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X-Men: TAS, Episode 1: Night of the Sentinels, Part I

Let’s start with a note on format: I’m taking screenshots from the official Marvel DVDs of this series. While I was glad to support the show by buying the official release, these DVDs don’t have much going for them beyond that. The special features are virtually nil. I have all of SheRa: Princess of Power on DVD, and those sets have tons of extras, including episode commentaries, featurettes, and even the entire series bible; my X-Men discs are just kind of sad in comparison. I don’t know what necessitated putting out such a bare-bones release here (maybe some legal restrictions?), but I hope someday, we get something better.

I’m impressed with how this episode has aged overall. The visuals are often too dark and muddy (a problem that plagues much of the show), and the backgrounds are often very perfunctory, even by the standards of the time; the only area where care seems to have been taken with the bg art was Xavier’s mansion. Still, this episode has to introduce 10 different characters, plus the entire world of the X-Men, and does it pretty darn well, all told. It’s also patently ridiculous at times, but the ways in which it’s ridiculous function better as satire than I’m entirely comfortable with.

Anyway, enough preamble, time for Night of the Sentinels!

We open with a news report about mutant violence and hysteria, which seemed overblown to me at the time. As a child, while I was aware of racism and bigotry, I thought of those as being largely problems of the past; understanding and acceptance of different types of people had improved within my lifetime, and I had every reason to believe that this was something that would only continue to improve as I got older. I thought that if super-powered mutants ever existed in real life, the response to them would be much calmer than this show portrays, because people have to be smarter than this. On some level, I think I’ve always been a little mad at the world for disappointing me about that, ever since.

“I’m telling ya Lorraine, we shoulda known something was up with that kid when she kept wearing that raincoat even when it wasn’t raining. Now she’s blowing up VCRs, and we can’t tape General Hospital? That was the last straw!”

Jubilee’s foster parents are agonizing over what to do about their mutant foster child, and it’s surprisingly hard-edged. Her mother even asks if the father regrets taking Jubilee in, and whoah…isn’t that the kind of thing you’re never, ever supposed to say as an adoptive parent? Granted, she didn’t know Jubilee was listening, but still, introducing the idea “maybe your adoptive parents don’t actually want you,” seems like a pretty dark place to go right out of the gate. This show is really dark for a kids cartoon, notorious for it actually, but I’m still surprised sometimes at the ways in which it’s dark.

Jubilee whines that she used to be a normal kid, and I wonder if she ever was, really. She was a gamer girl in 1992, and weren’t all girl gamers at that time vilified and harassed constantly? I read it on the internet, it must be true!

Five feet tall, I can believe, but 90 lbs.? Yeah, and I’m Scarlett Johansson, pfft. Someone lied on their Mutant Control Agency paperwork.

We get our first look at the mutant-hunting Sentinels, and by God, are they ridiculous looking. They were terrifying when they were first introduced in Days of Future Past, but that was in the context of the whole world becoming an unbelievably horrific place; seeing a bright red-and-purple giant robot strolling down a suburban street just looks ridiculous. Also ridiculous is the amount of collateral damage Sentinels are authorized to allow while capturing mutants; apparently it’s totally fine to destroy houses while in pursuit of target mutants. Part of me wants to laugh at this, and part of me realizes it’s actually not funny; you mean, ideological zealots don’t care who they hurt or what they destroy in the process of rounding up “dangerous” people? HAHAHAHAH what a huge exaggeration that has no relevance at all to current societal problems!

One tiny little dog does not approve of the giant robot in his neighborhood and hassles the Sentinel; remember this dog, he’ll be important later.

Jubilee takes out her frustrations on some space aliens at an arcade in the mall, and someday, when I watch this show with my daughter, I will probably have to explain what an arcade was. Jubes breaks the machine with her mutant powers, and tries to blow it off by being too cool for school, but naturally it doesn’t work. The arcade owner really should just chill; once the Sony Playstation comes out in a few years, electric-type mutants with poor impulse control are going to be the least of his problems.

“Dude, it was a Robocop cabinet, I did you a favor here.”

Jubilee runs out of the arcade and collides with Rogue and Storm, who were clearly on a shopping spree. In fact, considering the fact that they have about ten packages, I wonder how much of an allowance Xavier gives them for “personal expenses?” Meanwhile, Gambit is introduced flirting with the cashier at a stationary store; this wouldn’t be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that it’s so clear they’re both thinking about knocking boots that it’s actually kind of disturbing. Like, I have seen hentai less sexually charged than this scene between Gambit and this nameless cashier lady.

Sentinel bursts into the mall, causing havok, and captures Jubilee. Rogue and Storm take exception to this, and Storm changes in a flash of lightning from her normal clothes into her X-Men uniform. It bugs me a little bit whenever Storm does this, because it looks too much like magic, and mutant powers are not supposed to be magic. Technically she could be using lightning to incinerate her outside clothes to reveal her uniform underneath, but eh, I still don’t like it. Rogue’s initial response to all the mall shoppers running and screaming for their lives is “Must be sale,” said in a very deadpan way; this is why the entire world loves Rogue.

“Ah keep tellin’ ya Sugah, if you didn’t keep frying your clothes like that, we wouldn’t need to go to the mall once a damn week!”

“As if you don’t LOVE IT.”

“Ah do.”

Rogue and Storm retrieve Jubilee from the Sentinel, which involves Rogue decking it with an escalator, than flying up and punching the snot out of it. Jubilee is amazed that other people have powers more useful than breaking¬† VCRs, and seems to be somewhat in awe. Rogue eventually sends the Sentinel flying into the card shop where Gambit is busy flirting, nearly nailing him. I’m 90% sure she didn’t mean to do that, but I guess we’ll never know.

The Sentinel blasts Rogue and Storm out of commission for a little while, leaving Jubilee to run into Gambit. He actually catches her in his arms, making this the best thing to happen to Jubilee all day. Granted, her day so far has involved being betrayed by her foster parents, getting yelled at, and getting attacked repeatedly by a giant robot, so it’s kind of a low bar to clear, but still; Gambit has her in a princess carry. You cannot put a dollar price on that.

Suddenly this trip to the mall was not such a bad idea. Now, onward, to Dippin’ Dots!

Unfortunately, the version of this story where Gambit and Jubes have a romantic date at the mall will have to be continued in my fanfiction, because the Sentinel catches up and proceeds to blast the shit out of Gambit. When the Sentinel looks like it’s about to finish Gambit off, Jubilee belts the sentinel with her fireworks power. I like the fact that Jubilee’s first proper use of her powers is done to protect Gambit; that’s my girl.

Dear Sentinel 9872, this scan has revealed insufficient information. Please do a more thorough scan, and send all of your findings to my phone Mutant Control Agency Headquarters.

Jubilee bolts outside and runs into Cyclops, who easily takes out the Sentinel by using his optic blast to sever the Sentinel’s head from its body. Now forget you ever saw him do that, because if you remember, you’re going to spend all of Night of the Sentinels Part II wondering why he doesn’t just do that a few more times, and many Sentinel-related problems could be avoided. Jubilee succumbs to some knock-out gas the Sentinel emitted before its unfortunate decapitation, and blacks out. Scene shift to the Mansion, yaaay. The backgrounds in the mall were just too depressing.

Jubilee wakes up and destroys the lock on her door, since that’s what you do when people rescue you from a rampaging giant robot; break their stuff. She begins sneaking through the mansion, only to run into Beast, doing some kind of experiment. Beast muses aloud that it would be really fascinating if his experiment were to suddenly explode, so Jubilee wisely books it out of there. She then gets a view of Morph, the male character created for this show with Mystique’s shape-shifting power. Hmmph. I feel like I should have a lot to say about Morph, but I’m not sure what that is yet. Maybe I’ll wait until next episode…oh, wait, never mind.

Beast’s Log: –Still no progress creating an anti-dandruff shampoo that doesn’t dry out the scalp. Shampoo +Conditioner hybrid is still years of testing away.

Professor X and Jean appear, with the professor upset that the existence of the X-Men is going to be revealed to the world “like this.” Err, what were you expecting exactly, Charles? Did you expect to send out a press release that said “Today I’m proud to introduce my private militia, the X-Men,” and get favorable media coverage? It was always going to go down like this. Jean realizes that something is amiss, and the Professor puts out an alert that “an intruder” is afoot. Kind of rude to call Jubilee an intruder when she’s a guest, but I understand that it’s important to find her before she hurts herself.

“I always thought the public launch of the X-Men would be a joyous occasion. I had even hoped for…cake.”

“I can bake you a cake, Professor.”

“It’s not the same, Jean.”

In her zeal to get away, Jubilee accidentally crashes a Danger Room session meant for Gambit and Wolverine, which is definitely not something you want to be in the middle of without superhuman agility. Gambit tries to get her to safety, but he has Wolverine to deal with, who’s still oblivious to Jubes’ presence. Interesting choice to introduce Wolvie over halfway through the episode, by the way; you would think they would have put him front and center. Since Jubilee doesn’t know yet that the Danger Room is for training, and Wolverine is only pretending to beat up Gambit, she blasts Wolverine with her fireworks, sending him flying. Apparently, whenever Jubilee is protecting Gambit, her mutant powers increase by about 50%; that’s a girl with her priorities straight.

“Hah hah Wolverine, you just got beat up by a 90 pound girl!”

“You really believe she’s only 90 pounds, Bub? And I thought I was the one who just hit my head.”

Storm takes Jubilee outside for a heart-to-heart about who the X-Men are. Jubes is less than enthused about being taken to Xavier’s School for the Gifted, pointing out that “gifted” is a euphemism. That’s a really politically loaded comment that I’m afraid to touch, and I don’t mind admitting it. Storm tries to console Jubilee about her situation, but Jubes gets her bitch mode on for some reason and points out that the people at the mansion seem a little old for school, like they might have been left back because they failed. Wow! Is that how you treat someone who just rescued you, kiddo? I like you, but you pick all the wrong times to get vicious.

Storm then does a gratuitous display of her powers, allegedly to show Jubilee the importance of learning to control your abilities, but mostly to get back at Jubes for being a snotty little brat; no one would hold it against her.

“How big an allowance does Professor Xavier give you if you join the X-Men?”

“It’s $200 a week. In 1992 dollars.”

“WHERE DO I SIGN?”

Inside, everyone gathers in the war room, planning their next move. Wolverine asks if anyone’s called Jubes’ parents, and it’s important that he’s the one to ask that; when he finds out that they haven’t heard back from her family, he effectively becomes her parent, right then and there. All you need to do to get on Wolvie’s good side forever is blast him in the spleen with some explosive energy, he respects that sort of thing. Professor Xavier has somehow hacked information out of the disembodied Sentinel head (don’t ask), and found out that the Sentinel had Jubes’ information because it had access to her profile from the Mutant Control Agency.

The gang then discusses what the MCA is, and I feel like I need to quote this:

Cyclops: Professor Xavier, could the government be plotting against mutants?”

Xavier: No; the Mutant Control Agency is a private organization with occasional support from the government.

….

…Wow, what a critically important distinction, Professor. I’m sure Cyclops feels so much better now. Of course, it’s a little rich that anyone’s surprised that an organization called “The Mutant Control Agency” has an interest in controlling mutants, but that’s one of those things we just have to shrug off. It would make a lot more sense if it were called The Mutant Outreach Program or something, but we gotta make some allowances for this being a kids cartoon.

While the X-Men are all busy discussing the MCA and its “hidden” agenda, Jubilee hops a bus to go see her foster parents. Great security there, X-Men, but I guess hacking that giant Sentinel head was pretty distracting. Gyrich from the MCA is asking Jubes’ parents about her friends, curious if the X-Men are among them, but they claim not to know about Jubes friends because she’s only been with them “a year.”

Your kid has lived with you for an entire year, and you still don’t know who any of her friends are? What the hell is wrong with you people? I know I’m supposed to have some sympathy for these folks, being caught in a dangerous situation they were totally unprepared for, but damn, are they making it hard to care about them. Jubilee then promptly gets captured by the Sentinels, because without Gambit there to motivate her, her powers are still weaksauce.

Back at the mansion, Professor X comes up with a plan to sneak into the Mutant Control Agency and destroy their files, so that hundreds of mutants will get their anonymity back and hopefully be safe from the Sentinels. Gambit suggests doing it himself, and hey, that’s a great idea! And no, I’m not just saying that because I obviously want to marry him like his character. Gambit is a professional thief; getting in and out of places without being seen is his specialty. Even if the Sentinels were to show up, he’d pull some ruse to distract them and then get away, the other thing he’s really good at.

But no, Professor Xavier decides that for a stealth breaking-and-entry mission, he does not want the free services of the best thief in the known world, but instead wants a team of Beast, Wolverine, Morph, and Storm; Storm, the woman who cannot go five feet without announcing her presence. You know, Cyclops is going to get hammered later for how this mission goes south, but really, this was all the Professor’s fault from the very beginning; he put lives in danger the minute he refused to send in the best qualified person.

I think the implication is supposed to be that Xavier doesn’t full trust Gambit yet, whereas he does trust the others, but still; stupid, stupid decision.

Cyclops confronts the professor about his concerns about the mission, namely that attacking a civilian organization is not the way to teach people that mutants are not to be feared. It’s really interesting that we’re already getting this schism between Cyclops in the Professor this early on, although it’s never fuly developed here the way it is in the comics. The Professor really has no response to Cyclops, so he cops out with “we have no choice,” and leaves it at that. I kind of feel like all of Professor X’s terrible decisions in the entire series were front-loaded into this one episode, because I don’t think I’d remember him as fondly if he were normally like this.

“Look, all I’m saying is, if you want people to learn to like us and even trust us, this is not the way. This is not how we win hearts and minds.”

“That’s an excellent point, Scott. My well-reasoned counterpoint to that is that I am the boss of you, and you will do what I say.”

The crew finally catches on to the fact that Jubilee is missing, and Wolverine decides to go after her, despite the fact that he’s just been assigned the MCA mission. Cyclops and Wolverine have power struggle/testosterone spewing competition, then Wolvie storms off; if you make taking a shot every time this happens part of your X-Men:TAS drinking game, you’ll probably have a very good time, but that’ll be the end of your liver.

Mission time! For some reason, everybody’s tagging along on this mission (except Jean and Prof. X) even though only Wolverine, Storm, Beast and Morph are supposed to go inside. En route to the MCA complex, the group has an interesting discussion about what makes mutants the way they are. One of Beast’s suggestions is “television!” which is delightfully meta; see, it’s a good thing this program that you’re watching is teaching you how to deal with being a mutant, because it might be turning you into one. Discussions like this, by the way, are what put this show a cut above typical action cartoon fare, at least in my mind.

Wolverine catches up with the rest of the team, having lost Jubilee’s trail. He sheepishly says that he “got bit by a dog, too,” and AHA! Remember that little dog from the beginning of the episode, the one who was hassling the Sentinel like “stay way from my house, dude!” That dog bit Wolverine, apex predator; canine has balls of steel. Great guard dog, 14/10.

You know who has really good night vision and wouldn’t need to use binoculars to scope the joint out? GAMBIT.

Storm whips up some clouds to lower visibility (I guess she has her uses), and the guys head into the complex. There’s an interesting little bit where Morph gets thrown over the fence, then uses his shapeshifting power to impersonate a guard and take him out. What’s neat is when Morph copies the guard’s appearance, he also copies the weapon the guard is using, then uses said weapon to shoot the guard. Then when he shifts back, the weapon disappears.

This is interesting to comics geeks because this isn’t how Mystique’s shape-shifting works; she can copy anything, but it’s cosmetic when it comes to devices that people may be carrying. If Morph can make his copied objects functional, that actually makes his powerset more like a cross between Multiple Man and Mystique, but he’s going to die in about ten minutes, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Storm electrocutes a guard (nice job being gentle on the puny humans there, team), and Wolverine uses his claws to destroy the door inside. Beast already lifted the key from one of the guards, meaning there was no need to destroy the door, but look; Wolverine needs an excuse to use his claws on something. It’s actually a bit of a problem for this show that Wolverine is constantly brandishing his claws but can’t do much with them, because if he used them on a person, things would very rapidly get too bloody for the Y-7 rating.

“I can’t decide which one I love more; nineteenth-century poetry, or assault and battery.”

“No one’s asking you to decide, Bub.”

The inside team encounters a laser trap. Beast quotes nineteenth-century poet Coventry Patmore, of all people, then uses his agility to disarm the trap. I’m curious what went on behind-the-scenes here; who on the staff was a big enough fan of Coventry Patmore to include his poetry in an episode of X-Men, but was still okay with Beast’s dismissive quip “A minor poet for a minor obstacle,”? Maybe someone had to read Patmore in college and this was their revenge? In any case, it’s delightfully incongruous with the rest of the episode, like about 50% of everything Beast does.

Outside, Cyclops is worrying how the inside team is doing, wishing he had some way of keeping tabs on what they were doing. Gee, if only there were someone on the team who had the power to keep everyone in constant telepathic contact, that would be mighty convenient. Come to think of it, aren’t there two people with telepathic abilities, both of whom stayed home for no apparent reason? At some point, you have to wonder if Professor X is trying to sabotage this mission.

Morph says “It looks like clear sailing from here,” so of course a bunch of gun-toting guards are just waiting to ambush the X-Men. This is why I’m not too broken up about Morph’s imminent death, by the way; who but a moron tempts fate like that? Plus, he teased Gambit not once but twice during this episode, and that’s not acceptable.

Storm opens the door, enemies await on the other side, and we’re done with this episode! Next time, we’ll see the conclusion of this storyline, and commiserate a little more about how everything bad that has ever happened is actually Professor Xavier’s fault.