It’s been really fun thus far revisiting the 1990s X-Men animated series, and a lot of that has to do with having such strong memories of the first four episodes, in a heavy rotation in my home thanks to Pizza Hut VHS tapes. Thery remain some of my favorite episodes ever. The rest of the first season I have pretty decent memories of, but for some reason I only remembered glimpses of “Captive Hearts,” episode five. I knew the Morlocks were in it, and maybe that’s why it didn’t stick with me; the Morlocks had never been characters I cared about.
So going in to this viewing, it was almost like a clean slate for me. It’s pretty clear now why I didn’t remember it very well.
There are moments in “Captive Hearts” that are good, but they come in the middle of action that does nothing narratively. While the first four episodes felt like they took their time in establishing things, even if they had to rush through the actual actions due to the 22-minute constraint, this episode felt crowded and yet painfully empty. As I said above, I never really cared for the Morlocks, and Callisto is maybe one of the weakest villains in the whole of the series.
But before I slag it off too badly, there are some things that I enjoyed about it. First and foremost, it’s the series continual pushing of gender roles. At the beginning of the episode, five X-Men are in the Danger Room and only one of them, Gambit, is a dude. All four of the team’s female members are there and at no point does Gambit “dominate” or anything like that. If anything, he comes across as pretty rough around the edges. The purpose of the exercise was to see if Storm is ready to take command should the need arise. She has to contend with her debilitating claustrophobia, which just so happens to play a big part in the later part of the episode.
By this same token, the traditional roles are flipped again later. Cyclops and Jean are kidnapped by the Morlocks because Callisto wants to take Cyclops as her mate. Leech, a Morlock who can drain powers, takes away Cyclops’ optic energy and Jean is used as a bargaining chip to get him to change his mind. However, no sooner does she get brought out in chains and blindfolded does she break free and start kicking ass. Jean completely sat out the previous two episodes and she didn’t do a whole lot in the first two, so this episode was integral in establishing that she’s not Xavier’s protege; she’s got tons of powers of her own.
Those might be the only bits I really like. The other major thrust of the episode is that Wolverine’s in love with Jean but she’s in love with Scott. When they’re captured, Wolvie goes to save them and constantly says things to Jean that make me go “Uhh, dude, that’s not your girlfriend.” You remember in Attack of the Clones when Anakin says all that creepy stuff to Padme and she tells him to stop looking at her that way because it makes her uncomfortable? I kept expecting Jean to say that to Wolverine. You’re better than that, Wolverine.
The bulk of the rest of the episode is just fight scenes between the X-Men and the Morlocks. I know they’re supposed to represent the mutantkind who can’t “pass” in everyday society, and that’s an important beat to strike, but it never made sense to me why Callisto would decree that she needed a mate and that it had to be Cyclops, nor are any of the Morlocks all that compelling other than this is the first time we get to see the X-Men take on a different team. We only learn the names of two Morlocks and their powers are pretty gross.
Ultimately, Storm has to duel with Callisto using quarterstaffs. She wins and takes control of the Morlocks, but then lets Callisto keep ruling in her place because who wants to hang out in the sewer. That beat was handled so slapdash I almost didn’t realize it was the end of the episode. Surely something else must be going– nope, this is it.
But it did lead to the cliffhanger of Wolverine leaving the mansion, humiliated because of his love for the red-headed one. Next week I’ll get to watch and talk about “Cold Vengeance,” which leads the Canucklehead back up north to tussle again with his least favorite mutant ever, Sabretooth. So that’ll be better than this week, right?
Images: Saban Entertainment/Genesis Entertainment
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!