I would be incredibly interested in the production history of this series, and this season specifically. The season feels like the team somehow knew it would both be it’s last but were unaware of the limited episode count. The season ends climactically enough, and we’ll get to that, but also sets up ideas that it doesn’t pay off (in the season), again, we’ll get to it.
So much of this season feels consistent with season three. The character dynamics most of all. The New Mutants still do not get a whole lot of development outside of a single trait, and because of the limited count not every character in the main X-team gets a character arc to round out where they started. Kitty is the worst for this. Her biggest development is who she ended up with, and that she made a friend with someone else. I don’t think her arc was around that, but fine.
Jean and Scott also don’t get a whole lot. The most is retconning the fact they graduated, I think. They’re seen at school once or twice, but not in class. We see Duncan outside of school once and is still wearing his jersey, but that makes sense for someone who peaked in high school, but it’s still not clear. The two do, however, start to act as mentors for the New Mutants. They don’t do a whole lot with it, but it works.
Spyke’s arc is better explained. Last season he left the team because he was beginning to look like a freak. That didn’t make sense because Kurt was on the team. This helps fix it by better explaining how he is a protector for the mutants without protection. It’s still not clear why the mutants he’s with cannot go to Xavier’s mansion, but that was always a question until the Krakoa stuff. His episode is also low key the most important in the season.
Kurt arguably gets the least but is teamed up with de facto protagonist Rouge. It’s honestly hard to say if she is the protagonist. As I’ll get to later, the season doesn’t have a singular focus outside of the villain plot so she is not the focus, however, she does get the lion’s share of character development, and also the best of the development. She goes from hating Mystique, and constantly being used, to learning to be useful and not used, to taking that to the ultimate conclusion of saving the world. This does pay off well with Mystique by having both her and Kurt call her out for still not caring about them no matter what she says. It’s good stuff.
Most of the development for the X-Men works in a vacuum, unfortunately that short episode count and inability to use it correctly ends up forcing all the development into b-plots. The a-plots for most of those stories also set up a lot of threads that don’t go anywhere. Principal Kelly finally puts his plan into action by running for mayor and trying to remove the mutants, but that’s in its infancy. Xavier finds out he has a son and accidentally lets loose a monster, and X-23 is finally freed (I guess that’s more of a conclusion, but feels open-ended). That is on top of building the threat of Apocalypse.
It seems strange to have the big bad be Apocalypse. Not bad, but for the time, weird. Out of the many series and ideas X-Men media use he always seems to be the least explorered. The most recent, and worst, is the live action X-Men version. This is better than that. For one, this feels incredibly climactic, and like a true fight for the X-Men and company. They also beat him in an interesting, if kind of easy, way. It’s fun that Magnetos’s big plan in the first season was to increase mutant power, and in this season he gets that boosted power but doesn’t get to enjoy it. The rise of Apocalypse to the public and that the choas that ensues is interesting for mutant relations, but nothing is done. The X-Men save the world but the world doesn’t know. I think the season is hurt by not having a stated theme like the first three. Each one builds on the last. Season one was all about living a normal life, two was about coming out, three was about building relationships and the issues that will entail, four is about a giant blue mutant who has a plan no one knows for most of the season but is just bad. Jumping to acceptance by the public would be too much for sure, so I’m glad they didn’t go that route. I think it works in practice, but is weaker for it.
What I have been dancing around however is the big reveal speech at the end. Once everything is back to normal, Charles, having read Apocalypse’s mind, is able to give the writers the ability to have their cake and eat it to. In this speech Xavier pays off all the ideas as visions he sees. He sees the rise of humans being against them, and Dark Phoenix, and a grownup team that signifies how the X-Men will always be ready to stand for his ideals. This makes every thing I said about something not paying off a lie. It is paid off, and paid off in the season, but not fleshed out in the way past seasons were. That writing trick is very interesting and doesn’t feel as cheap as it should. It plays as hopeful even as we know they’ll struggle through hardship. I mean it wouldn’t be the X-Men if they didn’t.
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