NOTE: Spoilers from throughout the second season of, “The Gifted” are present in this review
With the Disney-Fox merger now having been finalized, it’s truly starting to sink in that Fox’s long-running live-action X-Men universe appears to be slowly coming to an end. We still have upcoming big screen offerings like Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants in the pipeline, with other X-Men movie projects like Gambit in an uncertain limbo state for the time being, but we already know that FX’s X-Men spin-off series, Legion will be concluded with its third and final season this Summer, and the same is almost certainly true of the FOX network’s other X-Men spin-off series, The Gifted, now that its sophomore season has concluded.
Throughout its second season, The Gifted defied its dismal odds of continued survival by nonetheless pulling out all the stops, really blowing up the scale of the show with a massive and interesting new conflict. With half of the Mutant Underground defecting to the ‘Inner Circle’ of the Hellfire Club at the end of Season One, a clandestine society of influential mutant billionaires that are among the most frequent X-Men foes in Marvel Comics lore, what remains of the show’s heroes now find themselves standing against the ever-growing divide between humans and mutants. On top of that, disgraced former Sentinel Services agent, Jace Turner ends up hitting rock bottom, and falling in with the anti-mutant hate group, the Purifiers, which are in turn led by charismatic television personality, Benedict Ryan, a character that really should have been Purifier leader, Matthew Risman. Hell, what’s the point of having Madeline Risman for an all-too-brief story arc during this past season, if her Marvel Comics-established sibling isn’t allowed to properly join the show?!
In some respects like these, The Gifted’s second season was a little bit less consistent than its first. Some story arcs were brilliant, such as the morally challenging debate behind the fading dream of the X-Men, and the price of selling one’s soul to mutant and human extremists alike. Others, however, fell flat in many respects, such as several Inner Circle operations that ended up going nowhere (what was the point of freeing a whole country’s worth of killer mutants in the end?), and underground mutant dwellers, the Morlocks making an appearance on the series to more or less simply serve as a convenient, or inconvenient, device to move the plot forward. The idea of Blink defecting to the Morlocks, who provide the abstaining perspective that wants to hide away from the growing human-mutant conflict, is potentially interesting, but it just feels like the show didn’t have enough room to fully realize a proper Morlock storyline, despite The Gifted constantly acting like these characters are important to the storyline. Hell, they’re literally described as just being in the way by new over-arching Inner Circle villain, Reeva Payge towards the climax!
In fact, let’s talk about Reeva Payge. This is a character that tends to frequently embody a lot of the nagging issues with The Gifted’s second season. You see, each episode throughout the season begins with a flashback that picks a character and shows a brief, crucial snippet from their past. This is a cool idea, and one that helps add more context to a conflict that often occurs during the present-day events of the episode. Reeva, for example, is shown to formerly be a concerned mutant citizen who was pushed to her extreme ways after a cycle of violence and oppression. This might have been interesting, to see a villain who seems violent and uncompromising, yet could potentially be redeemed. Still, the show appears to abandon this hook later on, so it can just make Reeva a simplified baddie. The same is true of Jace Turner and Benedict Ryan, who are both shoehorned into a series of increasingly ineffective Purifier conflicts, which more or less just make the Purifiers into convenient obstacles that do whatever the plot demands. Turner has a few more sympathetic moments, but as with Reeva, they’re often not quite fleshed out enough, beyond a handful of really standout dramatic scenes here and there.
Perhaps, to some extent, The Gifted’s second season just became too big in scope. There was too much ground to cover over a span of sixteen episodes, and it seems apparent that the show should have split the battle against the Purifiers and the battle against the Inner Circle into two separate seasons, in a perfect world where The Gifted has an even decent chance of getting a third season. Despite its occasionally messy storytelling however, and despite the potent moral ambiguity of the first season not being nearly as effectively or consistently realized in the second, The Gifted’s second season still has some really strong episodes. The lead-in to the season’s climax is especially impressive, ratcheting up the tension and excitement, and managing to culminate that in a very action-packed season finale, even if said season finale does leave a lot of story threads dangling in the air, unresolved. The budget seems strained here and there, since the quality of the effects can really be uneven in some places, even by television standards, but when The Gifted’s second season gets a storyline right, it really gets it right!
The increased effort to tie The Gifted more into recognizable elements from Marvel’s X-Men comics’ lore is also something that works both for and against it during Season Two, especially since this often comes at the expense of the central Strucker family drama that so often carried several great storylines in Season One. It’s cool to see the Hellfire Club return for a proper, extended go-around in Fox’s live-action X-Men universe, after being brought up in one scene and never glimpsed again during 2011’s standout X-Men movie, X-Men: First Class, for example. Similarly, the attempts to add in other recognizable X-Men foes like the Purifiers, and pitting them against the increasingly desperate Mutant Underground, is kind of neat. Like I said though, it may have been better if the show had eased up a little on the familiar Marvel mutant threats during this season, focusing more on working with a smaller handful of elements from X-Men lore, rather than trying to cram in everything and the kitchen sink. It’s almost like the showrunners knew that The Gifted wouldn’t be getting a third season, despite FOX not announcing this to the public, so they tried to cram in every single idea they had, regardless of how smoothly anything flowed with the storytelling. Even then though, the season finale frustratingly ends on a big cliffhanger, setting up a third season for The Gifted that will almost certainly not happen.
I suppose, “Impenetrable” is a criticism that one could sometimes level at The Gifted’s second season, which is an exciting, if slightly messy sophomore effort for the show. It sucks to see some of the really impressive, morally grey themes from the first season fall by the wayside in too many places, even if the effort to bump up the scope and dive deeper into the many characters still makes Season Two feel nicely bigger and more impressive. There’s just too many elements to effectively break down and go over in one overall season review, but what is here is another solid helping of mutant-flavoured fun and drama for X-Men fans, and superhero fans in general. There isn’t much appeal for anyone else though, considering how hard The Gifted is leaning into pure comic book territory throughout Season Two. Even then, X-Men/Marvel fans might still wish for more than what they get when it comes to certain fan-favourite elements of the X-Men comic books being incorporated here. Still, The Gifted’s second season makes for another mostly solid expansion for Fox’s live-action X-Men universe, even if its eyes are a little bit bigger than its stomach.
- Increased scope and excitement
- Some really standout character storylines for all factions
- Lots of fan service for X-Men enthusiasts
- Too many storylines peter out or go nowhere
- The Morlocks and the Purifiers never quite fit smoothly into the overall conflict
- Lacks some of the morally ambiguous impact of the first season