The Gifted – eXpolited
By: Maggie Stankiewicz
The episode opens with Senator Montez (David Norona) delivering a speech during a re-election rally, with proponents of his questionable politics wielding anti-mutant propaganda and hateful misconceptions on the mutant population. Montez’s campaign slogan is an unsettling mantra: Human Choice for a Human Future. He perpetuates the hatred towards mutants by discussing the rising crime rates – but that’s what happens where you criminalize genetics. People cannot change their genetics, and thus the hate remains trapped within this vicious cycle. Despite his rally’s attendance, he is unhappy with the turnout. As he complains to his campaign manager about his lack of reach – a familiar face approaches him with some strategies of her own. It’s the mutant we’ve come to know as Esme (Skyler Samuels). Esme, two months ago, is going by the name of Tracy. She makes the suggestion that Montez kick up his efforts by taking more risks.
Their brief exchange is cut short by a ringing in Esme’s ears. She tucks herself into a corner and sifts through the telepathic conversations running through her head until she focuses in on one giving her a warning signal that Sentinel Services is onto her. Esme, apparently undercover, makes a run for it. As she makes her way through the crowd, she becomes overwhelmed by the maelstrom of thoughts circulating in the area. Her vision blurs as her comrades (with eerily similar voices) order her to find them.
In the present day, Polaris (Emma Dumont) is barks orders at the underground’s core team while Marcos (Sean Teale) contemplates how much he wants to piss her off today. He takes the diplomatic route while the others argue until John is pushed to his breaking point. He screams at the group, ushering them into a startled silence. Dreamer (Elena Satine), Blink (Jamie Chung) and two kids are involved – it is not the time for them to implode. Polaris remains adamant about infiltrating Sentinel Services to save her best friend and the others. Kate is in full Mama Bear mode, baring her teeth and Polaris and pointing fingers. Esme watches silently from the sidelines, avoiding conflict and emanating her usual creeper vibes.
Andy (Percy Hynes White) and Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) are growing restless in their prison cell. Andy, vivacious and foolish in his immaturity tries to use his powers, but the collar around his neck shocks him into submission. Lauren tells him that she doesn’t blame him for being caught; she would have regretted using their joint power to escape. At the same time, Jace Turner (Coby Bell) is questioning Sonya. Jace turns the conversation from one of business to one that subscribes to his personal vendetta, guilt tripping her over their last interaction. His plan works. Sonya is stricken with remorse, a reaction that only serves to further enrage him. He leaves her in the interrogation room, but not without first reminding her that he doesn’t want her apologies, he wants her abilities. Jace makes his way to the observation room and watches as another agent interrogates Blink. This agent presents himself as a much more professional lawman than Jace – who makes a fateful call to Dr. Campbell (who is sporting a fresh, gnarly scar). Jace has conceded. He will now willfully surrender the mutants to Dr. Campbell’s (Garret Dillahunt) program.
The Struckers are working on an extraction plan of their own. Esme listens from behind a door, her eyes glowing as she reads Reed’s mind. After getting enough information to successfully manipulate them, she knocks on the door and injects herself into their plans. Esme manages to convince Reed (Stephen Moyer) and Kate (Amy Acker) that they will be able to provide an effective “human” solution. This is a purely strategic move on Esme’s part, exploiting the Struckers’ vulnerabilities to suit her own agenda.
With the pungent aroma of systematic oppression in the air, the all of the mutants have to their quarters for some time to think and reflect on what’s about to happen to them. Marcos and Lorna sit together; and elsewhere (aka Trask Industries), Clarice and Sonya talk from their respective cells. We get to hear a little bit of background on Sonya’s life. As she discusses her tenure as a volunteer at a battered women’s shelter, she reveals that she’d secretly use her powers to erase her charge’s most painful memories. This is a side to her we have only seen a few times, the kindness and the sacrifices that she’d made. This development suggests that maybe, just maybe, she’d earned the right to use her abilities selfishly. She’d suffered enough. Blink reveals some bits of her past as well. The women cross the bridge they’d built between each other and come together to face their fears.
The Strucker children are brought to Dr. Campbell donning biometric clothing with aesthetics reminiscent of Tron-era uniforms. Dr. Campbell informs the children that they are to be used in some experimental scenarios designed to test the extent of their abilities. The walls of the room he locks them in are made of indestructible adamantium; making them the perfect receptacle for their powers. The evil doctor gives them instructions, ones that they clearly reject. Dr. Campbell activates the electrical collar on Lauren until they agree to comply – and even then, Lauren is defiant. Andy follows suit. Dr. Campbell, it seems, planned for this very occasion.
The Struckers have decided to follow through with their emotionally-driven plan to try and appeal to Agent Turner’s family. As they drive they discuss the complicity of suburban America in the warm against innocent mutants. The irony of their former position as a happy Stepford family is lost on no one. Esme is up to no good at the mutant underground, where she finds Marcos and Lorna. She proceeds to tell them where the Struckers have gone, insisting that she advised the parents against it. Before the mutants can stop them…the Struckers knock on Agent Turner’s door. Reed makes a desperate attempt to appeal to Jace’s respect for the Constitution, but the war has become too personal for Jace. He is incapable of seeing the mutants, or their sympathizers, as anything other than a threat to his side of humanity.
Lauren and Andy are sitting, resisting the tests that Dr. Campbell wants to conduct. The physical pinishments he’d been dolling out on his prospective Hounds proved ineffective, and so he switched conditioning tactics. Appearing to them on a live-feed – he presents the teens with Sonya and Clarice. They are handcuffed and collared, standing on their own personal chopping block. He asks the Struckers once more to demonstrate their abilities. Sonya orders them to resist him. They listen to their comrade. In this episode, Sonya has appeared more human than ever. We’ve learned that while her abilities are in the mind, her gift has always been heart…and that’s exactly where Dr. Campbell shoots her. In her final breath, we watch a purple cloud evanesce. Her fire snuffed out.
Dr. Campbell isn’t done yet. He presses the barrel of the gun against Clarice’s head and threatens to pull the trigger, lest they perform her him. Traumatized, they agree. They join hands, and immediately they are pulled into their own personal in-between. The air shifts, and they push and pull their world until it explodes. The indestructible walls quake and quiver from the blow. Walls blow out, technology glitches – and we are able to witness the sheer force of their abilities (and extreme trauma).
While their children are being tortured, the parental Struckers discuss everything from Jace’s questionable antics to the Hound program. Kate, gun in tow, remains the calmer of the two parents. Without having moved the dishonorable agent, the Struckers leave peacefully (despite Kate’s glock), though defeated. Jace’s wife is touched. Having heard firsthand the atrocities her husband has come closer to committing she asks: “What are you doing in our daughter’s name?”, and instant shame washes over his face. We can only hope these pangs are not fleeting.
Trask Industries is now home to a few more unspeakable horrors; a fact that Dr. Campbell seems to take delight in. The Struckers’ impressive display of power has equipped him with the information he needs to solve the supposed “mutant problem”. This is unfortunate timing, as Jace has decided to try and correct his mistakes (too little, too late). He demands that Dr. Campbell send The Struckers, Dreamer, and Blink back to Sentinel Services. Dr. Campbell hints that one of them was already killed – another death caused by Jace’s thirst for vengeance.
Unaware that they’ve already lost one of their own, the mutants prepare for attack. Esme is at the head of the pack, no doubt still scheming. Having already manipulated Jace via the Strucker-proxy, and the other mutants, Esme is perfectly poised to execute whatever plan she’s had brewing. Now at the gate of the facility, the mutant packs breaks up. The Struckers, back at the underground, reveal that they went to see Jace, at the suggestion of Esme. They soon find out that Esme had told the mutants quite the opposite; and so, the snake in the garden is revealed. Once again – too little, too late.
Esme has already begun to reveal herself as the true danger, after she tasers Marcos. Her drops to the ground, convulsing. Pleased with herself, Esme exercises a previously hidden ability. Using mind control, she disengages security measures and order the Sentinel Services officers to kill themselves. One agent shoots Jace (only wounding him), before shooting himself in the head. Blink springs into action and gets the other mutants to free themselves from the truck. As they are released, two mutants who are identical to Esme appear beside her. These were the family members she’d been so adamant about saving. The Sisters Insane stand and watch the carnage they’ve created.