from the other Morlocks who can half-see you from inside the sewer.
  • The Morlock stuff is promising, but doesn’t do much in its proper introduction, and wasn’t as stylishly shot as the Eclipse/Polaris/Cuckoos business.
  • OK, nerds: I did not do my research on this one because I was hoping someone could, for old time’s sake, just tell me if the Morlock who can spy on people by leaving behind slimy goop is something from the comics. It has to be, right? If someone could recommend his best single story, Slimy Goop Man #62 or whatever, I’d much appreciate it.
  • I’ve seen next week’s episode, and while it wouldn’t be accurate to say that it features the return of fan favorite Wire (in the sense that I am a fan and he’s one of my favorites), it’s probably as close as we’re getting, and it’s pretty over-the-top, featuring some trademark Caitlin Strucker Insanity.
  • My plan is to keep watching The Gifted throughout this season (we’ll see how that goes), so feel free to get at me on Twitter if you’re still watching too!

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