Looking back on The Gifted's first season, it's charming to think that at one point in time, we assumed the show was about a new generation of heroes chosen by the X-Men to save mutantkind from humanity. For all its comic book-y trappings, The Gifted was never really a show about superheroes.
Though The Gifted's final episodes, "eXtraction" and "X-roads", aired as a two-hour long feature, the season finale didn't actually pack all that much in terms of new plot development. Instead, it acknowledged the fact that while The Gifted has been wasting its time trying to make us care about the Struckers, the cracks in the Mutant Underground's foundation have been paving the way for something much more dangerous than Sentinel Services.
The world of The Gifted is unlike nearly any other reality we've seen Marvel's mutants occupy - specifically because most of the general public seems to know about mutants and is entirely comfortable with governmental initiatives to exterminate them. Gangs of Purifiers roam the streets looking to harass and murder mutants, while politicians co-sign legislation that would institutionalise anti-mutant hate. The Gifted may not be set in a barren wasteland or a world ravaged by a lethal virus, but it is very much a dystopia in which all mutant lives are in imminent danger.
In The Gifted's world, anti-mutant hatred is an atmospheric force that permeates all parts of society. This has always made The Gifted's stakes feel incredibly high, but it's also made the show's focus on and forgiveness of the Struckers seem weirdly out of place.
The Mutant Underground is at war with the Sentinels and the battle could very well lead to the mutants' extinction and yet, from week to week, the Struckers and those looking for peaceful solutions to their problems have seemingly been waiting for the other shoe to drop. "eXtraction" wastes no time in letting us know that after all this time sitting, waiting, and repeatedly putting themselves in harm's way, some of the Mutant Underground is beginning to see things from the Frost sisters' perspective. With the new and improved Hound program posing an even more deadly threat, the Cuckoos and their sympathisers realise that if Senator Montez and Dr Campbell are able to make it back to Washington, DC, they're all essentially done for. The only thing that matters is stopping Montez by any means necessary - but somehow, even at this late and perilous stage in the game, there are still a handful of Mutant Undergrounders who insist on playing by the rules.
The Cuckoos, Lorna and Andy Strucker all get it - the humans are literally coming to murder them, but others, such as Thunderbird and Eclipse, still hold dear to whatever faith the X-Men put in them before they suddenly vanished from the world. For a show that's so grounded in its own real world consequences, it's frustrating to see the "good" mutants clinging to the remnants of Charles Xavier's belief in winning over hearts and minds with kindness and compassion. "eXtraction" mines that frustration with one last outing for the unified Mutant Underground that ends - shocker - horribly, not because of any disagreements the mutants may have among themselves, but because The Gifted's humans are absolute arseholes.
The team's plan to extract Campbell falls apart when the good doctor uses a child to shield himself from the mutants - something Eclipse is shocked by, despite the fact that everything we've seen on the show has suggested that Campbell is a monster. Outsmarted and backed into a corner by their own naïveté, the Mutant Underground is forced to retreat and lick their wounds, but that loss, at least for Lorna and the Cuckoos, is the last.
For a while, The Gifted got very comfortable having its heroes make the same mistakes over and over again as a means of driving the plot. Someone would tell the Struckers to stay put and avoid danger, then they would leave the hideout and put everyone in jeopardy. Someone would warn the mutants about interacting with Sentinel Services, then a mutant (usually a Strucker) would go charging directly at the Sentinels. Over and over again, these people ran themselves ragged trying to fight a losing battle with the same ineffective tactics - and ultimately, one of their friends ended up dead because of it.
Those losses, that death and her baby are the things that push Polaris to finally snap and fully align with the Frosts, living up to the expectations so many of us have had for her the whole season. Though neither "eXtraction" nor "X-roads" explicitly mention Magneto, Esme reminds Polaris that she is his daughter, and no matter what the history books say about him, he (and the Hellfire Club and the Brotherhood) fought for mutants the same way she's doing. It's a truth that Polaris has struggled with for the entire season but, in a moment of clarity that's entirely out of place for The Gifted, Lorna sees the truth of things and makes an informed decision.
With the Mutant Underground's headquarters destroyed and the Hound program poised to wipe out thousands more mutants across the country, Lorna chooses to honour her father's legacy by pulling an aeroplane out of the sky, murdering Montez, Campbell, and a handful of other humans. Eclipse's belief that Polaris was in the wrong is admirable, and he's all too right that it's probably the first step toward her becoming something of a villain like her father. But for now, it's easy to understand why she's decided to go on the offensive.
The Gifted was never going to promise a happy ending for any of its characters, be they hero or villain, and at the end of this season, Polaris and those on her side came to a very logical conclusion: During times of war like these, playing hero is an excellent way to end up dead. By assuming the role of villain, it ensures that if and when you die, you go fighting to defend yourself. Lorna, the Cuckoos, and the rest who left the Underground are just trying to be on the winning team, and they're finally ready to do whatever it takes to ensure they're the victors - even if it means taking on their friends.
- Eclipse and Thunderbird look like very dapper husbands when they're putting on their suits to sneak into Montez' event. This is your new favourite ship.
- The Cuckoos would be so much less conspicuous if they didn't all wear the same outfit.
- We're really doing this whole "you used to be a criminal" thing again with the Cuckoos and Blink? Who cares whether someone used to commit crimes, they live in a dystopia. Everybody's a criminal!
- Andy Strucker emphasising that he wanted to be a von Strucker was... weird.
- Evangeline Whedon, everybody's favourite mutant lawyer who turns into a dragon monster, showed up!
- It's interesting that The Gifted has decided to go against traditional comics lore that says mutant siblings can't usually use their powers against one another. The whole season's really been bullish about emphasising how powers are stronger together than apart, but the fight scene between Andy and Lauren felt like it was a lot.
- The references to Polaris' having bipolar disorder have been inconsistent throughout the show, but the mention that she has a sister with it as well was a nice little nod to Wanda Maximoff.
- See ya next season, folks!