Ba-boom! This episode has some side plots that get overshadowed, namely Blink, Polaris, and Eclipse’s rescue of hidden, Underground Railroad mutants, and discovery of Campbell’s sleeper agents inside the mutant populace. You have to know this is going to come back up, especially since Campbell outright said there were safeguards in place to prevent the MU from getting information from the brainwashed sleeper agents. I think the lighter focus on the whole immigration/terrorism/racism theme was needed to prevent this from just becoming a preachy show. Okay, so I am 100% for the blatant use of parallels, but momentary reprieves help not “burn out” the brain. I don’t feel that The Gifted has treated these themes lightly, or used them as a stick to beat the audience. But even during WWII there were other things going on too. That’s the balance this episode seems to take.
The biggest point is in the treatment of Dreamer. So far she has been portrayed as a woman crushing hard, making a few relatively small mistakes with huge consequences (since interpersonal character interactions are becoming such a big thing to this show. This is good!) Dreamer implanted false memories of Thunderbird into Blink, manipulating her feelings. And as far as violations go, this is some kind of extreme gaslighting. I completely understand why Clarice was upset and didn’t trust Dreamer. I also feel Dreamer’s use of powers against Turner was a horrible privacy violation, that while it was excused by the plot, still was not okay. So it would be really, really easy for viewers to see Dreamer as a bad guy. But in this episode we get to see her using her powers for a 100% good reason, with consent (it is a child’s consent, but still). Faced with a mutant child traumatized by witnessing the murder of her foster family by the SS, Dreamer takes her memories, allowing her to function again. I have faith that while some of those hyper real, over specific trauma memories are gone, the MU, and Clarice, won’t hide what happened from Nora, they will just give her a little of that distance she needs to mentally heal. Plus, now we see a positive, even compassionate and healing application of Dreamer’s pretty scary powers. (And also, not all the dangerous powers are the one that break things and explode people. Have I ever ranted about how absolutely creepy X-Men founder, hero, and ultimate good guy daddy figure Charles Xavier really is? That is for another time, I think.)
Speaking of scary powers, let’s shift to the big bomb dropped on the Struckers this week. We learned last episode that Reed’s father worked at Trask Industries his whole life. Trask Industries is the group responsible for Dr. Campbell and, if you remember from X-Men: Days of Future Past, Trask was started by this guy.
Yeah. The guy who murdered mutants to figure out how they worked. (Ugh, that scene where Mystique finds Angel’s WING hung up in Trask’s office. Ugh!)
Anyway, Reed reveals that he has been estranged from his father since before the kids were born. Ultimately his father abandoned him after he was sick as a child. So going to see his father for the sake of the MU is the first big connection I’ve had with Reed. The Gifted has made and effort to explain motivations for our good and bad guys, but Reed seemed to be just a normal person making choices before this.
He and Thunderbird go to visit Otto and…well, it doesn’t go well. Otto tries to claim he did very little for Trask, at first, but soon reveals that his work was exclusively in trying to “delete” the X gene. (Work that Campbell reveals he used to magnify it in his sleeper soldiers.) Otto also reveals that he is a mutant, and the son of none other than Andreas von Strucker. (For more detail on the Strucker family, and particularly twins Andrea and Andreas who are revealed in this episode, see this article, written before The Gifted premiered.) Otto, understandably traumatized by his upbringing at the hands of two genuine destructive psychos, decided to “cure” Reed of his mutant powers.
Now, I read in another recap that Otto was justified and not a monster. I totally disagree. Otto violated his son every bit as much as Dreamer violated Clarice. More actually, because Dreamer gave Clarice one, positive memory. Otto actively, premeditated, edited who his son was and would be without his knowledge or consent, or his wife’s knowledge and consent. He nearly killed his own son in an attempt to make him not a mutant.
For a moment let’s ditch the idea of mutants and turn it into some other character trait. Like…Gay. Or…Black. Is the man who would nearly kill his child in an attempt to genetically mutate him into not being gay or black “not a monster”? Oh no. No, no, no.
Otto claims he was just protecting the world. He might have been protecting the world. But he could do that by raising a good person with decent morals, by teaching him about his trauma and reinforcing how that was wrong, not by taking the choice away from him. In his attempts to save the world from his parent he absolutely became a monster. He is every bit a Dr. Campbell, taking people’s choices away from them to fulfill his view of how things should be.
Otto might have sacrificed himself to protect Reed with little thought (and yes, I got a little thrill out of how even Pulse’s jacked up abilities couldn’t suppress Otto’s powers), but Otto’s blind vision of what is “good” and his right to force people to fit that mold absolutely paved the way for people like Turner and Campbell.
Do not let that last minute sacrifice convince you otherwise. Andrea and Andreas were villains. Otto was a villain (though his victim was primarily his own family), and this show is, in part, Reed’s struggle to not be one. He has been the first one in his family to begin to question his actions and motivations and assumptions. I know I poked at his self righteous attitude in the first few episodes, but I think this big reveal isn’t just about “OMG the Strucker kids are bad ass” but also about how people follow evil so easily, they really internalize it, and when you think you are doing the right thing it is still absolutely vital to question yourself.
I fully expect Reed to suffer some emotional fall out as this reveals that his past trauma permanently scars him and nothing he can do will make him “whole”. If this plot doesn’t become more than “Oh look at the uber powerful sibling mutants” I will be very sad.