X-Men: The Animated Series. Few cartoon show from this era are held in as high regard. It was pretty much X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, and Gargoyles. Everything else was simply beneath them.
Which is not to say X-Men didn’t have its problems. In fact, when people remember it fondly, they’re mostly remembering Seasons 1-3, but thanks to the character designs available at the time the series was in development, X-Men made the early ’90s relaunch and the designs made famous by Jim Lee the most iconic look for the mutant heroes. Just watching these episodes takes me right back to junior high and high school, when I was at the height of my love affair with the X-Men, and if you’re interested in such a trip down memory lane by way of Hulu or your own personal library, here is a handy guide to all the episodes you absolutely should not skip.
NIGHT OF THE SENTINELS, PART 1
Season 1 Episode 1
Because you should always watch the pilot, even it’s terrible, which this episode is not.
It introduces all our key players, manages to get in a lot of characterization without dropping tons of backstory (in fact, the one scene where the characters discuss their pasts is very natural and endearing), establishes the dynamics between those characters, and sets up the major themes and conflicts of the series. While some moments are a little clunky, a few snippets of dialogue are forced or poorly done, and Morph’s laugh will make you want to jab Wolverine’s claws into your ears, it’s a solid debut with some fantastically wry humor. Most of it relating to Rogue, because she’s her own separate category of awesome.
NIGHT OF THE SENTINELS, PART 2
Season 1 Episode 2
Sure, Morph was created just to die and he wasn’t an overly likable character, but the point is that even if you didn’t like him, you could see why his friends did, so you cared when he died, not because you were grieving him but because his friends were. It also gave immediate depth to Wolverine, who was established in Part 1 as a gruff, pissy loner who didn’t seem to like anyone. Everything about Wolverine in this episode proved he was so much more than that.
“Night of the Sentinels” established that, while still working within the constraints of Standards and Practices, this show was going to depict the risks and consequences of battle, be it Morph’s death or Beast’s incarceration, as well as an adult relationship between Scott and Jean. Not to mention that people who don’t necessarily get along can be on the same side. It’s only the second episode of the show, and it ends on such a bittersweet note with the noble, moralistic leader questioning his own command decisions in private (since he could never do it in front of his troops) and leaning on the woman he loves in his moment of doubt, while a scared kid finally finds a place to belong and learn about herself.
Not all pilots have rewatch value, but this one does.
Season 1 Episode 3
This one almost didn’t make the list. Sure, it’s the debut of Magneto, but I feel there’s a much more interesting story told about him in the following episode.
The reason this one qualifies is that it truly is a recreation of the X-Men’s first mission from their 1963 debut. Details were obviously changed due to the characters involved, but the story of Magneto commandeering a military base to launch nuclear missiles on an unsuspecting human population is pretty damn classic and certainly sets the tone. Aside from Wolverine’s incredibly narmy “Mission accomplished, buddy,” to Cyclops, which he would never in a million years say to anyone, let alone ol’ Cyke, this ep is pretty solid.
Season 1 Episode 4
A feast, to be sure. The relationship and conflict between Magneto and Professor X is distilled so perfectly in this episode. It’s just beautifully done.
On top of that, you have that Sabretooth sub-plot where he plays Jubilee. And listen, anyone who’s going to get down on a thirteen-year-old for not being the best judge of character, especially when the offender in question strongly reminds her of one of her new guardians who himself is a killer who managed to rehabilitate himself… like… don’t pretend you didn’t do at least one incredibly stupid thing at that age. We all did. It’s just most of us weren’t in a position where our screw-up could endanger our lives.
The other fantastic bit in this episode is Rogue administering CPR to Cyclops, probably a first in children’s television. And her commentary during that entire scene is the best. “Come on, pretty boy. Make a girl feel welcome.” God. Rogue for president. The only thing that kills the scene for me is that she can’t control Cyclops’ optic blasts when she absorbs them, which she should be able to do. His inability to shut his blasts off is not inherent to his power, it’s a result of childhood brain damage. But that’s one tiny nitpick. Aside from that, this one is solid gold.
Season 1 Episode 5
The story itself is great: The Morlocks, introduced here, kidnap Cyclops as a prospective “companion” (read: baby daddy) for their leader, Callisto. The Morlocks themselves are an intriguing concept and a commentary on minority ghettoization. The Morlocks can’t “pass” as X-inactive humans. They look different, sound different, maybe even smell different (I mean, definitely after hanging out in the sewers, but that’s another matter). And seeing Storm be a complete fucking badass is never a let-down.
There are also great bits of characterization thrown in here, like Storm’s claustrophobia, a recurring challenge she faces over the course of the series. It’s a subtle little comment that trauma can be dealt with but in some cases not entirely overcome. The Scott/Jean/Logan love triangle, which will become a major sub-plot, is established here as well.
What really makes the episode stand out to in-the-know fans, however, is how well it adapts Uncanny X-Men #169-170. While “Enter Magneto” was the first episode to do a direct adaptation of a specific issue of the comics, “Captive Hearts” was the first one to really do it well. Subbing out Angel for Cyclops allowed for a whole new angle on the story by playing with the already existing love triangle, reaffirming the strength of Scott and Jean’s relationship and driving home just how shitty it makes Logan feel.
The one drawback is the replacement of Storm and Callisto’s knife fight with some weird Dath Maul lightsaber duel, but it’s a minor trespass.
Season 1 Episode 7
We can skip straight to this one, because I really don’t think an episode about Wolverine’s savior routine in an Inuit village is terribly compelling, and whatever set-up for this episode we got isn’t super necessary. “Slave Island”, while a powerfully oversimplified depiction of the island nation of Genosha (seriously, that’s a three-parter, bare minimum), is a roller coaster to watch. The recurrence of Storm’s claustrophobia in a perfectly organic way, the question of Gambit’s morality and loyalty, the cavalcade of cameos (Sunfire, Northstar, Aurora, Feral, Rictor, and so on), and “I am still plugged in!” Just marvelous. The episode also features the return of the Sentinels and the introduction of Master Mold, establishing that they will be a recurring threat for the season.
The only chink in this episode’s armor is Cable, whose character made absolutely no sense. Season 1 Cable and Seasons 2-4 Cable seem like completely different characters, and the latter is the one that gets it right. Here? It’s like the showrunners knew they had to throw him in there for the salivating fanboys, but just didn’t have any way to do it, so… he’s just some former mercenary in the Leader’s army who sports an X-Men insignia for… some reason. Personally, I just like to pretend Season 1 Cable didn’t happen and pretend he made his debut in Season 2’s “Time Fugitives.”
Season 1 Episode 9
The first Rogue-centric episode of the series doesn’t disappoint at all, taking the pain and loneliness at the core of her character and bringing it right to the forefront. And it also introduces Angel to set him up for the following episode, but let’s talk Rogue.
The incident where her first kiss activated her powers and nearly killed her boyfriend, first mentioned in the pilot, is seen here, providing a context for her hostility toward Gambit for his advances despite her obvious interest. We also get a subtle look at the different shades of privilege. It’s easy for Cyclops to jump on the Mutant Pride rhetoric when his powers, however difficult to manage, won’t keep him from human contact for the rest of his life. He can slip on some ruby quartz goggles and rock Jean’s world. And yes, Rogue eventually opts out of the treatment (never knowing, of course, that it was all a lie), but the point is that this was presented as complicated issue that affects everyone differently, and it was great that Xavier pointed out that it’s a personal choice that every mutant would have to make for themselves.
“The Cure” also introduces some key villains in Apocalypse and Mystique. Upon my first viewing I found it odd that Mystique was introduced in a Rogue-centric episode and that their relationship was never addressed, but seeing how it played out at the end of the season cast everything in a whole new light. But overall, this is a powerfully character-driven episode with some intense action and key world building with the introduction of Muir Island and Moira MacTaggert’s mutant research center. Good stuff.
COME THE APOCALYPSE
Season 1 Episode 10
Angel’s seeking of the cure delivers him right into Apocalypse’s waiting hands. He is transformed into Death (later, Archangel), one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, who set out to end the world as we know it so Apocalypse can build a new one according to his own vision.
I mean, if that’s not enough for you… it doesn’t have to be, because Rogue’s subplot from the previous episode carries over when she confronts “Dr. Adler” only to find that he’s really Mystique! Not that they seem to recognize each other. What seems like a plot hole turns out to be a plot point soon enough.
But overall, this episode is just hardcore.
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, PART 2
Season 1 Episode 12
Why did I skip Part 1? I’m not gonna lie. I’ve never really been a fan of Bishop as a character, certainly not the way he’s depicted in the show. He’s self-righteous, stubborn, and unwilling to let anyone get a fucking word in edgewise. Whenever he shows up, the entire plot seems to be predicated on him being a stupid, intractable asshole. Lives could be saved if he’d just shut up for like *five seconds*, hear someone out, and consider his options. Which is not in and of itself so bad – people like that certainly exist – it’s just he’s never really called on it. Bishop has his moments, I’ll grant him that, but most of the time he is so utterly frustrating to watch that I can’t even really appreciate them.
So, considering “Days of Future Past, Part 1” is pretty much just a big, sloppy blowjob for Bishop, I don’t see it as terribly necessary, especially when you get all the backstory and characterization on him that you need in the first few minutes of Part 2, which is pretty great. It references the comic all the way down to Mystique’s disguise. Gotta love that attention to detail. It also explains why Rogue didn’t recognize Mystique before (she’d only known her in one of her many disguises) and why Mystique would drop a multi-ton machine on her daughter (she knows Rogue’s powers very well and knew that she would be fine).
What’s also really strong about this episode is how it leads right into the finale with the abduction of Senator Kelly and the strong hint that it was Magneto’s doing. This episode focuses on the legislation that would lead to Bishop’s Sentinel-infested future, but not the Sentinels themselves. Of course, the finale will be all about the Sentinels, who may become an even bigger problem because Senator Kelly was kidnapped. Bravo.
THE FINAL DECISION
Season 1 Episode 13
When an episode opens with Magneto getting his ass kicked, you know you’re in for a ride.
This isn’t the last we see of Gyrich, Trask, and the Sentinels, but it’s the last we’ll see for a while, and it’s one hell of a send-off. Yes, Magneto kidnapped Kelly, and yes, he was going to kill him, but the Sentinels got there first and now they want to replace his brain, and that of every prominent world leader on the planet, with computers. So the X-Men go to stop them, and it is just… it’s a lot of trashed robots.
There are so many strong action moments in “The Final Decision.” Wolverine’s blind fight in a darkened mine shaft with multiple Sentinels is only seen in snippets whenever they fire their lasers. Visually brilliant. Magneto’s eleventh hours aid and Xavier’s ejector seat finishing blow. Just awesome.
But this episode is chock full of great character moments too. Rogue finally (sorta) kissing Gambit over her hand, Cyclops leading the charge in what could very well be a suicide mission, and Jubilee passionately rejecting being sidelined, insisting that she’s one of the team and knows what risks it entails. And Magneto, even after having fought the X-Men and spent decades going round with Xavier, pleads with them not to go and yet respects the hell out of them for doing it. “You’re all fools… heroic fools. The brave are always the first to die.” David Hemblen’s delivery still gives me chills 25 years later.
And lest we forget, of course, the joy of Scott’s proposal to Jean immediately crushed by foreshadowing of something… sinister.
TILL DEATH DO US PART, PART 1
Season 2 Episode 1
Scott and Jean are getting married! And Beast is home! And he caught the bouquet! And there’s apparently an anti-mutant hate group that’s sprung up and is totally manipulating the media to make mutants looks bad. And Magneto’s in danger and needs Xavier’s help? And Morph’s alive! But he’s evil. Ohhhh, shit.
How a single season premiere can pack so much in without feeling crowded is a testament to the writing. None of these elements feel extraneous, clunky, or out of place. It’s all just brilliantly woven together to set the stage for every one of this season’s storylines, and damn! There’s even room for some character beats, like Morph’s pointed resentment toward Jubilee for feeling that she replaced him, and Rogue’s “serves him right” when Gambit blacks out from kissing her, which is both sincere and tinged with concern. Lenore Zann as Rogue, as always, knocks it out of the park.
Such a good episode. Without contest, the best season premiere of the series.
TILL DEATH DO US PART, PART 2
Season 2 Episode 2
So, Mr. Sinister has been hanging around, watching everyone since the pilot, which is when he picked up Morph’s dying if not dead body and healed it, but not without making his eye sockets look like he just got a bad nose job. Scott and Jean’s honeymoon is cut short by the Nasty Boys, and can I just say it is AMAZING that Hairbag was declared street legal in both the comics and the show. How did that pitch meeting go down? “Yeah, let’s have a fuzzy, ape-like character like Beast, only he’s stupid and has toxic breath. Oh, we should make him…Jamaican!” I just… how did that ever happen?
This episode is a satisfying wrap-up to the story started in Part 1, especially because Morph isn’t fine at the end. He runs off with his head still full of demons. And Xavier and Magneto meet up in Antarctica only to be buried in an avalanche. Whaaaaat?!
Season 2 Episode 5
Let’s set aside that this episode will be mined for stock footage for the rest of this series, mainly the same scene, which anyone should be able to recite word for word by the third time they use it. This is it. This is the episode that deals with the Weapon X portion of Wolverine’s backstory. It also guest stars Alpha Flight, which is a real treat, though the way they shoehorn every character’s name into the dialogue so that the audience will know it is fairly awful. Like… we don’t need to know everyone’s name in the first scene. And I’m pretty sure that after all that they skipped Aurora. Like seriously, at that point, what was holding them back?
But it’s a great episode that really illuminates Wolverine’s character, not just in backstory, but in showing that he’s a complete human being. Even a feral killer with knives in his hands breaks down and cries when he stops to take a minute to think about the horrific nature of what was done to him. That a ’90s kids’ show would have arguably it’s toughest badass show emotional vulnerability… respect.
TIME FUGITIVES, PART 1
Season 2 Episode 7
Aaaaaand Bishop’s back and annoying as ever, but at least he seems to have a somewhat better handle on things.
We actually start with Cable – the REAL Cable – whose distant future is being erased. It turns out that Apocalypse, who is the biggest of all bads in Cable’s time, tried to unleash some kind of plague, which Bishop has traveled back in time to prevent. However, in doing so he gets the X-Men killed and the antibodies created to fight the plague and thus immunize humanity against future illnesses, are never created. It’s a twist and a half, and it really puts Cable in a tortured position: to save his world, he has to ensure the success of Apocalypse, to destroy a past world, no less.
TIME FUGITIVES, PART 2
Season 2 Episode 8
Cable travels to the past (our present) to stop Bishop. The previous episode plays out again, seen mostly from Cable’s perspective and with his actions altering the events. In the end, he uses his knowledge of the X-Men to solve everything. He sees to it that Wolverine is infected with the plague so that his mutant healing factor can generate the antibodies everyone will need. Of course, Cable’s success required him telling Bishop to just pipe down and chill out. A shock runs through no one.
This episode is a lot of fun, especially comparing it to Part 1 scene for scene. What could easily have come off as lazy and repetitive turns out to be fascinating and massively enjoyable to watch.
A ROGUE’S TALE
Season 2 Episode 9
What could easilyhave been a flashback slideshow manages to influence the present by paralleling the origin of Rogue’s flashier powers (the assault of Ms. Marvel) with the present day consequences of that action: Rogue absorbed Ms. Marvel’s consciousness to a degree she has with no other person, and now that consciousness is fighting to take control of Rogue’s body.
What makes “A Rogue’s Tale” especially powerful is that there are no easy answers. Ms. Marvel’s life was stolen from her, and by all rights she deserves it back, but Rogue can’t just put her back into her body. All she can do is seal Ms. Marvel away at the back of her mind to ensure her own survival. Is it justice? Certainly not. Rogue has stolen this woman’s life twice, and she has to live with that. What’s more, any ambiguity about her feelings regarding Mystique is demolished when she realizes that her foster mother had manipulated and used her from the beginning. At least she has her new life with the X-Men, but man, this episode is just 22 minutes of one emotional gut punch after the next.
REUNION, PART 2
Season 2 Episode 13
I’m not going to pretend there are NO reasons to watch “Reunion, Part 1,” but unless you’re super interested in watching Xavier and Magneto trade barbs with Discount Tarzan or truly absorbing just how much Mr. Sinister likes to employ annoying, cringeworthy henchmen or getting a taste of Morph’s foray into local theater, it’s probably best to just skip to Part 2.
The Savage Land subplot that’s been running through the whole season finally becomes the main plot as the X-Men head to Antarctica on a rescue mission for both the Professor and Jean, who was abducted by Sinister in Part 1. Of course, the X-Men end up getting captured with their powers neutralized.
Gambit admitting his love for Rogue and kissing her as well as a front row seat to Sinister’s crazy are the real highlights of the episode. In addition, there’s plenty of action, some hetero lifemate bonding between Charlie and Erik, and of course, more characters than you can shake a stick at.
It works, though. Not as thematically strong a finale as “The Final Decision,” but still quite entertaining.
THE PHOENIX SAGA, PART 2: THE DARK SHROUD
Season 3 Episode 4
There’s no real need to watch “Part 1: Sacrifice” as it has no real function outside of setting up Part 2, throwing out some bullshit line about Jubilee always wanting to be an astronaut (what?), and giving the floor to some of Jean’s best psi-gasms in the series.
Hell, Part 2 barely makes the cut as it’s pretty much just an episode about Xavier’s dark side roaming around Manhattan and fucking with everybody. If it weren’t for the iconic “I am Phoenix” scene, the delicious shade Xavier and Banshee throw at each other upon first meeting on Muir Island, and Lilandra’s intro, I’d say skip it.
THE PHOENIX SAGA, PART 3: CRY OF THE BANSHEE
Season 3 Episode 5
Banshee! And Black Tom! And the Juggernaut, bitch! Yes, this is the episode from which most of that meme was mined, but in all seriousness, it’s pretty good.
We’re given a very interesting set piece in Cassidy Keep, a dynamic fight, the introduction of the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard, and something for pretty much everyone to do. This is episode is where “The Phoenix Saga” really gets cooking.
THE PHOENIX SAGA, PART 4: THE STARJAMMERS
Season 3 Episode 6
Oh, the subtext! Every scene between Cyclops and Corsair is such a tease in the best way. “I’d know my older boy. He had his mother’s eyes.” Well, irony, why don’t you just punch me right in the balls?
This is also when we start to really see Phoenix in all her glory, Jean grappling with her new calling as the guardian of a cosmic artifact. Slap on some Shi’Ar political intrigue between Lilandra and D’Ken and you’ve got quite an episode on your hands. Especially since our heroes essentially fail when D’Ken gets his hands on the M’Kraan Crystal and breaches it.
THE PHOENIX SAGA, PART 5: CHILD OF LIGHT
Season 3 Episode 7
There have been some emotional moments in the series up to this point, but “Child of Light” is the first time the show ever really broke my heart.
Even being a huge X-Men fan and knowing that Jean would come back (because, let’s face it, that’s kind of her thing), I found myself wiping my eyes when she flew the M’Kraan Crystal into the heart of the sun to keep it safe. Her goodbye to Scott, her thanks to all her friends for the different kinds of strength they’ve given her… I must have watched that scene a hundred times in my life, and I still get goosebumps. Xavier’s words to Scott at the end, an attempt to console the inconsolable, just bury themselves in your heart as ol’ Cyke looks out to the horizon, just beginning to grieve.
Shut up! I’m not crying. You’re crying!
Season 3 Episode 10
Revisiting Archangel is always a good move, and the series really captures his bitterness toward Apocalypse.
In the comics, Angel and Archangel are both Warren Worthington III, but they’re very different characters. Angel was a carefree trust fund playboy who looked the part of a beautiful, divine being. Archangel was a spiritually broken monster who cursed his fate on an hourly basis. And oh boy, did he HATE Apocalypse.
“Obsession” could easily have just been a grudge match, but it’s really about how Archangel’s anger and obsession is ruining him. In his undeterred drive to destroy Apocalypse, he’s only destroying himself.
We also get to see Beast bond with Ship. D’aww…
THE DARK PHOENIX, PART 1: DAZZLED
Season 3 Episode 11
So, uh… Jean’s back. This confused the fuck out of many of us during the first run of this episode, because the episode where Jean returns to Earth alive wouldn’t air until the fifth and final season. Great job, guys. But we get the picture.
Besides, this episode is fun because Dazzler! What I don’t get is why the animators felt the need for her auburn dye-job. This show isn’t exactly teeming with blondes, and when they did that probably non-canonical cameo of her back in “Mojovision,” her hair was the right color. Eh, whatever.
This episode sets the stage for Jean’s descent into madness at the hands of Mastermind while establishing that the Phoenix Force has been altered, one might say corrupted, by its time in Jean’s body. It’s smart and weird, and hey, if anyone knows where I can get a copy of that song, “Body Heat,” let me know in the comments.
THE DARK PHOENIX, PART 2: THE INNER CIRCLE
Season 3 Episode 12
Jean is seduced right into the arms of Mastermind and the Hellfire Club. Oh, I’m sorry. “The Circle Club” because REALLY, FOX KIDS? “Hellfire” was just fine in the comics. It would be the title of a song in a Disney movie a year later. Shit, Sleeping Beauty dropped that bomb in the 1959. The Circle Club? Really?
Aside from being a fascinating study in brainwashing, manipulation, and ambition, this episode bears the honor of being one of the most faithful adaptations of a comic book to date, even more so than “Captive Hearts” and “Days of Future Past, Part 2.” This episode and the two that follow recreate Uncanny X-Men #132-137 with as few alterations as possible, and it totally works. The Hellfire Club are instantly menacing, and the venom they spew at one another is so cutthroat.
I’m curious as to why the Jean as the Black Queen needed those tights while they were content to let Emma Frost, the White Queen rock out in her full Victoria’s Secret glory, but whatever.
THE DARK PHOENIX, PART 3: THE DARK PHOENIX
Season 3 Episode 13
I feel like even trying to describe this episode would diminish it, but simply put, the Dark Phoenix is loose, and she gives the X-Men a run for their money. They only survive because she’s not threatened enough by them to feel the need to destroy them. After that, she goes on a little trip, EATS A FUCKING STAR, and heads home.
Seeing Jean regress to a teenager in her childhood bedroom (anyone else notice she had a little stuffed cyclops? Awwww…) was weird and uncomfortable, as was her friend trying to figure out ways to take her down. Ultimately, she seems to be okay for the moment when the Shi’Ar show up, insisting she be executed.
THE DARK PHOENIX, PART 4: THE FATE OF PHOENIX
Season 3 Episode 14
Xavier’s relationship with an alien empress is certainly put to the test when pretty much every spacefaring race back Lilandra up in insisting on the Phoenix’s execution. Xavier jacks some Shi’Ar legal loopholes from Lilandra’s brain and demands a trail by combat. The X-Men fight the Imperial Guard on the moon to decide Jean’s fate, but in the end Jean insists that she must die, because she can’t control the Phoenix. Her plea to Scott… you can hear that desperation in her voice, and props to Catherine Disher for a job well done.
Unlike in the comics, Jean’s resurrection is immediate, accomplished by the Phoenix, now freed from the effect of Jean’s emotions, channeling a portion of each X-Man’s life force into Jean to restore her. It’s not the downer ending from the comics, but then again in the comics, there was no time after the M’Kraan Crystal situation Jean was thought to be dead. So, it appears her little time out was simply moved. And it still works.
Season 3 Episode 15
Yay! Iceman! This episode is as much about introducing X-Factor as it is about Iceman and his backstory with the X-Men, which seems more volatile than it was in the comics. It’s an interesting angle. Bobby Drake didn’t want to save the world. He wanted to get a life and live it happily with the woman he loved, who in the end just wanted to save the world. It’s not the first time this series has taken a fairly adult look at relationships, none of this will they/won’t they bullshit, just two people who care about each other and have personalities that come into conflict. Tasty! Not to mention we get a little foreshadowing that never really pays off in Cyclops and Havok’s imperviousness to each other’s powers, because they’re brothers.
Also, fans of the DiC dub of Sailor Moon are in for a special treat if they listen closely. Denis Akiyama, who voices Bobby Drake/Iceman here is the voice of Malachite, and Terri Hawkes, who voices Lorna Dane/Polaris, was none other than Sailor Moon herself!
Season 3 Episode 18
I love me some Nightcrawler, so I was ready and willing to accept every weird curve ball this episode threw at me. Like… why are only three X-Men on vacation, and why is Wolverine along with Rogue and Gambit? Explain to me how that happens?
This episode was famously controversial for its direct address of religion, specifically Christianity, and for having the nerve to air the morning of my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, forcing me to wait SEVERAL HOURS to see it.
It’s a good, solid ep, even with all the ridiculous shit thrown in like Wolverine going to church and reading out of the Bible. I know what they were going for, and I could see why Wolverine would be a tempting character to try it with, but I just didn’t buy it. Now if it had been Rogue or Gambit, that I’d have bought.
ONE MAN’S WORTH, PART 1
Season 4 Episode 1
We were teased with an adaptation of The Age of Apocalypse, but there’s no real way to do it justice in a simple two-parter. What this episode really ends up being is a companion piece to “Days of Future Past” (thematically) and “Time Fugitives” (structurally).
As with all time travel episodes, Bishop features front and center, and he’s actually a lot easier to take here. This might be because he has his sister, Shard, around to take the edge off. Bishop, Shard, and an alternate Wolverine and Storm in her Grace Jones-inspired punk look, travel all the way back to 1959 to save a young Xavier from an assassination attempt on the part of Master Mold’s forces.
Age of Apocalypse was about showing the widespread and profound effect of Xavier’s absence from history. This episode gives us very little of that and is focuses instead on the solution, but it’s still a fun watch. Wolverine and Storm’s bizarro romance kind of makes sense in context and becomes the emotional throughline of both parts. Having these characters deal with literal racism, a marvelous opportunity given the time period and the fact that three of our band of time travelers are Black, was refreshing in a series that mainly trades in allegory. In Storm’s words, it’s so pathetic it’s almost quaint.
ONE MAN’S WORTH, PART 2
Season 4 Episode 2
To be honest, I’m not sure why this was really a two-parter, as part two is a whole lot of wheel-spinning. Nothing really new happens. Fitzroy turns out to be a rather ineffectual villain whose defeat is so easily accomplished it makes one wonder what the conflict actually was.
My best guess is this: there are two moments in this episode that make it worth it: Forge and Shard’s sacrifice and the tearful goodbye of a desperately in love alt-Storm and alt-Wolverine. The first draft of this script was probably too long for one episode, but couldn’t stand to lose any of that stuff, so they foiled the rescue attempt, took the last few scenes, and padded it out to a full episode in order to make a two-parter.
Do I mind? Not really. It makes for the rare occasion where a Part 2 is inferior to a Part 1, but whatever.
I do wish Age of Apocalypse had gotten the proper treatment. You could work an entire season or at least a Phoenix Saga-length multi-parter out of it. But that’s okay. Like I said, the “what could have been” factor of the alt-Wolverine/alt-Storm romance is pretty trippy, and I believed it just enough that I found the erasure of that love from existence a true sacrifice.
SANCTUARY, PART 1
Season 4 Episode 6
Easily the most baldly political episode of the series, we find Magneto finally throwing in the towel on his goal of mutant domination of the Earth, opting instead to just create a refuge for his people, a homeland of their own on Asteroid M, a sanctuary of his own creation set in orbit around the Earth. Naturally, this raises some suspicion on the part of the government, so Xavier and a few X-Men head up to Asteroid M (conflated here with Avalon, the ’90s counterpart on which it is based) to see what it’s all about, and it turns out Magneto… is completely sincere about this relatively peaceful solution. It seems Charles has rubbed off on him a little in that he’s no longer seeking a war with humanity. He just wants to be left alone.
Of course, his newest kiss-ass, Fabian Cortez, is still craving some of the old militant Magneto and is disappointed when his idol tells him to chill the fuck out, which leads to some Grade A betrayal.
SANCTUARY, PART 2
Season 4 Episode 7
Under Cortez’s new doucheocracy, Asteroid M’s defensive missiles are a nuclear holocaust waiting to happen, so the X-Men – a surprisingly small number of them; where is everyone else? – head back up into space to deal with it. Magneto, thought dead, manages to pull himself together once the Earth’s electromagnetic field heals him, and he takes it upon himself to kill his own dying dream of a mutant homeland.
There’s also a nice subplot running through both these episodes of yet another one of Xavier’s ex-girlfriends, Amelia Voght, a story that was toned down and made considerably less rapey for the series. It’s interesting, though, to see a pattern in Xavier’s past of forsaking his own personal life for the sake of his dream and his students. Besides, we all know he loves Magneto the most.
Oh, and as if that weren’t enough, the button on the end of this episode shows us that Apocalypse is still around and up to no good.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, PART 1: THE END OF TIME
Season 4 Episode 8
In the distant future, Apocalypse has an existential crisis, wondering if he’s doomed to fight mutantkind but never win for all time. So he ditches linear time and makes for the Axis of Time. Meanwhile, on his way home from 1959 in “One Man’s Worth,” Bishop gets thrown off course and ends up at the Axis of Time, dealing with Bender, a profoundly annoying Robin Williams/Jim Carrey pastiche of manic “humor.” Also, Scott and Jean try to get married again, and Mr. Sinister manages to fuck it up AGAIN, this time directly by having the Nasty Boys attack and kidnap Jean. That’s… that’s a lot.
Okay, breakdown? I give Bishop a lot of flack, most of it deserved, but I can’t help but admire how well his arc for the series is written. Every time we revisit him, we pick up more or less where we left off, and we get to see how his journeys through time alter the timeline, leading ultimately to this episode where I find myself totally on Bishop’s side in dealing with Bender. I just want him to clobber that wacky little fuck. Shoot him, Bishop. Shoot him with my blessing.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, PART 2: THE PROMISE OF APOCALYPSE
Season 4 Episode 9
With the X-Men, Apocalypse, Cable, Bishop, and Mr. Sinister & the Nasty Boys already in play, this episode brings Magneto, Sabretooth, Mystique, Archangel, Psylocke, Shard, and the freakin’ Shi’Ar Empire into the mix just to make sure we’ve got all our bases covered.
The plot to capture the most potent psychics in existence continues. Meanwhile, in the future, Cable and Tyler seek to prevent all of this by commandeering the last working time travel device from the government and travelling back far enough to destroy Apocalypse’s Lazarus Chamber at its point of origin. First they’ve just got to get to it.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, PART 3: LAZARUS CHAMBER
Season 4 Episode 10
Cable hijacks Graymalkin (which totally looks like a giant Metroid, am I right?) to travel back in time, but Apocalypse knocks him off course somehow. It seems to backfire as it sends Cable right onto the X-Mansion’s front lawn in the present day. Cable finds that his interests and the X-Men’s align, and after Wolverine beats some information out of Sabretooth, a plan is formed and put into motion. The team heads to Egypt to bust into the Lazarus Chamber, but they’re met my Apocalypse’s new Four Horsemen. Great designs on those guys. What appeared to be a rash action backfiring in Apocalypse’s face turns out to be part of his plan all along, as it led Xavier right to him.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, PART 4: END AND BEGINNING
Season 4 Episode 11
Everything comes to a head as it’s Apocalypse versus… pretty much everyone. Alliances are forged in the heat of battle that take the characters by as much surprise as the audience. Wolverine and Magneto saving each other’s asses? What?
Also, Bishop earns my respect when he blasts Apocalypse out of frame just to shut him up. This was originally intended to be the series finale, but I’m kind of glad it wasn’t. For one, X-Men stories should not end on a scene with Cable, and two, it’s not the most emotionally resonant victory and doesn’t really tap into any of the series’ major themes or character arcs. That doesn’t make it any less fun, though.
It’s a great episode to watch. If nothing else, for Apocalypse’s little sashay down the aisle of telepaths.
Season 4 Episode 17
We finally get the blanks in Magneto’s backstory filled in. He already had our sympathy for losing his family, but actually learning the details… it’s just horrifying. No wonder he went off the deep end.
This episode also reveals the Link between the master of magnetism and the twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (yay! Scarlet Witch!). To put it simply… who’s your daddy? That’s right, Mags learns that he has not one but two kids, and they don’t like him very much. And there’s also some blah plot about the High Evolutionary. Whatever. Magneto and his children are the heart of this episode, and they’re what make it worth watching.
NO MUTANT IS AN ISLAND
Season 5 Episode 4
This episode actually takes place directly after The Phoenix Saga, but for some production reasons got pushed back to Season 5. It’s a shame really, because it actually gives Scott some space to grieve for Jean and explore his backstory when he goes back to the orphanage he grew up in. The Mr. Sinister connection is curiously glossed over, and instead we’re treated to a one-time appearance by someone Jessica Jones fans will know very well, the Purple Man himself, Kilgrave.
While this episode does kind of stick out like a sore thumb, it is nice to see a character really going through the complicated feelings that surround loss, and consider how little really good material Cyclops gets because Wolverine is such a fucking diva, this was a really nice opportunity to give him the spotlight and really get to know him better. It’s too bad it came so late in the run that practically nobody saw it.
Season 5 Episode 6
Nightcrawler discovers what we already knew, that Mystique is his mother, which makes Rogue his foster sister.
But wait! There’s more! In her extensive career as a spy, assassin, and terrorist, Mystique managed to take a tumble with Sabretooth at some point (I would love to know more about the circumstances surrounding that little tryst), which also makes the mother of… wait for it… Graydon Creed, the former leader of the Friends of Humanity, who’s setting all this up to get back into their good graces now that movement has outgrown him. And, you know, he did sort of abandon his position to spend some time in a mental hospital.
As one can imagine, there’s more than enough venom to go around between all parties involved, and tensions run high. Family drama, am I right?
All that would be good enough, but what really elevates this episode is the moment where Mystique within the span of a few sentences, goes from telling Nightcrawler that she’s a terrible person for abandoning him to grudgingly revealing that she regrets it and is haunted by what she did, and yet doesn’t believe she deserves to be forgiven. Easily one of my favorite episodes of the series.
Season 5 Episode 13
We’re taking a break from your regularly scheduled mutant adventures to explore the origins of Mr. Sinister in Victorian England, where he was simply Nathaniel Essex, and how his encounters with an ancestor of Charles Xavier played a part in the man he became.
Why this episode is coming here, rather than the season that was all about Sinister is beyond me, but the fact that the writers went balls out and decided to do a completely isolated period piece is kinda admirable. Even if we’ve passed the threshold beyond which the animation for the show went sharply downhill. This episode isn’t particularly well written nor animated, but the sheer novelty factor of it, the spectacle, makes it worth a watch.
Season 5 Episode 14
There’s a hint of 1992’s X-Cutioner’s Song here with an assault on Xavier (here an attack that proved life-threatening, rather than a deliberate assassination attempt), but a briefly features Sunfire makes a valid point. Xavier was about was privileged as a mutant can get. He was famous, rich, and could easily pass for human, and he was still attacked out in the open on a live, global broadcast. It give Magneto the perfect excuse to finally start his war on humans. In honor of Xavier, the X-Men set out to stop Magneto, but discover he may hold the key to saving Xavier’s life.
What’s truly amazing about this episode is how the writers managed to bring so many characters back for the finale, and making every appearance seem completely natural. Someone needs to impersonate Xavier to give a message to the media? Morph steps in. We need the foremost expert on mutant biology to help Xavier? Call Moira on Muir Island. When human medicine fails, and we need something more advanced? Lilandra and the medical technology of the Shi’Ar Empire. Can’t contact her without boost to Jean’s telepathic powers? Magneto can help with that. Magneto, who nearly flies into a rage when Jean asks how much he loves Charles Xavier. “He was my only equal. I owe him my life!”
It would have been enough for Charles to get closure with each of his X-Men, but acknowledging his lifelong bond with Magneto, completing the arc Morph began in the very first episode, honoring the two most important women in his life, Moira and Lilandra… it was so much more than anyone asked for, and it was brilliant. This was one hell of an episode and one hell of a finale. The only thing it lacked was another half-hour and a better animation budget. This is the perfect way to end an X-Men rewatch.