THE GIFTED, FOX’s freshman mutant series set in the X-Men universe (but distinctly lacking in actual X-Men and focusing instead on a new group) has delivered on the political commentary promisedby its cast and crew at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con. As in any mutant saga, the themes of fearing and even hating the unknown have permeated the series’ narrative, shining an ugly light on the racism inherent in human nature. Updating the story to modern times, one episode even featured a peaceful protest for equal rights turned ugly and used to further demonize a minority group. Also as promised, THE GIFTED has had a strong focus on the concepts of both found and natural families, as well as many other interesting, timely issues.
No matter how well told, thought, none of these stories have been particularly new for anyone who’s ever has the least notion of what Marvel’s mutants represented. But one surprising plot that has come out of THE GIFTED’s first eight episodes, which is just as important as any traditional X-Men allegory and coincidentally right on time with the constant stream of allegations against many of Hollywood’s top names — including the pilot episode’s director, Bryan Singer— is that of Dreamer’s decision to give Blink a memory without her consent.
At this point, if you haven’t kept up with THE GIFTED, you’re probably wondering what a fake memory, given from one mutant to another, has to do with Hollywood’s sexual harassment and sexual assault problems. In the simplest of terms, both situations have a complete and total lack of consentinvolved. In the world of Hollywood’s “open secrets,” even in those cases where victims were supposed active participants, consent was not freely given — which makes it null and void.
For Clarice Fong, there was never even the myth of an ability to say no: In the series’ third episode, “eXodus,” when Blink (Clarice’s mutant name) was having trouble summoning the right kind of feeling needed to control her powers, Dreamer took matters into her own hands and gave the other woman a memory of a romantic rendezvous with Thunderbird. Dreamer’s original plan was to make Blink believe that she was Lorna Dane’s best friend — something we should all hope for, given that Polaris is cut from same cloth as Jessica Jones and Wynonna Earp, only with Magneto’s certain special something making her ten times more badass — in order to help her gain control. Thunderbird was against even this lesser mind invasion from the start, rightfully believing it was wrong.
So, naturally, a completely unrepentant Dreamer, with absolutely no reservations about taking away Clarice’s right to choose whether her own mind was violated, gave the other woman a memory anyway. And because it was Johnny who was in danger at the time, thanks to the Strucker family’s decision to take a little field trip away from headquarters, Dreamer had to make her fellow mutant care about him— not Polaris.
So, let’s share a steamy makeout session, laced with all sorts of feelings.
In doing this, Dreamer not only violated Blink’s mind; she violated her body, too. Because, as far as Blink’s mind could tell her, there had been touching — and a lot of it. Memories of particularly tantalizing physical contact tend to bring with them the ghost of a physical reaction, after all. It was a weird reversal of what happens in many real-world situations in which a person’s consent has been violated: Rather than the physical acts wreaking havoc on the mind, the mind’s violation quite probably left strange, unfamiliar feelings in Clarice’s body.
Side note: There’s also some massive irony here, seeing as how we’re talking about completely removing a woman’s control of her own memories…in order to help her control her superpowers.
In subsequent episodes, as THE GIFTED dealt with the aftermath of what Dreamer had done, it became readily apparent that all was not right with Clarice Fong. She had trouble sleeping at night, plagued by those vivid images of love and intimate touching, none of which she had ever welcomed — because those things never happened. Dreamer, either completely oblivious or lying to herself in order to justify what she had done, refused to come clean with Blink when Thunderbird asked her to.
According to her, Clarice seemed “fine.”
More like sure, fine, whatever.
For Thunderbird’s part, he remained about halfway in the right. In one of many arguments with Dreamer following the great memory violation of THE GIFTED season 1, Johnny put his foot down. Or so it seemed.
“It’s wrong. You gave her a memory that isn’t hers without her permission,” he said (keyword: permission) and maintained his position — namely, that Dreamer should have never given Blink that memory without her consent or, at the very least, that she ought to come clean about it — but he failed to take any meaningful action to back up his words. When Clarice asked about the puzzling memories outright, Thunderbird admitted that no, he hadn’t gone outside with her the night they met.
But did he actually let the clearly troubled woman know what had actually happened? Of course not.
In a surprising twist from the norm, a woman had abused another woman, while a man was the voice of reason, standing up for the victim…just not enough. Much like any other bystander in these situations, Johnny appeared to maintain all sorts of moral high ground. But appearances were deceiving, as they’re bound to be. When the opportunity to set things right presented itself, John Proudstar did nothing.
See also: Hollywood’s “open secrets.” How many men and women knew exactly what was happening with the Weinsteins and the Kreisbergs of the world, knew it was wrong, and did absolutely nothing to support the survivors? And forget about these more famous examples, of which there are far too many: What about the countless, voiceless women and men who have been violated by people in power, yet can’t find a single friend to stand up for them? In every industry? Everywhere?
As difficult to swallow as Johnny’s half-truths may have been, though, THE GIFTED gave Clarice Fong something that most victims of mental and/or physical abuse rarely get: a chance to save oneself. After seeing what Dreamer was capable of in “boXed in,” Blink finally realized exactly what had been done to her and confronted the other woman about it. After some weak attempts at dodging the facts and some dull — at best — justifications about having to save lives, Blink was finally able to drag the truth out of Dreamer.
And once she did, she was finally able to have her own voice and stand up for herself — as well as some of Dreamer’s other victims — by saying, once and for all, that what the other mutant did with her powers was wrong: “I don’t have to understand anything! What you do is wrong. You decided that you needed to fix me, and now, I get to live with a memory of loving someone I barely know. Someone who doesn’t love me.”
Better still, Blink had her opportunity to take Thunderbird to task for standing by and doing nothing in “got your siX.” It was almost as if, unlike on other series that constantly mess with their characters’ ability to give consent — even in an entirely unrealistic, nonhuman setting — THE GIFTED’s writing staff knew how to finish what they started. There would be no sweeping this problem under the rug; there would be no easy way out.
Blink would get yet another chance to remind her fellow mutants, as well as THE GIFTED’s viewing audience, that everything about what had been done to her was wrong. She cut off Johnny’s apology and lame admission of having asked Dreamer not to create that memory, reminding him that he hadn’t bothered to tell her the truth when he had the chance. To top it all off, she even had the chance to see that she had been used — Blink’s power to create portals is horribly useful, after all — and that was the main reason why the lie had been allowed to continue: “Oh, I get it. You didn’t want to tell me because you wanted to use me. FYI, you’re not making this any better.”
Throughout her character’s entire arc with this strange twist on removal of consent, Jamie Chung portrayed the self-doubt, the insecurity, and sense of feeling violated particularly well. However, it was when she finally got to act Blink’s confrontation with her attackers, so to speak, that she was at her absolute best. In a world where far too many women don’tget the chance to stand up and tell someone, “hey, what you did to me was wrong,” especially not from a place of strength, seeing Clarice Fong come into her own was one of THE GIFTED’s most satisfying scenes to date; and Chung’s performance elevated an already uplifting moment.
Honestly, the only thing that could have made it better would have been if Blink had opened a portal and sent Dreamer straight to whatever counts as mutant hell. But alas, we need all of our mutants in place for the “bigger” story of the war.
As THE GIFTED’s first season continues, it will be interesting to see what other messages about consent this story might provide, if any. As it is, the series’ seventh episode seemed to be moving toward a problematic (at best) new bond between Clarice and John. It’s a wee bit too soon for that, even if we are willing to admit that a man who stands idly by while a woman is violated is worthy of being not only redeemed, but elevated to a new position of closeness by a single shared experience.
By the end of the eighth episode, even Blink and Dreamer seemed to have come to some sort of truce. Clarice needed to help a little girl forget the horrible images of having seen her foster family destroyed by Sentinel Services, and Dreamer was the only one who had the power to make that happen. So, while Clarice’s initial reaction to memory-altering mutant’s empty statement of wanting no “hard feelings” was exactly what one might have been rooting for from the victim’s standpoint, someone had to be the bigger person and move on. Naturally, that someone was the character whose consent had been violated in the first place.
Isn’t that how it winds up happening in real life, too?
At the very least, THE GIFTED brought this story to a place that might be considered “full circle,” given that everyone had admitted to the problem and made whatever small peace they could. And, hey! At least Dreamer had consent — a request, even — from the little girl whose memory she wiped as “threat of eXtinction” closed.
Is the resulting message of, “Give a weak apology that can barely be considered an apology. Then, do a good deed, and you’re suddenly one of the good guys again” the one that the series’ creative team should want to send at a time like this? Arguably, it’s not — not that anyone would’ve had had a clue that “a time like this” was coming when the story was originally drafted. Maybe, though, that’s ignoring the complications of the mutants’ war for survival, lumped on top of all of those dangerous powers, brings to the picture. In the real world, things are much more clear: It takes a lot more hard work than that.
But one thing’s for certain: We’ll be watching THE GIFTED with newly-opened eyes to see whether any of the series’ characters have learned anything from all of this. After all, far too many viewers likely know exactly what it’s like to have someone else use power to take away their consent — just like so many others of the series’ themes continue to resonate with real-world happenings, as promised.
THE GIFTED’s next all-new episode airs Monday, December 4 at 9/8c on FOX.