Since we last left the beleaguered mutants and mutant-adjacent characters of Fox’s possibly-doomed X-Men spinoff series The Gifted, they’ve been doing what they do best: constantly changing sides. Say this for a series that sometimes threatens to move quickly while going nowhere: It didn’t save a bunch of reversals for the season finale, a move that would have shamelessly mimicked the events that ended Season 1. No, before the finale even aired, there were change-ups and switch-backs and feints aplenty: Andy Strucker, the wayward aspiring edgelord, finally returned to his family. His fellow Inner Circle member Polaris, the smart-mouthed, revolution-hungry daughter of Magneto, became a spy for the Mutant Underground, accidentally got Sage killed, made the same reversal, after (further) revelations about Reeva’s extreme methods for her pro-mutant group. Blink left the Mutant Underground to join the Morlocks, then got killed... or, it seems, stuck in some kind of portal purgatory. (Wherever she is, it’s no longer in the MU.) Less officially, Caitlin Strucker has pivoted from reluctant and protective mom figure to fiery freedom fighter, and Reed Strucker is now a murderer! Which Andy finds very relatable.
I’m not trying to recap every development of the past couple months. Suffice to say, there’s been a lot of group-hopping, and a lot of those groups getting backed into different corners and shooting powers and/or bullets at each other. “oMens” dispenses with voluntary side-switching, though it also quickly dispenses with the Strucker family reunion, as Andy and Lauren get snatched back up by the Cuckoos just as they’re plotting their latest out-of-the-corner escape, from their Purifier-surrounded apartment building. Reeva, mostly undaunted by the defections in her ranks, wants to use the combined Strucker powers to destroy the Sentinel Services building.
And she succeeds! A whole damn building gets destroyed without a whole lot of fanfare before Esme’s slight hesitation allows the Mutant Underground to recapture their youngest members. None of this feels as momentous as it probably should, because “oMens” performs an uncommonly adroit—for this show anyway—act of refocusing the story from a multitude of drawn-out, season-long arcs to a particular character’s particular fate in a kind of back-to-basics move.
Usually back to basics is not where I want The Gifted to go, because it involves returning to the Struckers, who are consistently the least interesting and most irritating characters on this program (sometimes actively, sometimes just by default). But while the episode’s additional flashbacks are written in the same clunk-on-the-nose style as the typical cold opens without the benefit of brevity, the scenes from the marriage of Caitlin and Reed do build to something: Reed’s sudden decision to go up against Reeva, knowing that her attempts to knock out his powers will backfire, destroying her... and him.
And he succeeds! And there is the episode’s more momentous explosion, despite the smaller number of casualties. Reed Strucker dies, and Stephen Moyer is presumably off of this show, if there’s even still a show for him to be off of. (More on this in a moment.) Reed was, as mentioned, never my favorite character on the show, and Moyer’s performance always felt a bit too workmanlike to transcend how stodgy the character has been written. But I admit, I found his sacrifice, and his family’s devastation, affecting. On a less emotional level, I admire Gifted creator Matt Nix (who penned this installment, his first one in a while) for seeming to understand what a corner Reed had been written into, either defined by suppressing his powers, or defined by not being able to control them. To make such a serious, controlled personality realize that his destiny in all this (ugh, but I’ll allow it) involved surrendering control—at least of his body.
This move takes out season-long Big Bad Reeva, too, and I have to say, she turned out to be sort of a disappointing villain. Grace Byers certainly cuts a stylish figure in the part, but Reeva pretty quickly settled into the predictable kind of movie/TV ideologue, willing to game the results in order to hasten violent revolution on her side, blah blah blah. The most notable aspect of her character wound up being the strange visual cue that through some combination of framing, the Byers performance, and a profoundly dopey-looking depiction of her mutant power, Reeva often looked like she doesn’t have use of her arms. Now she has use of nothing.
It’s a satisfying end for Reed and a relief to be done with Reeva, but “oMens,” in typically fast-paced and mostly entertaining fashion, does point to just how much of this season has consisted of rapid piece-moving, a sort of perpetual motion that’s often fun in the moment but can feel wearying and repetitive over the course of 16 episodes; I think the slightly extended season was a mistake, and if anything, this is the type of show where 10 would be fine. Especially considering that even with more episodes at their disposal, the resolution of the finale felt a little rushed: Reed dies, the Struckers mourn, Polaris and Eclipse are reunited with their daughter, Morlock Erg (Michael Luwoye, whose increased role has been a pleasure of the last bunch of episodes) joins the group for real, as does Esme (great additions, also basically not commented upon at all). Another reconfigured group—and another cliffhanger, as Blink returns, looking futuristic and Future Past-y, ushering everyone through a new portal.
Whether we’ll get to actually see what’s on the other side is, as ever, in some doubt. The Fox-Disney deal is about to close, and if the new studio doesn’t want a mostly pretty successful X-Men movie franchise on its hands (it doesn’t) and already has MCU and Star Wars plans for its streaming service (it does) and can wash its hands of ancillary X-Men stuff (it can), and wants to treat anything that’s not Ryan Reynolds playing Deadpool as ancillary (it does), well, it doesn’t look great for the modestly rated, if somewhat appreciated, The Gifted Season 3... though maybe it will get yet another stay of execution based on the Fox Network as we know it maybe not having time to wind all the way down and reboot itself as largely sports and reality by September 2019. There are definitely moments in “oMens” that feel like they’re protecting the show’s fans for both possibilities: Most of the characters get some resolution to their emotional journeys, while the Blink thing assures fans that it’s not over, unless it is.
But that’s sort of an X-Men thing, too, isn’t it? I mean, it applies to a lot of superhero comics, but the X-Men in particular feel like a neverending strife generator. The movies reflect this, too: Days Of Future Past fixes the timeline, but Logan’s timeline still leaves plenty of room for heartbreak. The Last Stand gets justifiably erased from continuity, but then Dark Phoenix comes around and Jean looks like she’s wearing almost the same stupid goddamn Evil Jacket. Some of this, as in the comics medium, is pure franchise-driven cynicism: We gotta keep the series going even if we don’t have a plan, until such time as the plan gets scotched for unrelated corporate-merger reasons. But I think one reason I respond well to the X-Men characters on film and TV is that this neverending fight isn’t entirely mercenary. It’s also sometimes how the world works. If there’s any non-obvious, non-telegraphed truth in the earnest pulp of The Gifted, that might be it.
- OK, comics nerds, get to nerding: Are they just teasing a second, lower-budget Days Of Future Past riff with that Blink thing, or is there another storyline this Blink reappearance is queuing up?
- There were such big doings a-transpiring with the Struckers this episode that I didn’t have rom above to mention how the mutants’ latest escape involved Thunderbird subjecting himself to an all-out chain-wrapping, speed-ramped, mailbox-throwing brawl, with a coda where he punches powers into Erg! I don’t have anything smart to say about any of that; I just thought it ruled.
- Did Polaris say “the whole dang government” in her first scene? Dagnabbit, she really is softening.
- “In a way, I feel like we’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Lauren says about powering up with Andy, without so much as a wink. Yeah, Lauren. Like maybe 16 episodes? Or 29?
- Caitlin, explaining her cache of guns: “I don’t have an X-gene. I figured it was the next best thing.” Her superpower is a bunch of guns; Caitlin is basically the Punisher now.
- This season of The Gifted has really leaned into its stylized camera angles; canted angles have been all over these episodes, and “oMens” used plenty of low-angle shots, too. A nice way of keeping the show comic-book-y without getting too crazy.
- Maybe I missed more details on this earlier in the season when I was watching merely for fun and not for recappery, but... the Purifiers are a crazed race-war militia, right? And law enforcement never really bats an eye at this? This episode includes a tossed-off explanation that the cops are willing to look the other way when they surround the apartment building, but Jace Turner (whose big journey seems to be a never-ending circle) is leading a full-on gun battle in the streets, and it’s not the first time. I get that maybe the show thinks it’s doing commentary here, but I feel like after a series of escalating firefights, the cops would not be looking the other way, or if they did, they’d just see another Purifier gun battle.
- Is this the end of me writing about The Gifted?! If so, thank you guys for watching along with me! I’ve really enjoyed taking this regular dose of X-Men methadone in between the movies, and I’ll be bummed if there’s truly no more Fox-era X-Men stuff after this summer. Don’t let Tony Stark be the one who builds Cerebro!