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The second episode of The Gifted, “rX,” is a direct continuation of the first episode, “eXposed,” and has the same strength and weaknesses.
After saving the Struckers and Eclipse (Sean Teale) from the Sentinel Services, Clarice Fong, AKA Blink (Jamie Chung), falls unconscious and loses control of her powers. Both Fong’s life and the fate of the Mutant Underground are in danger, and Caitlin Strucker (Amy Acker) and Eclipse set out to get medicine to save her life whilst portals to a road keep opening up. Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) has been arrested by Sentinel Services and is being questioned by Jace Turner (Coby Bell), the head of the organization, and Lorna Dane, AKA Polaris (Emma Dumont), is put into prison with a collar that punishes her for using her powers.
“rX” continues “eXposed”‘s exploration of the social issues within this world. The episode starts with a group of teens in a bowling alley laughing at a young mutant who cannot control her powers, and when she ends up snapping her family are told to leave or be arrested. This theme continues with various forms of discrimination, from a doctor believing Caitlin is being abused by Eclipse just because he’s a mutant, Polaris is a target in prison for the same reason, and another mutant in prison, played by Anissa Matlock, is isolated because she has chalk white skin. There are also little nuggets of information, like people with a physical mutation are unable to get jobs.
If the X-Men movies and “eXposed” made mutation a metaphor for gay rights and issues then “rX” reverts back to making mutation an analogy for racism. The theme is even given an update because of the scenes involving Reed and Turner with Turner having the view all mutants are a threat, like how some people who harbor anti-Islam views. The episode even uses the social themes to provide some character development with Caitlin. She is sympathetic to the mutant cause and shocked at hearing the discrimination they suffered, but is also conflicted because of her children’s recently developed mutant powers.
This is why the X-Men is my favorite mainstream superhero franchise: this social dimension. The Gifted goes for a much more grounded and micro approach to the material, showing what our society would be like if mutants really existed. There are also hints of the wider world of this version of the X-Men universe: in the past there was a battle between the X-Men and the Brotherhood that led to a large amount of collateral damage, along with an event in 1960s Brazil involving mutant siblings.
The show’s other strength is its special effects and the second episode has movie level effects. Blink’s portal powers still impress and Eclipse’s blood is basically blinding white light. The most impressive effects were make-up on Matlock as the imprisoned mutant – the work is award worthy. Because of the show’s financial limitations, the effects are used sparingly, and the effects for Lauren’s (Natalie Alyn Lind) forcefield are not as strong, but for the most part, The Gifted is great at the providing the spectacle.
There is a little more action in “rX” than there was in “eXposed,” but it was mostly restricted to using hand-to-hand combat, including Thunderbird (Blair Redford) fighting off a group of SWAT officers and Polaris getting into a fight with a mutant-hating prisoner. The biggest set-pieces involve half a truck crashing through the Mutant Underground’s hideout and Lauren having to shut Blink’s portals to prevent the police invading.
The episode is unfortunately small scale, even for a TV show. Despite the world building that has been established and having life-and-death stakes involving Blink, the drama was lacking. The episodes settings are limited to the Mutant Underground hide-out, the hospital, the prison, and the Sentinel Services HQ. The episode even came from a film director, Len Wiseman (best known for the Underworld series and Live Free or Die Hard), yet the episode had incredibly bland and flat cinematography. It’s a huge shame because TV is a much more visually ambitious mediumthat can rival many movies.
Lind’s acting ability was also questionable when she used her powers as she yells, screams, and has a wind machine blown in her face. Lind’s only 18 but she does have experience for her age, appearing in shows like The Goldbergs and Gotham.
“rX” does add to the world building and the ending adds a bit of intrigue for the future of the show, yet it comes across a bit too much as a filler episode.