For decades, the mutants of Marvel's X-Men comics have served as a metaphor for a host of different civil rights conflicts. Mutants got their superpowers not from technology or lab accidents but from genetic quirks—who they were, not what had happened to them. They fought not just megalomaniacal supervillains but also a government that deemed them a threat to society.
Mistrust and fear of mutants have been a stand-in for mistreatment of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities in the United States wherever X-Men stories are told. The Gifted, a new series on Fox, focuses on an "average" family with mutant children, who have been deliberately deprived of their rights to life and liberty in the name of "protecting" public safety.
The canonical X-Men themselves are not in The Gifted, which is not a series about superheroic battles. Instead, the Strucker family serves as the centering force after its two teens reveal abnormal abilities and find themselves on the run from a federal law enforcement agency designed specifically to contain them.
The whole family seeks safety and shelter with a "Mutant Underground," a ragtag band of young adults with superpowers also trying to evade the authorities. The first season has primarily been a cat-and-mouse game in which those mutants and the central family play the mice.
Government officials treat mutants as though elements of their identity inherently deprive them of constitutional protections. They face indefinite, secret detentions and are denied legal representation even as they're threatened with harsh prosecution if they don't name names. They also have to worry about the police being called if they attempt to get medical treatment. How, one wonders, could a government treat people that way merely based on their status, regardless of wrongdoing?
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Gifted".