Technically, this was a sparse week for my lineup. With Inhumans finished, Agents of Shield still to premiere next week, and Gotham skipping Thanksgiving week, not to mention Doctor Who still being in lineup limbo and waiting until next fall to return, the only member of my lineup to air this week was The Gifted.
That’s all right though. It was fantastic enough to carry the week all on its own. 🙂
So, without any further ado, and with lots and lots of talking…
1.08 “threat of eXtinction”
They actually managed to take things up a notch, and not with something so simple as danger, darkness, action, etc., but with the immense emotional weight of secrets revealed, and devastating personal loss.
Episode begins with its usual prologue… only, not remotely usual. Why are we looking at something that happened in 1952? Ok, these two, man and woman, siblings, mutants, apparently have some destruction to their credit. They’re in hiding, talking about “the organization,” the phone rings, confirming their presence, agents storm in… and the two just hold hands and the people scream and die or something along those lines. The siblings are smiling at that.
Which, something to note: almost everything we’ve seen the Underground do, almost everything the mutants have done, has been in response to being hated and hunted. It is amazingly common for them to be the victims. However, though the world pushes one to the brink, and beyond, there is still a point where one can no longer be called “innocent.” Whether innocence lives or dies comes down to one’s choice. Though the Underground has done some pretty questionable things, things that would haunt any man in his nightmares, it is their choices, not their circumstances, which determine that they remain innocent of wrongdoing, and innocent of malice. The siblings in the prologue, by contrast, very much enjoyed what they were doing, that people were dying by their hand. They may have been attacked, but they were most definitely not innocent.
Back in the present:
Hot on the heels of last episode’s revelation involving Trask Industries and Reed’s father, Reed speaks to his family, letting them hear it from him first. Not only is that a wise, mature, responsible choice, sparing his family from any sort of rumors about their family, but it’s also the best way to approach revealing a secret to his children. He and Cait told them that their grandfather disappeared, ran out on his family, but that wasn’t entirely true. Grandma and Grandpa certainly split apart, but the adults have intentionally kept the kids from meeting him or even knowing about him. Reed has some long-running pain on that subject, including how he once got sick, to the point of almost dying, and his father didn’t even leave the lab to see his son in the hospital. Yeah, definite issues here.
Unfortunately, that situation turns out to be anything but simple, but more on that later.
Basically, Reed’s father is the one and only lead they’ve got, to try and find out what SS is doing to mutants. He and Thunderbird plan to go see him together, but first they have some refugees to help, as another station was hit and the escaped survivors need help. While Thunderbird sees to that, Reed is to prep a car and supplies for immediate departure once they get back.
Thunderbird, Eclipse, and Blink arrive at the church that’s sheltering the escapees and a few strays, and start getting everyone loaded up. Blink meets a scared little girl, Eclipse gives a little boy a teddy bear, and Thunderbird is approached by a telepath who warns him that she’s been getting some weird thoughts from one of the others. Thunderbird assumes it’s a big guy, but Campbell is clever: he sent in a smaller woman. She’s silent when he talks to her, and then goes berserk when he sees her Hound tattoo. Everyone is caught off guard, and this woman is seriously fast, and pretty strong for her size. No one is killed, but several of them are injured, even Thunderbird is physically outmatched. Eclipse manages to use his beams to pen her into one spot long enough for Blink to help Thunderbird take her from behind and above.
Just a few frantic seconds, and she laid out several people, and it took three highly-skilled mutants working together to stop her, and it took a psychic to reveal her before they took her back to HQ. If she’d been able to run amok in their refuge, there’s no telling how bad it would have gotten. And apparently, that’s exactly what happened at the station that these people just escaped from: one of the Hounds got inside and attacked it from within.
It’s pretty clever: send the Hounds in among the refugees, have one take out one station, have another take out the next station that the new group of refugees takes them to. It’s not just attacking one location or another, it’s attacking the entire network in rapid succession, and with minimal resources. Even if the Underground manages to weather the first wave of attacks, they’re still left crippled and questioning whether or not they can even keep taking in anyone else in need, if any of them could be an enemy waiting to strike. On that last, Thunderbird is clear: they’re going to keep helping people.
On another note, I would say it’s entirely valid to not take refugees into your most precious sanctuaries when you not only have to be afraid of enemy agents hidden among them, but when you can be pretty certain of such. The greater the certainty, the more foolish it is to take the risk. Even the great virtue of charity can become a vice.
Just as the Underground has had to adapt to the changing war with SS and Trask, so should they adapt to this. The obvious choice is to stop taking in new refugees until you can put some safeguard in place, to screen the enemy from among the ally. Fortunately, the Hounds have all been marked on the arm thus far, but there should definitely be something more than just checking for the tattoo. The telepath was invaluable just now, and that is certainly worth exploring. Unfortunately, psychics are something of a rarity even among mutants.
For now, they’ve subdued and captured a Hound before she could do any damage. Thunderbird has to leave that issue to Eclipse and Polaris to handle, as he and Reed have a lead they have to follow posthaste. They’re instructed to find out what they can about her, and, as leaders, they need to work together on this.
That’s a bit difficult right now, as they’re still fighting about his work with the cartel. As I mentioned, Polaris’ issue isn’t just with what he did, but that he enjoyed it so much, and how Carmen kissed him right after it was done. But Eclipse did what he did for her, and they really can’t afford to start a war with the cartel right now. They have a baby to protect, which Polaris is wondering how they can do that when they can’t even protect themselves. Eclipse tells her that they’ll do it together.
He’s trying. He really is, and he’s doing his best. Still, the rift between them remains, and is only exacerbated when Polaris tries to force the Hound woman to stand still long enough for Dreamer to read her, by floating daggers into the cage. Eclipse gets angry at that, and Polaris demands that he do the interrogation instead, like he always did for the cartel. Eclipse is highly reluctant, partially because he got out of that life for a reason, and, I would say, he sees the Underground as something better than the cartel (which it is). That is one of the choices which maintains their innocence.
As for Polaris’ rush to brutality, in her mind, the Hound is just an enemy, and she’s not exactly hesitant about dealing harshly with her enemies. But Eclipse doesn’t see her that way, and his eyes, with the long experience of his cartel life behind him, notice something about the Hound: he recognizes the signs of withdrawal.
So, Cait is brought in, torn from treating other wounds alongside her helpful children. She had a moment with the telepath from before, Esme. They got to know each other a little, including how Cait is afraid of her family ending up on opposing sides of this war. Not much to fear on that count, I would say… except for what Reed’s conversation with his father reveals, but I’ll get to that in a moment. More optimistically, Esme mentions that people around here follow Cait, and it’s no mystery why: she’s kind, smart, bold, thinks outside the box, etc. For instance, as a healer, Cait agrees with Eclipse’s assessment about the Hound suffering withdrawal, which means they can change their approach from “imprisonment” to “treatment.”
This involves a bit of teamwork. Andy pushes the Hound up against the bars of her cage, held in place by Lauren, and sedated by Cait, who is uncertain enough about this that she asked Eclipse and Polaris to be ready if something goes wrong, to do what they need to. Eclipse assures her they will. Fortunately, it doesn’t come to that. The sedative works long enough for them to restrain her with metal bars, which Eclipse welds in place and Polaris molds to the proper shape, holding her in place, unable to move.
The other residents aren’t particularly happy about this, mostly because they removed the Hound from the cage. Personally, I would have kept her in it myself, just in case she got out. Restraining her might be essential for treating her, but no need to put anyone else at risk, ya know? The big guy from earlier gets up in Lauren’s face as she tries to reassure them, so Andy steps in, backing up his sister and making his presence felt as the building trembles a little. The big guy wisely backs off, going from “aggressive” to “calming” in a couple quick heartbeats. Crisis averted. And the bond between siblings is as formidable a ever.
Back down below, the Hound wakes up, with a few more of her marbles intact, but she can’t calm down, and she can’t even seem to speak. She’s had a tremendous amount of some drug pumped through her system for a very long time, and Cait is afraid she’s dying from the sudden lack of it. Even worse, as Polaris is seeing her enemy reduced to such an awful state, the computer girl finds her file from the stolen hard drives: her name is Chloe. Her kid got sick, the doctor wouldn’t treat mutants, she got angry and destroyed the office, and SS took her, turned her over to Trask. She’s not an evil enemy, she’s just Chloe, a victim, to whom something reprehensible was done. It’s so bad that even when she’s trying to tell them something, she can’t even form the words, just offer a hoarse, suffocated cry.
Small wonder Polaris is so afraid of that being done to her, to all of them, to her child.
That’s when Cait thinks to bring Esme in on this, to read Chloe’s mind and relay what she’s trying to say. At first, it’s just pain, and need, the need for the drug. But Cait is able to help her form thoughts with her calm, caring instruction. Esme has to listen in on the nightmarish memory as SS killed her husband and took her daughter as well as herself. And she’s able to give Esme a vision, an image, a memory of Campbell from last episode, boasting about his weapons that will win the war, and a large building with a large sign, “Trask Industries.” It’s north of where they are. Esme might be able to find it. She thinks so.
Then Chloe looks towards Cait, and dies even when Cait is trying to reassure her that they’ll stop what was done to her from being done again. Cait can’t even finish the sentence before Chloe’s system simply shuts down. She was just a normal woman, with a family, and everything, even her own will, was taken from her. She died in terrible pain, never knowing the fate of her daughter. About the only consolation to be found here is that, after being taken and twisted by the enemy, she died among friends, people who were complete strangers, but cared enough to weep at her passing.
It’s a terrible, sad moment.
Elsewhere in HQ, Blink reaches out to the girl she met earlier. Her name is Nora, and it turns out, she’s much like Blink’s little sister. She was in the foster home, with the same foster parents, and she was there when SS gunned them down. For Blink, to find that she has someone she can still be connected to in some way, at the same moment she realizes that her instinctual actions when unconscious inadvertently brought the monsters into Nora’s home, well, she’s wracked with guilt. And as Nora is having nightmares of it, she wants to do something to help.
She goes to Dreamer. She wasn’t about to forgive the woman before, making it clear that they are nothing more than allies in the fight against SS, and that’s all they really need as far as Blink is concerned. But now she wants Dreamer to take away the memory, so Nora won’t see it when she is needing to sleep. She wants to take away part of the trauma, part of the pain. Dreamer agrees, and it’s done.
Which… I am sorry, but my immediate response to that is, “NO!”
They may have good intentions, but you don’t just go meddling about in a person’s head like that, if you even have that power. They have plenty of bad experience somewhere in the past, but, more recently, Blink is still suffering from it, and they only have to look to Turner for further confirmation of disastrous fallout, and that is only the practical reason of avoiding terrible consequences. There’s also how a person’s pain is their own, their trauma is their own, and though it is always painful, these can be defining moments which shape our character. Nora might turn out good, or bad, or great, but no one has the right to take whatever she would become from her. Even more, it’s simply a violation, and a tremendously intimate one. You don’t go mucking about with one’s memories and one’s free will. You just don’t. Not for any reason, even if it seems like a good one.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Finally, we get to Reed’s conversation with his father.
The elder Strucker apparently knows nothing about what is being done to the mutants to turn them into Hounds, and he knows even less about Trask being back in business since shutting down some time ago. But he still has something vital to pass to his son, especially after learning that his grandchildren are mutants.
The story begins some time ago, with the siblings we saw in the prologue. They were Andrea and Andreas von Strucker (in comics, the children of Baron von Strucker of Hydra), and they were mutants of terrifying power. Apart, their abilities were the same as Andy and Lauren’s powers, but together, they were even more powerful. When they held hands, they became Fenris (oh! I recognize that name from when I was a kid, and was just getting into comics!), named for the great wolf of Norse legend, a creature which terrified even the gods, and was eventually to be the demise of Odin himself. The exact nature of their joined power has not been revealed, but it’s clearly formidable.
Reed’s father is Andreas Strucker’s son. They were raising him to be like them, but he wanted no part in that and ran away. He hid his mutant status from everyone, even his wife, and it was the secrets he kept which eventually destroyed his marriage. But he also worked for Trask, and though he was never able to create what they wanted, a means to suppress the X-Gene entirely with a serum, he was able to create one personalized dose, which he gave to Reed. He wanted his son to have a normal life, and he wanted to end any chance of another Fenris being born. It had to be done when Reed was very young, before his mutation could manifest. Yes, he is a mutant after all. But the side-effects made him so sick he nearly died. How could his father ever look him in the eye again after that?
So he situation was more complicated than it seemed, and now Strucker learns that he failed anyway. It, meaning Fenris, has returned within his grandchildren, Andy and Lauren. If they hold hands ever again, it could create a catastrophe.
If that weren’t heavy enough, things get still worse yet with Campbell’s arrival. He’s certainly a cautious, prudent man, operating under the assumption that all the information that one judge in his pocket had was now compromised. Knowing the connection between his company and the Struckers, he goes to the man’s antique shop, as such would be their only move once discovering Trask’s involvement. He injects Pulse with something, like giving a treat to a well-trained, obedient dog, and has him shut down all the mutant powers in the area before going in.
With Thunderbird no longer bulletproof and up against several men with guns, they can’t just bulldoze their way out. But Strucker thinks he can do something. Their family is special, even among mutants, so he steps up in defense of his son, hoping to make Campbell go away, or clear the path if that fails. Either way, he needs to get Reed out so he can protect Andy and Lauren, and protect the world from them as well.
It proves an unexpectedly revelatory experience, as Campbell, tickled pink at meeting Strucker, brags about how he used the man’s research in suppressing the X-Gene in his work at enhancing it. That’s what the serum does, making it a potent, gene-specific drug. It seems Strucker accidentally paved the way for a new monster to be unleashed in his attempt to lock up an old one. Fenris the Wolf gives rise to the Hounds. Poetic and tragic.
The encounter ends when Campbell attempts to have the premises searched, and Strucker powers up, no matter how Pulse is unleashing the full power of his suppressive abilities on him. The agents with Campbell are able to just shoot him, though, but too late. Campbell flees the scene just in time to survive the explosion Strucker unleashes. Strucker dies saving his son.
Reed comes down to find his father’s dead body, the body of a man he thought cared nothing for him, when, in reality, he loved Reed more than life itself. So much weight, so much pain, turned to love, turned to remorse. Thunderbird finds Pulse gasping out his last, finally regaining lucidity in is final moments, just enough to apologize. One of his dearest friends and comrades dies in his arms, after having already been supposedly killed once before. The two men dig two graves, kneeling over them in sorrow. It’s a terrible loss, made all the worse by the revelation of the truth which Reed now bears.
When he and Thunderbird finally return to HQ, everyone’s spirits are defeated. Polaris and Pulse are reconciling in their grief. Blink and Dreamer are removing a nightmarish memory from Nora’s head. Reed can scarcely speak for the weight that’s crashed down on his shoulders, and the agony piercing his heart. Cait can only embrace him, and the kids can only watch, siblings supporting their parents and each other… as they hold hands.
And I say again, as the alternative to swearing: whoa.