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!
Any time a series goes on for multiple seasons, there is always the danger of its formula of storytelling becoming stale and routine. For most of its five-season run, the X-Men Animated Series has avoided this tendency by drawing heavily from the various characters and storylines from its comic book roots. Halfway through its fifth and final season, however, there are signs that the creative well was beginning to run dry, even though there were still many more stories to tell within that particular pocket of the Marvel Universe.
“Jubilee’s Fairytale Theater,” the fifth episode of the show’s final season, deals primarily with the X-Men’s youngest member as she is charged with leading a group of schoolchildren on a field trip through the caves that run beneath the Mansion. Frustrated at first from being asked to perform such a menial task, she gets a chance to be a hero when a cave-in occurs, blocking their entrance and forcing her to think quickly to protect the kids. In order to keep them from panicking, Jubilee starts telling them a fantasy-themed story that casts her in the lead as an elf-warrior who joins up with a roguish thief (Gambit) and a tough but loyal troll (Wolverine) to help defeat an evil wizard named Magnus. The story enthralls the kids long enough to allow them to be rescued by Wolverine, Cyclops, and Gambit, and Jubilee is praised by her older peers for keeping a cool head and easing the kids’ minds during this potentially traumatic event.
“Jubilee’s Fairytale Theater” provides a substantial break from the status quo of the overall series, with no real threat to deal with aside from the natural one that occurs in the cave and most of the narrative devoted to the tale that Jubilee tells to the children. Jubilee’s tale expresses both her initial frustrations about being asked to do things that she at first thinks is beneath her and her constant need to prove her worth by casting herself as the main protagonist, and yet it’s the story itself that shows Xavier and the rest of the team how much she has matured since she first joined the team. It shows a neat bit of growth for her as a character, even when the episode itself is not very compelling at all. I never much cared for episodes like this in other animated series, of which there are a curiously high amount, but here it’s handled about as well as it could be, and the added depth to Jubilee’s character helps to justify its existence at least and help overcome my initial prejudices about it. “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theater” earns 3 out of 5 Metal Footsoldiers.
Things go back to normal with the following episode, “The Fifth Horseman,” which pits the team against Fabian Cortez and the newly-formed Four Horseman of Apocalypse, who are in search of a body in which they can resurrect their master, who is currently lost in the Astral Plane as a result of his last encounter with the X-Men. On an expedition in Peru, Jubilee and Beast run afoul of Cortez and his soldiers, and Jubilee recognizes one of the Horsemen as the Morlock known as Caliban, who has been forced by Cortez to do Apocalypse’s bidding. They eventually kidnap Jubilee, intending to use her as the vessel for their master’s restoration, bringing both her and Beast to a spare Lazarus Temple, where Cortez monologues about his plan to bring Apocalypse back to this reality. Beast’s attempt to stop them leads Cortez to use his powers to turn Beast into a mindless, feral creature, and Caliban’s reluctance to let Jubilee be sacrificed leads him to betray Cortez and rescue Jubilee, aided by the feral Beast’s assault on the Temple before he is restored back to normal. With his plans ruined, Cortez is himself chosen by Apocalypse to be the vessel and becomes possessed by the mind and spirit of the ancient evil mutant.
With just four more episodes to go, “The Fifth Horseman” is currently the top contender for the worst episode of the season and is in the running for one of the worst episodes of the entire series. It’s not as bad as the Season One episode where Wolverine joined an Inuit tribe, but it’s still pretty boring and predictable and, aside from the return of Apocalypse at the end and the supposed series wrap on Fabian Cortez (Thank God), it doesn’t really bear any lasting effect on the series as a whole. I don’t remember Caliban being a particularly important character in the X-Men’s previous encounters with the Morlocks, so his desire to save Jubilee from being sacrificed didn’t have the effect that the writers intended. Maybe if they provided a few flashbacks to their past encounters together, it would have been more impactful, but it seems like Jubilee is being used here in place of Kitty Pryde, a character that Caliban definitely had a connection with in the comics and doesn’t exist at all in the show. Overall, this episode was only used as a way to bring Apocalypse back, and who knows if he’ll even show up again this season. Still, even if it was absolutely necessary to bring this extremely overused villain back, there could have been better ways to do it than to subject viewers to this boring and pointless half-hour of television. “The Fifth Horseman” earns 1.5 out of 5 Dumb-Looking Headdresses.