WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the second season of Fox's The Gifted.
Fox's The Gifted kicks off the new year on Tuesday with a midseason premiere that picks up with Washington, D.C., in chaos, mutants nationwide freed from incarceration, the Inner Circle moving on to the next phase of Reeva's bewildering plan, and the Struckers manufacturing some new family drama (it's Lauren's turn). It's a perfect meta-commentary on the state of the once-promising X-Men television spinoff, which went completely off the rails somewhere along the way.
Well, that's not entirely true, as we can pinpoint precisely where it all went so wrong: the Season 1 finale, which upended the status quo with little apparent idea of what would take its place. With the Mutant Underground's Atlanta headquarters in ruins, and Lorna Dane and Andy Strucker (plus some other characters that nobody cares about) turning their backs on friends and family, and joining the Frost sisters in the Inner Circle, we were left to expect a second season packed with emotion. However, what perhaps no one fully realized is that, when you remove Lorna, Andy and the Stepford Cuckoos from the Mutant Underground, what's left is ... all of the blandest elements.
In fairness, The Gifted's debut season had the benefit of newness: There was a world to be constructed, X-Men Easter eggs to be discovered, and mysteries to be unraveled. The Mutant Underground, and the Struckers, had a driving purpose -- the former to save mutants from an ever-more-dystopian government and halt the nefarious Hound Program, and the latter to protect their children, and uncover the secrets of the family's past. They, more or less, drove the narrative, helped by the arrival of the mysterious, and manipulative, Esme Frost. But with the core characters splintered into two factions following the events of the Season 1 finale, The Gifted succumbed to a problem common to superhero comics: By and large, superheroes are reactive.
They fight crime, and foil the unnecessarily complicated schemes of supervillains. Oh, sure, every once in a while a writer will reboot a title, and make a team proactive -- maybe "Strike Force" will be added to the name -- and they'll seek out evil-doers before they can, you know, do evil, but then they stop feeling much like "heroes"; if we're being generous, we might call them "antiheroes." Nine times out of 10, the new approach doesn't last, and the team goes back to its old, reactive ways.
With the Hound Program shut down by Lorna's actions in the finale (she destroyed a plane carrying the program's director, Roderick Campbell, and an anti-mutant U.S. senator), and the Atlanta safe house no more, the Mutant Underground became downright passive. After stopping only briefly at a Nashville way station, they moved on to Washington, but apparently only in pursuit of Lorna and Andy, now settled in to the Inner Circle's swanky, and secret, base of operations. Aside from caring for displaced and injured mutants at a community clinic, the Mutant Underground's raison d'être became pining for Lorna and Andy. It's certainly understandable that Marcos would seek out his girlfriend, and their unborn child, and that the Struckers would do anything to be reunited with their teen son. But Eclipse scanning the D.C. skyline, and power lines, for clues to Polaris' whereabouts, and Lauren dreaming about meeting her brother on a rooftop don't rise to engaging drama. (Tellingly, no one went looking Sage and Fade.)