Since its premiere in October, the strengths of Fox's The Gifted have been in its setting -- a rich world immediately recognizable to anyone who's watched an X-Men film -- and in the young mutant siblings at the heart of the drama. Any time the series veers too far from those elements, to focus on the humdrum members of the Mutant Underground or on the Sentinel Services agent pursuing them, it begins to falter. Needless to say, The Gifted faltered frequently in its first season, stumbling from a surprisingly boring love triangle into an equally mundane side story involving a crime family and, rather bewilderingly, a flashback featuring X-Men fundamentalist foes the Purifiers. There's a sense that the writing team is throwing the scraps of the mythology available to them at a wall to see what sticks.
Some of it, like the Strucker family's connection to the mutant terrorists Fenris, does. Other elements, like Trask Industries' not-so-mysterious Hound Program, fall flat. Yet, that frayed story thread is nevertheless responsible for the debut of The Gifted's most compelling character(s) to date: the Stepford Cuckoos.
Played by Skyler Samuels (Scream Queens), the blonde-haired telepath Esme was introduced in Episode 8 as one of a group of refugees fleeing a crackdown by Sentinel Services. She immediately made herself invaluable, tipping off the Mutant Underground to one of Roderick Campbell's Hounds, who intended to infiltrate the group's ranks and destroy it from within. Esme was a sympathetic character, offering to do whatever she could to help, because Sentinel Services had her family in custody. However, we soon learned she wasn't as nearly as wide-eyed, or as altruistic, as she pretended: Using her telepathic abilities, Esme manipulated members of the Mutant Underground at every turn, positioning the group -- and herself -- for an attack on the high-security Trask Industries site. Once there, she turned Sentinel Services agents against each other, triggering a bloodbath the ended with the release of not only the Strucker children but also her triplet sisters Phoebe and Sophie.
“Time to go, boys and girls,” the smiling Cuckoos said in unison. “The fun’s just starting.”
The flippant dialogue, and the needlessly violent actions, combined for a perfect introduction to the Stepford Cuckoos, who in Marvel's X-Men comics are the cloned daughters of Emma Frost, the villain turned hero also known as the White Queen. They're cold, calculating and, when combined, immensely powerful, and immediately more interesting than all of the members of the Mutant Underground combined. So much so that they should be a primary focus on The Gifted's recently announced second season.