Getting people through the doors of a superhero series isn’t the hurdle it used to be, but the bigger problem facing The Gifted is that the pilot doesn’t tell you anything about the series to come. That isn’t the kiss of death for a series, but it makes it tricky to predict where audiences are going to find themselves a few episodes in, because even if you love the pilot, that’s apparently no predictor of showing up for episode three.
The show kicks off by throwing us into a world very similar to that of Logan. It’s an X-Men world, but after the X-Men have lost the battle with authorities, and may or may not be gone altogether. Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) is a prosecutor who focuses mostly on convicting mutants of largely made up crimes and getting them off the street. That may not be the official synopsis view of his role, but it’s accurate. Reed’s son, Andy (Percy Hynes White) is bullied at school, and when he decides to go to a dance, his own mutant powers are revealed when the bullies take things a little too far. When Reed’s daughter, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind), helps her brother escape, we find out that she’s also a mutant, and has known she is for quite some time.
It doesn’t take long for the authorities to be on their tail, and now Reed is in a troubling position, hoping to make it on the run from the system he used to be in charge of, with his wife, Kate (Amy Acker), and kids in tow.
Meanwhile, a mutant has escaped from a prison and is aided by an underground group of mutants who are trying to survive in hiding. The rescue results in one of the members of the team being captured, which leads to Reed getting a chance to interrogate her.
With few options once he’s on the run himself, Reed contacts the mutant underground looking for help.
The pilot plays out more like a film than a series lead (or like condensing the first few episodes of one of the Netflix series like Daredevil or Jessica Jones), and that’s both positive and negative. Though there are some drawbacks to the initial effort, such as the shortcut spin on a bullying line that’s rather boring, the overall result is a fun thrill that looks like something with a bigger budget than it could possibly have. On the other hand, this is an origin that doesn’t leave us anywhere solid, meaning the following episodes might go anywhere at all. Is the show going to just constantly watch this family run like a 20-hour version of Logan, or is the mutant underground going to settle into something that finds us saving a wide variety of mutants episodically like some super A-Team with near-infinite guest stars? There’s no way to tell, and any guess is as good as any other.
One of the best points of the pilot is that Matt Nix (Burn Notice) is at the writing helm. While that strength may only have a chance to show itself so much during the pilot, Nix knows how to work characters, keep things moving without overplaying the theatrics of getting from point A to point B, and he writes great dialog. The show is already fighting an uphill battle against turning so stagy that it’s self-mocking just by virtue of the premise it has to introduce, and it manages to get a stranglehold on you right from the beginning. Like Logan, we’re putting forward a story that happens to have mutants in it, instead of something that buries you in genre mandates.
The combination of efforts, coupled with the lack of true entry to the future, means that it’s hard to rate the show as a series. The pilot as a standalone entity is probably a 10, but rating the series is guesswork. Moyer and Acker bring in all the charm of their past genre titles, and so far their kids are impressive. The mutants don’t get enough time to judge them in terms of being able to carry more of the effort, but who knows if they’ll need to?
The pilot’s only drawbacks are establishment standards. We need the Sentinel Services people to be the bad guys, but we’ll also see them a lot and need to connect to the position Reed now finds himself in. How do we do that in 45 seconds or less? Our head SS guy is trying to be somewhat nice about things, but he’s surrounded by people straining on their leashes to be as… well, SS about it as possible.
That aside, the show is a winner, and one that moves the superhero/mutant genre into a new position, much like Legion did. It isn’t just trying to spin things in a new way, it’s just trying to use genre identities to cover new ground. It’s the show you’ll most wish you could binge this season, and you may not feel comfortable not knowing what’s coming next, you’re going to want to know right now.