X-Men: The Animated Series
Season 1 Episode 1: Night of the Sentinels I
Writer: Mark Edward Edens
Story Editor: Eric Lewald
Supervising Producer: Will Meugniot
Line Producer: Larry Houston
Original Air Date: 31 October 1992
Synopsis (from IMDB): A young teenager has been rejecting her mutant powers ever since she discovered them. But when giant robots track her down, it’s up to the X-Men to save her.
Revisiting a show from the 90s is very interesting in many ways: First of all the show is presented in a 4:3 ratio, but I grew up with that format, so its nothing I have to get used to. Second, there is no HD version out there, so we have to watch it as it were back then. Third, the typical 90s style animation, which can be a double-edged sword: On the one hand they look good, are detailed and have charm (plus they get the nostalgic bonus), on the other hand, the action sequences and behavior of the characters can be edgy and abrupt.
The story begins with riots and chaos on the streets. Mutants are furious, and it is not a happy place. This is a very positive thing for a TV show because we are thrown right into the action – no origin story, no explanation, nothing. What is happening? What is going on? Where are why? Why is there chaos? Valid questions, and every single one of them intriguing.
Next, we see the parents of Jubilee. They are arguing about the things currently happening. They discuss if they should register their daughter at the Mutant Control Agency. But I guess it is just a small step from registering her to bring her to a facility where she is “safe.” In the context of the conversation, one can also assume that it is not a training facility. Mutant Control Agency sounds like some conversion therapy for mutants. Later in the episode, Professor Xavier discusses this topic with some of his students, and it turns out to be a private organization. The government seemingly has nothing to do with it. Now the question is: Why are they so powerful? Who are they? I hope we get to know more about them later.
Afraid of her parents Jubilee runs away. To blow off some steam she plays some video games in the mall. There she is confronted with a Sentinel. It is the first villain we get to see – if you want to call them that. The Sentinel is big and clumsy, also slow, and it destroys everything in its way. Nevertheless, the motto of them is: “serve and protect.” It first tried to capture Jubilee out of her bedroom by destroying the wall and nearly tearing the house down, but she is already gone, as we know. Though funded by the government, the Sentinels are not very serve-and-protect-like.
Back at the mall, we get to see the first big fight. Again, the Sentinel destroys almost the entire ceiling of the mall to get to its target. Fortunately, Storm and Rogue are also there and help Jubilee. Shortly after, Gambit joins the fight. Interestingly the Sentinel ignores them at first because they are neither his target nor does he recognize them. Why is that? Maybe we find out later in the season. The three X-Men cannot defeat the foe, and Jubilee is fleeing the scene, running to the parking lot outside. There Cyclops beheads the giant robot with one blast.
This short scene shows the audience two things: First, and maybe most important, that Storm, Rogue, and Gambit are not strong enough to fight a Sentinel or lack the strategy to do so. At this point, I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing – depends on their experience and how long they have been X-Men. Second, it establishes Scott as a strong leader. He calmly defeats the Sentinel without breaking a sweat. Then he catches the unconscious Jubilee (the Sentinel managed to hit her with his last move).
Cut to mansion: Jubilee wakes up alone in a room without windows. Everything looks clean, sterile even, and covered with stainless steel paneling. This part of the X-Mansion seems dark, gritty and like hostile territory. Her luck continues, because she enters the Danger room, by accident of course, where Gambit and Wolverine fight each other in a training session. Jubilee intervenes, not knowing the circumstances. Shortly after, we get to see all the X-Men in one place for the first time.
This scenes very essential, because it establishes the dynamic between the members of the X-Men. There is a certain rivalry between them, mainly because of Wolverine. Nevertheless, they are there for each other. A community where being an X-Men is safe. The following conversation between Jubilee and Storm (on the roof of the mansion) reinforces that impression. She tells her new student what a mutant is and why society hates them.
Every vital topic is touched on in this short conversation. Be it that others hate what they don’t understand, that mutancy manifests in puberty, or that the X-Men are a safe haven for “the gifted” (even if they have outgrown the status of student like Storm). You have to keep in mind, that Jubilee is still young and this was her first experience with the X-Men. We might forget that when we watch or read a new story about characters, who have to learn all of that. So it is not that surprising when Jubilee is running away from the mansion to make sure her parents are safe as well. Shortly after she leaves, a Sentinel captures her – with their creators not far away.
In the meantime, the X-Men want to infiltrate or better: break into the headquarter of the Mutant Control Agency. This organization has gathered a lot of information about citizens and possess a long list of names. Names of mutants.
Professor Xavier sends his X-Men to apprehend those files, but as they learn about the absence of Jubilee, Wolverine is looking for her. He seems to like and care about her. Combined with the conversation she previously had with Storm, those two could be her mutant-foster-parents. Unfortunately, Wolverine loses her tracks and joins the others by infiltrating the MCA facility.
They break in, and right before they get to the good stuff, the screen fades to black. To be honest, this is a very cheap trick. You don’t open the door and end the episode. Show what is on the other side and then cut away. Trust that the revelation is suspenseful enough to keep us watching. If you ever consumed anything about how to write a story (like the brilliant podcast Writing Excuses), you are aware that you should show what is behind the door. Very disappointing.
Still, the first episode of X-Men: The Animated Series was better than I anticipated. Jubilee as our guide is an excellent choice. She is relatable and seems to have a good mindset. Regarding the characters, there was one surprise: Morph. I didn’t know this mutant until now. He is very similar to Mystique regarding his powers. I am interested to see him more often and find out who he is and where he came from. Also: Next time we have to talk about Professor Xavier’s wheelchair. It is very fancy and nothing we have seen before.