Jonathan Dobres

x-men re-examined: captive hearts

Air date: January 30, 1993

This episode has it all, and I can’t believe they managed to cram it into twenty-two minutes (okay, I can, the pacing is pretty abrupt). The inciting incident is that Cyclops and Jean go on a date and get abducted by the Morlocks. We will use this as a lens to examine Storm’s fears about leadership and Wolverine’s frustrations over his unrequited (?) feelings for Jean. Along the way, a shocking number of memes.

The tentpole of the episode concerns Storm’s doubts about her leadership abilities, and it manages to hang together as a coherent arc despite everything else going on around it. We see her fail at the start, as her claustrophobia overwhelms her in the Danger Room. Later, she leads the mission to rescue Cyclops and Jean, where she controls (but doesn’t conquer) her phobia. This requires her to lead the team through a Morlock melee and face their leader, Callisto, in single combat. She enters those tunnels insecure and unsure, and emerges as a queen. Literally, she’s formally the leader of the Morlocks after this, but she lets Callisto “rule” in her place. I think it’s especially important that the episode shows Storm keeping her fears in check, but not exactly getting over them. Growth is a process, even for a badass goddess like her.

Meanwhile, this episode finally leans into the soap opera of it all. Cyclops and Jean are very into each other and Wolverine can’t handle it. He and Jean share a tender moment early in the episode, only for Jean to tear herself away to go on her date with Cyclops. We then follow the lovebirds up until their capture, cutting back to the mansion for just a few seconds to see Wolverine in bed, tenderly touching a certain photo.

Yes, friends, this is that episode. The one that launched a thousand memes. In fact it doesn’t just give us Wolverine Crush, it also gives us Sad Wolverine, in which he looks like he’s posing for a missing tarot card called The Third Wheel. But wait, what if I told you that if you order now, in this very episode, you will also get covered with scorpions. COVERED WITH SCORPIONS!!! And as a special bonus—I truly can’t believe they’re letting me do this—a completely gratuitous (and appreciated) shot of Gambit in a speedo. And certain dweebs were mad about the crop top?

You’ve surely seen at least a few of these memes around, thirty years later (the Gambit speedo moment didn’t catch on, but I’m here to make the world a better place). They’re all here, in this one episode, delivered to the world on one Saturday morning in January 1993. It’s always tempting to believe that the world was at its height when you, personally, were twelve, but this truly was a golden half hour in pop culture history.

Anyway, Wolverine has feelings, but unlike Storm, he has no idea how to control them. He briefly contemplates killing an unconscious Cyclops before deciding it would upset Jean too much. By the end of the episode, he’ll abandon the mansion for parts unknown, leaving the shattered photo of Cyclops and Jean on his bedroom floor.

All this, and I haven’t even talked about the Morlocks. The episode tries to underline what life is like if you’re a mutant who isn’t useful or beautiful. All the Morlocks are either too strange looking for polite society or simply too dangerous. They don’t have a wealthy benefactor or a cushy mansion. For them, mutant acceptance isn’t some lofty ideal, it’s the prerequisite to being allowed to walk around outside. They tell Storm as much when they refuse her offer of safe haven at the X-Mansion.

The climactic fight between Storm and Callisto isn’t very good. It feels extremely American Gladiators, but it gets the point across. Likewise, the big melee between the X-Men and the Morlocks is less a well choreographed fight than it is a montage of cool little actions and quips, but it’s fun. It’s another one of those “something for everyone” sequences, and I am sure we were reenacting it on the playground the next week.

This episode is a lot. It makes use of every active cast member (they even remembered Gambit!), and introduces a dozen new Morlocks on top of that. It’s got lessons about how (and how not) to control your feelings. Everyone has a chance to show off their powers. More than anything else, this episode is having a lot of fun, and it’s the first one to lean into the X-Men’s soapy side, with legendary results.

A lengthy list of stray observations:

  • Rogue, trying to stop a pneumatic wall in the Danger Room: “This sucker’s thick!” They knew, right? They knew?

  • As Storm struggles to make her way through the underground, Gambit says, “We have to help her!” Wolverine kills the well-meaning sentiment with a gruff, “Let her ask.” Wise words for a Saturday morning cartoon.

  • Cyclops says that his eye beams are solar powered. So he’s powerless for most of the episode, which gives Jean a chance to gaze lovingly into his eyes for the first time. But it does beg the question of just how fast his batteries run out. How long could he possibly have been underground before he lost his eye beams? Four hours, tops? Does he lose his powers overnight? If he decided to take up photography as a hobby and was spending a lot of time in a dark room (it’s the ’90s, remember), would he suddenly be able to live normally? Possibly Leech accelerated the depowering process, but the writing is unclear on this point. These are important questions.

  • The sound work in this scene where Annalee (Madame Covered With Scorpions) tries to mind control Storm is awful, like they hired an intern to do the mix, fired them after one day, and then shipped the episode to Fox anyway.

  • Gambit gets hit by Plague at the very end of the fight, and we’re told he’s “recovering” in the epilogue. Is this going to matter in a future episode, or did they just want to show off one more mutant?

  • “To serve my people I need a companion, someone to provide me…an heir.” Callisto looks like she stepped out of The Warriors but she is horny in the manner of a Tudor.

  • “He refuses me! DESTROY HER!” These women are fighting over Scott Summers, of all people.