Monday, September 15, 2014

X-MEN Episode Seventy-Five - September 13, 1997

Written by Steven Melching & David McDermott

Summary:  In 1888 London, Dr. James Xavier investigates Jack the Ripper’s ties to his former contemporary, Dr. Nathaniel Essex.  Xavier explains to the authorities the story of Essex, who grew obsessed with the works of Charles Darwin in 1859.  Believing that the study of mutation could lead to a cure for his sick wife Rebecca, Essex began experimenting on mutants.  Xavier exposed Essex and defended the mutants from a mob, instead pointing their attention to the true monster, Essex.  Essex disappeared, but Xavier believes his trail leads to London.  In secret, Jack the Ripper gives Essex a sample of genetic material.  Essex escapes capture once again, using the abilities he’s gained from mutant research.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This episode has a few similarities with the Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries, although the writers say that only the first issue of the series was completed when they penned the script.  
  • Not only does Xavier’s ancestor have a role in the story, but there’s also an appearance by a Lord Grey, who is presumably a relative of Jean Grey.  Lord Grey heads the Grey Hall of Science and is the father-in-law of Nathaniel Essex.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Jack the Ripper is not referred to by name; only “Jack.”

Review:  “Descent” is the only episode of the series not to feature the X-Men, with only Xavier making a brief cameo in the final seconds.  That’s pretty daring by the standards of Saturday Morning TV, and it’s safe to say it’s the last experiment with the form the series is going to be bringing us in its final days.  Once again, the impact of the story is muted by the new look of the show.  So far, only one episode (“The Fifth Horseman”) has used the new designs effectively and managed to pass as a Philippines Animation Studio job.  The animation this episode is as clunky as anything AKOM ever produced, with the added burden of unattractive cartoony faces and bland backgrounds that don’t match the story’s content at all.  I realize that the animation quality in earlier seasons was often nothing to brag about, but at least the “dark” episodes truly looked dark.  The “Days of Future Past” and “Till Death Do Us Part” two-parters did have mood if nothing else, an element this episode desperately needs.

If you’re able to overlook the poor design choices, the script is another solid effort by Melching & McDermott.  Admittedly, the plot is based on a premise that usually annoys me in flashback stories, the massive coincidence that has an existing character’s ancestor behave in the exact same manner as his modern day relative, and the fluke that all of these characters will have ancestors with connections today, but the execution manages to get away with it.  Dr. James Xavier is a sympathetic figure throughout the episode and allowed enough personality to be more than just a stand-in for “our” Xavier.  Essex is about as creepy as a villain can get on Saturday Morning, and the decision to work Jack the Ripper into the story is a pretty shocking choice given the target audience.  I don’t know if the kids watching at this time picked up on all of the nuances, but I’d like to think that at the very least they appreciated getting an origin for Mr. Sinister.  They received answers much sooner than fans of the comic did, certainly.  Had this episode aired earlier in the show’s run, and been given the appropriate visuals to match the content, I think it would’ve been considered a true highlight of the series.

Credit to for the screencaps.

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