There's a moment in the pilot episode of Fox's new series The Gifted that is sure to pique the interest of even the most fairweather X-Men fan. It happens midway through the episode, when Eclipse (Sean Teale), a mutant with the ability to manipulate photons, is desperate to find a way to save the love of his life, Polaris (Emma Dumont), from the hands of Sentinel Services. "The X-Men, the Brotherhood," he says, "we don't even know if they exist anymore."
And that's the only mention of the legendary team of superheroes in the episode. They've seemingly vanished, and now those with mutant abilities are being collected by the United States government and prosecuted as criminals. (Sound familiar?)
So in the world of The Gifted — which is set within the X-Men cinematic universe — it's every mutant for himself. Unless, of course, you're lucky enough to cross paths with the Mutant Underground, a rogue network of mutants who help shepherd those with the X-Gene safely across the border. The underground organization is led by Magneto's daughter Polaris and her best friend, Thunderbird (Blair Redford), a mutant with heightened tracking abilities.
"This is a gritty, street-level view of what it's like to be a mutant," Dumont told MTV News on the Atlanta set of The Gifted last month.
The Gifted follows mutant siblings Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes-White) after an explosive event forces their family to go on the run from a hostile government that seeks to hunt and control them. The fact that their father Reed (Stephen Moyer) is a lawyer who prosecutes mutants for a living is only just the beginning of this family's woes.
Eventually, the Struckers find safety with the Mutant Underground. "We offer them refuge in our headquarters," Redford said. But don't expect to see any X-Jets or spandex superhero suits anytime soon. In this underground world, mutants are just trying to survive. For Lauren and Andy, however, it becomes home.
At its core, the X-Men franchise has always been about family, both the family you were born into and the family you find along the way. In Episode 3, Lind said, the Struckers are shunned by their extended family because of Lauren and Andy's mutant status. Not only does this put things into perspective for their mother Caitlin (Amy Acker), but it also makes them lean on the Underground for support — and training.
"When younger kids are being brought in to our headquarters, everybody takes a part in guiding them and helping them hone their powers," Redford said. "It's new to them. They're teenagers, and that's about the time when your mutant powers start to manifest."
"We see a lot of ourselves in them," Teale added.
While Lauren, who has the ability to generate shields made from air molecules, adapts rather quickly to her abilities, her younger brother, Andy, is a loose canon. Andy seems to have the most trouble harnessing his immense power, and his anger issues sure don't help.
"[Andy] is just filled with this rage and angst and resentment at the world," Hynes-White said. "Everybody sees [him] as a threat, but all [he's] wanted his whole life was to fit in. So you get to see a glimpse into Andy's head... he's like Anakin Skywalker. You never know."
From their fictional creation in 1963, mutants have been marginalized, misunderstood, and ostracized because they are different. Their Otherness is what made them so popular among readers who could identify with feeling like outcasts themselves. It's also what makes them vulnerable targets in their own canon. As we've seen before with Magneto and the Brotherhood, those feelings of rage and Otherness can sometimes manifest into a harmful agenda.
"He's a super powerful kid at a young age, and he can be very destructive if he wants to be," Redford said. "So Thunderbird gives him advice about the consequences of being that powerful and what that can do to him, mentally, if he just does that with wild abandon."
But such is the life of a mutant. They just want to be treated like everyone else, only to be feared and persecuted by the ignorance and hatred of others. At least The Gifted is giving viewers an inside look into the moral and personal quandaries that are often overshadowed by visual effects and riotous action sequences in the X-Men films. For that, it's a must-watch.
As for those aforementioned X-Men, don't expect them to pop up in Season 1. (Showrunner Matt Nix has already nixed that idea.) But that doesn't mean their disappearance won't be a driving factor throughout the story. When we asked the cast which X-Men they'd like to see on The Gifted, here's what they had to say:
The Gifted premieres Monday, October 2 at 9 p.m. ET.