Over the past few weeks, The Gifted has done an excellent job juggling the various storylines that tie its sprawling ensemble cast of characters together while giving nearly all of them the time and space to grow. As its first season begins to draw to a close, though, it's obvious that The Gifted's writers took a hard look at where everyone is right now and realised that the Struckers - the mutants the show's ostensibly supposed to be about - aren't exactly all that interesting.
By shifting its focus away from the Struckers early on, The Gifted gave itself the ability to really flesh out the dynamics between various members of the Mutant Underground in a way that made it easy to become invested in their personal struggles. Blink's (Jamie Chung) been searching for her place on the team and dealing with trust issues after being lied to by Thunderbird (Blair Redford) and Dreamer (Elena Satine). Dreamer's watching as her relationship with Thunderbird is falling apart, and Thunderbird's trying to make sense of his burgeoning feelings for Blink.
Polaris (Emma Dumont) and Eclipse (Sean Teale) are both struggling with the realisation that they're about to become parents and that neither of them is ready. The rest of the Mutant Underground's been largely preoccupied with getting by day to day without being murdered by Sentinel Services.
While all of this has been going on, the Struckers have just kind of been... chilling off in the background, causing a little trouble here, and learning a thing or two about being fugitives there. Aside from a few brief moments of bad decision-making, though, we haven't really seen the Strucker children in particular make much of their time with the Mutant Underground, but this week's episode "threat of eXtinction" attempted to rectify that by leaning heavily on the idea that the Struckers are a Very Big Deal.
"threat of eXtinction" opens with one of The Gifted's most direct ties to the original X-Men comics yet in the form of a flashback to 1952 England, where we meet Andrea and Andreas von Strucker, twin mutants on the run from the authorities. Through a series of newspaper clippings and a closeup of a postcard, we learn that the von Strucker twins are allegedly behind a string of terrorist attacks in multiple cities throughout Europe. Before we really see anything more of what the Struckers have done, their hideout is ambushed by the police, but rather than run, the twins grip one another's hand and appear to obliterate the humans with a flash of energy reminiscent of the Struckers' powers from the books.
The flashback folds neatly back into Reed's revelation last week that Sentinel Services has a direct tie to Trask Industries, the same company that Reed's father worked for. Though he and his father haven't spoken for years, Reed reasons that his father might be able to shed light on why Sentinel Services took an interest in his kids in the first place and perhaps provide them with information about how to further evade them.
Teamwork in action
As the Mutant Underground's proved that it's capable of thwarting Sentinel Services, the organisation's become increasingly hostile towards mutants in the wind, going so far as to ambush mutant safe houses harboring those simply trying to escape Atlanta. What Blink, Thunderbird and Eclipse learn while transporting a group of refugees back to their base, however, is that the Sentinels are now using mind-controlled moles with the intention of infiltrating the Mutant Underground's ranks. While "threat of eXtinction" uses the rest of its heroes to contemplate how - if at all - they can continue to take people in knowing they could be spies, Reed makes a trip to see his father Otto in order to find out why his kids are so important.
Otto (Raymond J. Barry) reveals that that Andy and Lauren's abilities are nearly identical to the 1950s von Struckers from earlier in the episode. When Lauren and Andy use their powers together, Otto explains, they have the potential to be one of the most destructive forces on the planet due to the fact that something about the Strucker genes is awfully special. Because not only is Otto a mutant, but Reed is too - or he was, before Otto performed experiments back when Reed was a kid to suppress his mutant genes, all part of Otto's work for Trask.
If you look back at the earliest episodes of The Gifted, you get the sense that at one point in the show's development, the Struckers played a much more central role. In pushing the Strucker family's drama to the periphery somewhat, The Gifted's made it so that their journey from average suburban family to renegade freedom fighters has felt way more believable specifically because they themselves aren't really the "stars" of the show.
Caitlin, Reed, Andy and Lauren have all been trying to find their places on the team, which has made for some of The Gifted's strongest B-plots, but this renewed focus on making a big deal out of them doesn't exactly land well. We don't really know all that much about the Strucker kids beyond the fact that Lauren's the sensible, older one and Andy has anger issues that nobody seems to recognise as being a potential issue. Turning the two of them into MacGuffins of Unlimited Power now almost seems like a misstep because as easy as it is to be forgiving of a protagonist who's still in the process of becoming a fully fleshed-out character, the same isn't nearly as true of villains.
There's no telling just what The Gifted ultimately wants to end up doing with the Struckers, though the series is heavily hinting at the idea of them going through some sort of change that makes them the show's largest threat. That's a perfectly fine end goal to have for them, but before The Gifted tries to put the Struckers through a Dark Phoenix Saga of their own, it's really going to have to give us a reason to care about them.
- Of all the Mutant Underground members, Blink's become the most prepared to join the X-Men... which is probably never going to happen and is a shame.
- Thunderbird's line "You don't turn your back on desperate people just because one of them might be dangerous" is timely as hell and delivered wonderfully.
- Andy Strucker's beatboxing continues to be embarrassing and bad.
- There's no way of confirming if Esme, the blonde telepath introduced this week, could potentially be a nod to the Stepford Cuckoos.
- There was no hanky Danger Room this week, but Lorna did get to brandish knives at a prisoner, so that kinda counts.
- What the hell are Grandpa Strucker's powers supposed to be?
- Also, it seems wild that the von Strucker twins singlehandedly managed to commit genocide, but hey, this is The Gifted we're talking about.