Image: Fox

The Gifted’s ability to shy away from the melodrama and bombast of other live-action comic book adaptations in favor of a more grounded, realistic dystopia is a big part of what’s made it so strong, if a bit narratively staid. In its mid-season finale, though, The Gifted finally decided to up the ante with a major death—and the introduction of three classic X-Men villains, too.

It’s always felt as if The Gifted understood that it was in its best interest to keep its more explicit connections to the larger world of the X-Men in its back pocket as the season’s gone along. This week’s episode, “eXploited,” paid off in an incredibly satisfying way by confirming the many hints and clues the show’s been dropping about Esme, the Mutant Underground’s resident telepath.

Now that a good half of the show’s heroes have managed to get themselves captured by Sentinel Services again, those on the outside have to figure out yet another convoluted way to free their friends from what’s essentially a mutant concentration camp. Polaris, ever the radical clearly inspired by her father Magneto, is entirely in favor of simply storming Sentinel Services with the Mutant Underground’s remaining heavy hitters and simply tearing the place apart with their impressive powers. Between her magnetism, Eclipse’s solar powers, and Shatter’s near indestructibility, they’d have a solid chance at actually making it.

But of course, the Struckers—the show’s most consistently naive characters—respond by advocating for some sort of diplomatic approach they somehow think is even a possibility at this point. Seeing an opportunity to drive further divisions from within in order to achieve her own goals, Esme uses her telepathy to eavesdrop on the Struckers and convince them that it’d be a smart idea to go to Agent Turner’s house and confront him face-to-face.

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It’s difficult to imagine just what the Struckers thought would come of their bogus plan to try and reason with Turner. They show up at his house with a gun, threaten his wife, and unsuccessfully try to appeal to the man’s conscience by describing how Sentinel tortures and uses drugs to turn mutants against their own kind through the Hound program. The Struckers’ pleas fall on deaf ears and the couple flees the house, but it’s ultimately Turner’s wife who, after hearing the Struckers describe the horrors of the Hound program, demands to know just what her husband is doing and how he’s disrespecting their daughter’s memory by committing crimes against humanity.

“eXploited” highlights just how foolish the Struckers’ idea was, as it cuts to Turner while he’s in the process of questioning and threatening Dreamer. Unlike last week—where she seemingly didn’t understand that the first rule of taking on an evil organization is to, you know, fight back—Dreamer’s on the defensive and withholding any information she has about the Mutant Underground from Turner. For his part, Turner’s able to let go of whatever sympathy he might have been beginning to develop for mutants by being meeting the woman responsible for making him re-experience the death of his daughter.

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Elsewhere in the Sentinel building, the Doctor Campbell’s locked in a tete-a-tete with the Strucker children, who refuse to demonstrate their Fenris powers for him. Campbell tries to reason with the children first by turning on their electrocution powers and then ultimately threatening to kill Dreamer and Blink if the teenagers don’t comply.

The Gifted hasn’t really had very many impactful character deaths so far this season, but watching Dreamer get shot in the chest at point-blank range was truly shocking. As a whole, it’s never quite felt like this character’s gotten around to dealing with the unfinished business of mending her relationships with Blink and Eclipse, both of whom she hurt deeply. While I never personally cared all that much for her, others did, and for her death to come to suddenly without warning—it’s going to change things for the rest of the Mutant Underground.

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Out of fear of losing Blink, the Strucker kids finally give in and show off their destructive After Effects powers, nearly destroying their adamantium-lined enclosure in the process. Pleased, Campbell agrees not to kill Blink, but the kids realize that Dreamer effectively died for nothing and they had the opportunity to save her.

In death, “eXploited” reveals who The Gifted’s most monstrous characters are and as awful as Campbell and Turney have been, it’s Esme who ends up being the most terrifying. As improbable as her plans were, Esme’s schemes all come into focus just as the Mutant Underground arrives to intercept the transportation unit carrying Lauren, Andy, and Blink.

Rather than working with Marcos to free their friends, Esme takes matters into her own hands, using her telepathy to instruct the humans to disable the power-dampening collars before she makes them turn their guns on themselves. Though she’d previously explained that her powers only worked within a limited range when she was touching people, Esme displays a level of skill that at first doesn’t make sense until you see just who it is that she came for: her sisters—the other Stepford Cuckoos.

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The Gifted has given fans another set of characters from the comics. There, the Cuckoos are a trio of telepaths (formerly a quintet) with a direct biological connection to Emma Frost. Like Emma, they’re powerful psychics in their own right, but they have the unique ability of combining their psyches into a gestalt mind whose psi-abilities are greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s a terrible, horrifying reveal that gives off the distinct impression that Esme and her sisters are far more sinister and dangerous than anyone had been led to believe—and that maybe, just maybe, the Sentinels weren’t entirely wrong to be afraid of them.

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Assorted Musings:

  • HOLY SHIT, THE THREE-IN-ONE ARE HERE TO FUCK SHIT UP! Seeing as how there was little to no chance in hell we were ever going to see Emma Frost on The Gifted, this was absolutely phenomenal.
  • Also, given January Jones’ performance as Emma in X-Men: First Class, it would definitely be best not to have the Cuckoos’ unwilling parent stop by.
  • The Struckers are their own worst enemies. They shouldn’t be let out of the house without proper adult supervision.
  • No janky Danger Room this week, but the Strucker kids’ biometric-measuring suits were kinda nifty. It seems rather odd that the Sentinels thought that a couple of adamantium spikes would have been enough to contain a power like theirs, though.
  • Dreamer certainly wasn’t my favorite character, but this was an excellent sendoff.

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