The Gifted recap: 'eXploited'
Esme hatches a plan while the Struckers race to save their imprisoned children
This stellar episode of The Gifted has my favorite opening of the season so far. We begin at a rally for Senator Montez, who’s running on a platform of manipulating anti-mutant paranoia to justify an even more repressive crackdown on that segment of the population (as you may remember, Montez has come up before in this show; Caitlin’s brother works for him). After his rally, Montez runs into one of his assistants, a beautiful young blond woman named Stephanie. She reminds him that he has an important meeting coming up and asks if she can attend. Just then, Montez gets an important call on his cell phone, and Stephanie gets a message of her own.
Montez’s call is from Sentinel Services, notifying him that apparently mutants have been infiltrating his organization. One of those infiltrators, Stephanie, gets a message from her sisters, saying that they’ve been captured by Sentinel Services and she’s next. They tell her to “find us” and “save us,” and after a change of clothes and name, she gets to doing just that. The screaming telepathic voices, and Stephanie’s frantic run through the crowd away from Montez’s headquarters, give this cold open a real horror-movie feeling. I’ve loved the X-Men universe’s increasing willingness to tell stories across different genres — impressive that they can now do so within a single episode!
Back in the present, Esme (as we know her) is ready to implement her plan. She sets about exacerbating divisions in what remains of the Mutant Underground, probably so that they’ll be easier to manipulate. Reed and Caitlin want to get their kids back, but they still believe in the system they’ve served their whole lives. They don’t want to launch an aggressive escape attempt (and they’re probably not wrong there, given how last week’s attack plan worked out). Instead, Reed wants to try using his contacts in the judicial system to see if he can at least get Andy and Lauren transferred to a normal prison rather than Campbell’s deranged Hound facility. Esme has a better idea. Approaching Reed and Caitlin while they’re on their own, she plants the idea of them going to talk to Jace Turner. Yeah, sure, he’s the very Sentinel agent who just collared their kids and sent them to the aforementioned brainwashing facility, but hey, he’s a father, maybe he understands!
Funny enough, literally at about the same time they’re saying this, Jace himself is busy telling the imprisoned Dreamer that he’s going to take personal satisfaction out of delivering her into Campbell’s hands and watching her get turned into a Hound. Yeah guys, I’m sure making overtures to this guy will go great. He’s not at all a sadistic bloodthirsty psychopath.
Well, you know Reed — he never met a dumb idea he didn’t love. As he and Caitlin drive to Jace’s house, they notice this suburb looks a lot like theirs. Reed wonders aloud how many of these people would still have a smile on their face is they knew their fellow Americans (specifically, his children) were being brainwashed and tortured while they put up their holiday decorations. Caitlin replies with the obvious answer: They wouldn’t care. People already know what kind of oppression occurs in their society; they see homeless people on the street, they read news stories about unarmed African-Americans killed by cops, maybe some of them have even looked over the Bush torture report. And these happy suburb people (the same class to which Reed and Caitlin once belonged) don’t care about what’s happening to the Strucker kids any more than they care about any of the other victims of inequality, violence, and oppression in America. (Recap continues on page 2)
Rest assured, the people who serve this system of oppression know exactly what they’re doing. So it’s no surprise that when the Strucker parents show up at the Turner household, Reed’s appeals to “the badge” and “the Constitution” don’t much move Jace. All he sees is two insane people holding him and his wife at gunpoint in an attempt to free an entire facility full of imprisoned terrorists. To Jace Turner, every mutant is a terrorist who wants to kill his family, and that ideology is what motivates him, not Reed’s Aaron Sorkin-esque odes to good men serving an intrinsically honorable system. The only thing that changes Jace’s mind is when his wife confronts him after the Struckers leave peacefully. Having heard about the Hound program, she asks her husband accusingly, “What are you doing in our daughter’s name?”
That shames Jace enough to show up at Dr. Campbell’s lab demanding that every mutant prisoner be brought back to Sentinel’s supervision. Unfortunately, he’s already too late. To motivate the Strucker children into showing off their Fenris powers, Dr. Campbell already killed Dreamer — which is, of course, Jace’s fault for sending her to him so soon. Luckily for Dr. Campbell at least, his motivation worked, and the Struckers’ powerful display has apparently given him all the data he needs to develop a “permanent” solution to the mutant problem.
But just like everyone else, Campbell was so focused on the flashy power of the Struckers that he missed the real danger in hiding. As Jace pulls up to the gate of the facility with all the (living) prisoners in tow, that true danger shows its face. Esme, who manipulated Eclipse and the other mutants into leading her to this spot just as she manipulated Jace (through the Struckers) into bringing out the prisoners, reaches out with her telepathic powers and takes control of Jace’s cronies. She makes all the Sentinel footsoldiers kill themselves and each other — she even has Jace’s loyal sidekick blow his own head off right in front of his friend, just after releasing the prisoners’ shock collars. After that, all of the confused prisoners pile out of their transport bus, but Esme was really only looking for two: her two sisters, identical in appearance and mutant ability. It’s the Stepford Cuckoos, baby, and they came to win. Sure, Reed’s attempted compromise with Jace Turner seemed like it might work for half a second there, but it was never going to last. This is a war, and you have to fight to win. The Cuckoos understand that.
Coolest power use: Obviously the Cuckoos’ telepathic rampage at the end there. For those unfamiliar with X-Men comics, the Stepford Cuckoos are the young proteges of Emma Frost, who schools them in mind reading, manipulation, and swagger. I must say, the Cuckoos here so embody everything Emma does and stands for, I’m willing to call it the best onscreen representation of Emma Frost I’ve ever seen. There’s a low bar, admittedly. I mean, they might not even end up calling them the “Stepford Cuckoos” on this show! And it’s still the best version of Emma ever.
Dumbest Reed move: Going to Jace was stupid and ill-fated to begin with, but Reed’s dumbness goes beyond any one action. The system and ideologies he’s spent his whole life believing in have been revealed as frauds. He’s really gonna need to wake up to reality, or his family’s never going to survive.
Most impossible choice: The Struckers’ choice to perform their powers for Dr. Campbell. This saved Blink from suffering the same fate as Dreamer, but as the kids discussed afterward, it also meant Dreamer died for nothing, since she pleaded with them not to give Campbell what he wanted. But I for one am glad Blink’s sticking around. I’ll miss Dreamer’s cool power, but honestly her character was never developed enough to establish a lasting presence on this show.