The Gifted rings in the new year with a fresh blast of X-Men canon. In a flashback, we see Blink on a date when she and her man are suddenly accosted by mean-looking people wearing giant white crosses on their clothes. These are Purifiers, anti-mutant fanatics who love nothing more than to beat, humiliate, and kill those they see as demonic aberrations. In Marvel comics, these Purifiers usually follow the demagogic rhetoric of Rev. William Stryker, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there’s a specific figurehead here. For now, they just serve to teach Blink a lesson about hate, and how awful it feels when no one dares to stick up for you.
That’s not even our only new dose of X-Men canon. Esme and her sisters go to make a report about their escape to a mysterious man behind a desk. This man identifies himself (and the blond telepathic sisters) as members of the Hellfire Club. Fans of X-Men: First Class may recognize the name as once belonging to Kevin Bacon’s campy supervillain team, but the organization has clearly undergone a makeover in the years since: fewer fetish costumes (at least so far…), more disguising themselves as members of the wealthy elite while secretly working to advance mutant interests. The latter motive means they are very much interested in shutting down Dr. Campbell’s Hound program. They currently lack the manpower to do that, but the sisters are confident they can recruit the Mutant Underground to help.
Meanwhile, both the Mutant Underground and Sentinel Services are still reeling from their last encounter. Jace gives a eulogy for his friend (who shot himself under Esme’s telepathic control) at the same time Polaris and the others say goodbye to Dreamer (shot by Dr. Campbell to force the Struckers to demonstrate their combined powers). While Jace laments that the mutants are acting like the angel Lucifer (using their special talents to elevate themselves above others), Eclipse promises that the mutants will continue to love and hope even as Jace and Campbell continue to treat them like lab rats and meat sacks. The whole thing is filmed in parallel and reminds me very much of the “Savages/Savages” sequence from Pocahontas.
The mutants have differing opinions about the Cuckoos (as I’ll be calling them — they could also be known as the Three-in-One or the Frost sisters, as they are apparently named after their comic book matriarch, Emma Frost). Most don’t appreciate the girls’ harsh tactics, especially the ones they directly betrayed, like Eclipse and the Strucker parents. Others, like Polaris, think that the mutants need to be aggressive if they want to survive. The Cuckoos return to headquarters to offer the mutants their help in taking down the Hounds, but they give them some time to think it over. The Strucker family is traumatized (the kids by Campbell’s experiments, the parents by Esme’s manipulation) and decide to make for Mexico as they originally planned. Their first stop will be Fairburn Station, another Mutant Underground hideout. (Recap continues on page 2)
Whether or not an alliance with the Cuckoos makes sense for the heirs to the X-Men, one things for certain: Their opponents certainly aren’t holding back. Even though Jace Turner is still queasy about the Hound program’s legality and ethics, he’s got to admit it’s effective. After his experiments on the Cuckoos and the Struckers, Campbell has figured out how to mix mutant powers for deadly impact. His first example is taking two mutants with minor powers over gravity and inertia; by fusing their blood in a grotesque manacle machine, they can unleash terrible destructive power greater than the sum of their parents.
Guess who the Sentinels select as their first target for this two-headed telekinetic monster? That’s right, the very Fairburn Station where the Struckers just arrived. Luckily Lauren’s old flame Wes is there, and with his illusion powers is able to keep them hidden long enough for the other mutants to arrive. These new Hounds still pose an overwhelming threat, but then the Cuckoos arrive to help them get away. Once they get back to base, the Struckers realize these new Hounds make it too dangerous for them to be on the move, and the other mutants decide to ally with the Cuckoos in their mutual struggle against the Hound program. In addition to their obvious tactical skills and effective powers, the Cuckoos tease Polaris that they know the truth about her birth father. Apparently he was once a “King” in the Hellfire Club (this is an organization in love with chess metaphors, and ranks its members like chess pieces), making her heir not only to powerful magnetic abilities but also influence and status. As you may know, Polaris’ father in the comics was Magneto, who has occasionally allied with the Hellfire Club in the past. But perhaps this version of Polaris was sired by some other powerful mutant, so that the show can retain the spirit of the character without getting every single background detail right just as it’s doing with the Stepford Cuckoos.
Speaking of the Cuckoos, their game is deeper even than it appears. It was they who tipped Jace off about Fairburn, so that they could convince their fellow mutants of the danger posed by the Hound program. These girls are running rings around everyone: politicians, mutants, Sentinels, and even the mysterious Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club itself. Hopefully their machinations don’t catch up with them too soon.
Coolest power use: The show is having a lot of fun with the Cuckoos’ telepathy. Loved seeing them leave Sentinel agents writhing on the ground at invisible horrors as the mutants made away with their transports.
Dumbest Reed move: The Strucker parents’ indignant rage at the Cuckoos, who may have manipulated them but also saved their children, made me roll my eyes this episode.
Most impossible choice: This is a show about making tough choices, and the Cuckoos are clearly very good at it. Escalating tensions with the Sentinels and risking mutant lives is quite the risk, but shouldn’t they all be playing to win?