In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
Season Three of the X-Men Animated Series is the longest of its five-season run, nearly double the size of any other season, and with a number of epic, multi-part stories. With all the important stuff that happened this season, it’s kind of nice to see it start to wind down with some smaller, less impactful standalone episodes. That’s not to say that these stories aren’t important, because at least one of the episodes covered this week features some essential character development for one member of the team, while the other provides a brief glimpse into what life is like for mutants living outside of hotspots like New York and Genosha.
“Love In Vain,” the twenty-second episode of Season Three, focuses primarily on Rogue and her ongoing despair over not being able to touch anyone, lest her mutant powers endanger that person’s life. Wolverine runs afoul of and is taken captive by some green-skinned, tentacled aliens who land on an organic ship that resembles a giant fish while Rogue receives communication from an old boyfriend named Cody who asks to meet up again, much to Gambit’s chagrin. Cody tells an overjoyed Rogue that he has figured out a way for them to be together and proves to her that she can touch him now, which we discover is because of the aliens. Wolverine awakens and fights his way out of the fish-ship, contacting the Mansion to warn his teammates of the invading creatures who reveal their plans to take control of the X-Men in order to colonize Earth. Rogue agrees to run off with Cody but insists upon telling her team, staying behind while the rest of them go off to look for Wolverine. The team finds Logan unconscious near the ship and then battles the aliens while Rogue and Cody arrive on the scene. Cody admits that he made a deal with the creatures to ensure that they can be together again. Both Wolverine and Cody begin to change into aliens, having been infected with their DNA, and Rogue begins to change as well as the aliens take the rest of the team captive. Logan’s healing factor stops the transformation, and he touches Rogue to have her change back to her normal form. They work together to free their allies as the living ship begins to take off. Xavier makes a psychic link to the ship, discovering that it is another captive of the alien colony and convincing it to help the team escape in exchange for releasing it of its mental shackles. The episode ends with the ship flying off with the colony as its prisoners as Gambit consoles Rogue, having lost her first love yet again.
I have always appreciated how the X-Men Animated Series wasn’t afraid to portray Rogue as a despairing, deprived soul, using her carefree and flirty persona as a facade to mask her unending loneliness. It’s a pretty deep characterization for what is essentially a kids’ cartoon from the Nineties, and it has made for a number of impressive episodes that dealt directly with her continued attempts to cope emotionally with her mutant abilities. “Love In Vain” comes close to matching the emotional impact of those earlier episodes, though the alien invasion angle is admittedly kind of silly. The creatures here are vaguely reminiscent of the Brood from the original comics, though they are green and have Doctor Octupus-esque mechanical tentacles for some reason. I hope that this was not supposed to be a stand-in for the Brood in an attempt to appease network execs who might have found them too frightening for the show’s young audience. While the alien threat proved to be not as effective as it could have been, pretty much everything to do with Rogue in this episode is golden, especially her brief outburst at her teammates after finally getting the chance to experience physical love. It would have been nice to see the conflict between her duties to her team and her physical needs be explored further, but there’s only so much that can be done within the confines of a half-hour cartoon episode, and the fact that the conflict was established at all makes it one of the more interesting standalone episodes of the season. “Love In Vain” earns 4 out of 5 Bizarre Nicknames.
The show then gives us another solo mutant adventure in “Secrets, Not Long Buried,” which follows Cyclops’ journey to deliver a gift to a scientist named Dr. Taylor Prescott who has established a mutant-friendly community in an abandoned Western town. After his plane is shot down not far from his destination, Scott discovers that his powers have been dampened and arrives at the town of Skull Mesa to find out what has become of Dr. Prescott, finding no help from the town’s seemingly intimidated mutant community. Ignoring the warnings of the town’s physician, Daryl Tanaka, Scott soon finds out that the town has been taken over by the evil mutant known as Solarr, who has taken Dr. Prescott as a hostage and forced the town’s mutant population to mine the town’s gold reserves. Emboldened by Scott’s defiance, the townspeople eventually rise up against their despotic leader and his lackeys while Tanaka restores Scott’s powers. Having helped restore Skull Mesa as a true safe haven for mutantkind, Scott presents Dr. Prescott with a sculpture illustrating mutant / human unity that the town plans to place in the town center, replacing the statue of Solarr.
The episodes of the X-Men Animated Series that feature only one team member have long been my least-favorite types of episodes, but “Secrets, Not Long Buried” does stand out as one of the better ones. Despite having a rather conventional and quickly-resolved plot, this episode does provide an interesting alternate situation for Earth’s mutants, showing how some are willing to use their abilities to exploit their own kind for their own personal gain. It also provides a few notable cameos of some of Marvel’s more obscure mutants, though I wasn’t sure why the show’s creators decided to use this episode to debut Toad, one of the X-Men’s oldest foes, as simply one of Solarr’s thugs. As per usual, I was more interested in the setting of this episode than the episode itself seemed to be, as it quickly steered into a standard kidnapping and rescue plot, but I’m hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve seen from the town of Skull Mesa, as it provides a unique and completely welcome change of scenery from the usual locations we’ve seen on the show. “Secrets, Not Long Buried” earns 3.5 out of 5 Literal Watchdogs.