Photo: Fox

Everyone’s feeling out of place in their causes in this week’s episode of The Gifted. Well, not everyone; if everyone truly felt out of place, who would be there to comfort, console, and argue with the characters who feel the worst? That dissatisfaction with how things are going—the sense that the characters’ various causes aren’t hewing quite close enough to the versions in their heads—unifies an episode that’s uncharacteristically light on mutant action, and uncharacteristically strong given how little pulse-pounding suspense there is.

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To that end, it’s significant to point out that the big trip to Philadelphia to rescue new mutant Christina’s sister Jasmine takes place off-screen; usually that would be rejiggered into a full-on mission, or I’d be full-on complaining if it weren’t. But for the most part, the emotional moments of “unMoored” landed more consistently than usual. (I’m not counting the Strucker fights, of course, because those are constitutionally incapable of transcending their tedium, at least at the moment.)

Roll call of the dissatisfied: Thunderbird, who features in this week’s return of the flashback cold open, is frustrated that the mutant cause he joined (thanks to the recruiting skills of X-Men-approved lawyer Evangeline Whedon) may be hitting a dead end, as he searches for a way to get further intel on the Inner Circle and what’s going on with Eclipse’s new baby Dawn (who he doesn’t know is called Dawn); Agent Jace Turner, who has officially left the mutant-chasing beat (and, indeed, is no longer an agent of Sentinel Services) but still aches to return to his old mission; Andy, who experiences some performance issues in his Inner Circle training because he misses his family, particularly his sister; and, in the most surprising development, Esme of the Cuckoo Triplets, who briefly balks at excessively murderous orders from Reeva only to be accused of going soft.

Esme’s thread is the least developed and, as is often the case with the Cuckoos, possibly the most interesting, only because I don’t recall any previous hints that there could be genuine discord among the three of them. Here, they exchange meaningful looks and Reeva chastises them for clearly communicating telepathically (and leaving her out of it) while she’s in the room. Esme does go forward with the plan to kill all witnesses to their big blackout from the last episode (and it doesn’t make a ton of sense that they left witnesses in the first place, considering how many people they killed without much visible stress last season), but she hesitates again at the idea of killing a 15-year-old boy if he proves less than useful (of course, if Reeva was really bent on getting rid of people because they’re useless, Andy would not have survived six months under her supervision).

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Reeva hesitates too, when she’s (semi-hilariously) moments away from unleashing an Andy-killing sonic something-or-other, but only because Andy finally unburdens himself regarding his brief and unsuccessful attempts to contact his family. I make fun of Andy a lot, but this is probably the most sympathetic and interesting he’s ever been on the show, especially when this episode unveils its dream twist. Lauren’s dream from last week, that of course seemed like something more than a dream at a time, not only continues (and ends, at least so far, with her plummeting off of a building rather than joining in Andy’s rampage), but turns up in Andy’s head, too.

Not telling your parent about a weird (and, in its extended cut, pretty creepy) dream is par for the course, and The Gifted has a certain amount of fun toying with that idea via the pitiless Reeva as an accidental parental figure. The show doesn’t treat this as a joke—it’s not mordant or wicked or, frankly, clever enough to make jokes about something like that—but the dynamic is still appealingly twisted. So is the return of Jace, another sometimes-dull character who gets some interesting moments here as he treats his mutant-hunting career like a drinking problem: hiding his files, obsessing over the blackout he knows must have been mutant-caused, even meeting with an old associate in a bar. He (we assume) lies to his wife about seeing the error of his ways, which really highlights the narrative repetition we’re in for as this storyline continues... but for this week, his scenes are short and compelling, revealing that maybe his mutant obsession goes deeper than a desire for justice for his daughter.

“unMoored” certainly bares the mark of what a longer Gifted season might look like; they’re not going to have the money to unleash a big, cool mutant-powered action sequence every episode, maybe not even every other episode. But if the show can keep its propensity for clichés and Strucker bullshit under tighter control and produce more character-building episodes like this one, which ends with a genuinely touching moment green-light moment between Eclipse and Polaris (and a genuinely manipulative baby-in-danger cliffhanger), it might inch closer to that X-Men ideal.

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Stray observations:

  • “She’s the only family I have left,” Christina tells Lauren, of her desire to find her sister. “I know how that feels,” Lauren responds, whose non-sibling family members are demonstrably alive. Yikes, Lauren.
  • This week in Blink expressions: her reaction to Thunderbird’s description of a “complicated relationship” with lawyer Evangeline Whedon, a sort of excuse-me eye-flutter that must be especially hard to perform with what I assume are green contacts.
  • Speaking of Blink, is she prepping her hair for dreds?! Or has she just not washed it in a while?
  • We got a full third of the way into an episode before witnessing a Strucker Fight! Let’s see if we can break that record every week until the Struckers stop bickering about the same two or three goddamn things.
  • So we’re calling them the Inner Circle, huh? Kinda backing away from the Hellfire Club thing?
  • Evangeline Whedon sadly reports that the Mutant Underground’s princess is in another castle, and that the maybe-princess is named Erg and lives in the sewers! It’s Morlock time, guys! Hopefully they won’t be uncomfortably racially-coded as they were in The Last Stand.
  • Speaking of X3, its unofficial remake Dark Phoenix had a trailer drop last week, right before it was unceremoniously bumped into a summer release date from its Valentine’s Day date, itself made after the movie got bumped from November of this year. So, the trailer: What did you guys think? I feel like they’re trying to pull back from the garbage-swirl excesses of Apocalypse, which is a good thing. But it also still tries to sell spectacle, and if this is really a more intimate story, maybe it’s not best to sell some generic mutant action. I mean, the X-Men are still spending way too much time flipping over cars (though to be clear, it’s fine if the Gifted league of X-Men flip over cars).

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