Last week, during “Cold Vengeance,” I couldn’t shut up about how much I loved seeing set-up for the following week’s plot as the B story for that episode. I thought it was actually pretty rare for a kids’ TV action cartoon to worry that much about foreshadowing and set-up. But X-Men was no ordinary show, and episode seven, “Slave Island,” proved this: the direct mid-point of the season, the episode brought back older elements, heightened tensions, furthered season-long arcs, and even set up what is arguably the season’s most ambitious storyline that wouldn’t pay off for weeks. I loved it at the time, but now I think I’m actually in love with the ’90s X-Men cartoon.
At the end of “Cold Vengeance,” we found out that Genosha wasn’t the peaceful mutant sanctuary nestled on a tropical island resort that many thought it was. Gambit, Storm, and Jubilee have been captured by the Sentinels. In this episode, it’s revealed that Genosha is where Gyrich and Trask moved their Sentinel program after the president shut them down in “Night of the Sentinels.” They’re on the island in an agreement with a mysterious despot named “The Leader,” who looks like Paul Revere or one of the Founding Fathers. He’s using the enslaved email as labor to build the hydrodam that will ultimately power the Sentinels. See? It’s ingenious…and evil.
What I loved about the episode is that it put Storm, easily the strongest and most powerful of the three trapped X-Men, in a vulnerable position from the beginning. After attempting to escape, not realizing the collars around their necks that inhibit their mutant powers had more than one control switch, she’s put into a tiny, sweltering box as punishment, exacerbating her claustrophobia. This leaves Jubilee and Gambit to try to escape. But Jubilee learns how duplicitous Gambit can be when she tries to spark a rebellion and he goes behind her back and tells the guards. However, this was only to get closer to Gyrich and he does eventually reveal his plan to do good. Still, his ability to lie so easily is used later on for the “Days of Future Past” two-parter.
“Slave Island” also introduced one of the most mysterious characters in the ’90s X-Men books and cartoon: Cable. Cable is said to be a former follower of the Leader, but when he found out about the Leader’s anti-mutant, anti-poor ways, he turned coat and became a terrorist freedom fighter on Genosha. He runs across Gambit while being transferred and inadvertently helps the Cajun free himself and get back to rescue his friends. Cable will be back later in the season and get more fleshed-out, but this is a pretty damn cool first appearance.
In bringing back Gyrich, Trask, and the Sentinels, we further the show’s first plotline, and it gets extra heightened with the first appearance of Master Mold, the giant motherbrain Sentinel that gives birth to the smaller (yet still enormous) Sentinels. Sure it makes no sense at all for Master Mold to be a sentient robot as well, but it’s a striking image. Plus, the even-deeper voice of Master Mold is the stuff horror nightmares are made of. They’re going to be the main baddies for the whole season, so having them return—and be teamed with the Leader and Cameron Hodge—really sets that up nicely.
Also great are all the tons of mutants, most of whom go unnamed, among the other enslaved. The ones who speak include Sunfire and the Blob, the latter of which will show up later in the season. There are also some mutants who just appear in the background and never say anything…most surprisingly of which is Mystique! She ends up being a VERY important character later in the year but she starts as a voiceless walk-by as the mutants are escaping. Seriously, watch this episode and you’ll get Easter Eggs galore.
And, once again, the crux of the episode comes down to the X-Men working together, and Storm getting to knock that crap down, even if she is too weak to really give the full energy of weather. Luckily, Rogue, Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine show up in the nick of time to find their missing comrades. But, like, low key, Storm probably could have done it all herself. Like Gambit said in the second episode, “Don’t mess with the X-Men.”
They all return to the mansion to find it destroyed. Yay! It was bound to happen a billion times this series. Was Professor X there or had he left already for Moira MacTaggart? We’ll find out next week. Episode eight is “The Unstoppable Juggernaut,” and not only introduces the eponymous villain, but also gives us one of our only appearances of Colossus.
“Slave Island” is such a great and pivotal episode for the first season of X-Men. Not only did it hammer home that the Sentinels are a real and constant threat, but it also brought upcoming factors like Gambit’s trustworthiness, Cable’s anti-heroism, and Muir Island. Guys, we’re halfway through the season and we still have Apocalypse and “Days of Future Past” left to deal with. What a show!
Let me know your thoughts on “Slave Island” and all of X-Men season one below!
Images: Saban Entertainment/Genesis Entertainment
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. Talk to him about X-Men please! He’d love it! Follow him on Twitter!