When I embarked on this rewatch of the first season of the ’90s X-Men cartoon, I expected it to be a mixed bag. I loved the show as a kid, but even then clocked that the animation wasn’t the best. But the stories and characters were what drew my eight-year-old mind in and made me a lifelong fan of Professor Xavier and crew. Little did I know that the stories would hold up exceptionally well, considering the 20+ year gap and that the animation is still not very good (but not objectionable). For the final episode of season one, “The Final Decision,” we got the kind of finale most live-action shows would hope for.
The cliffhanger to “Days of Future Past” saw Senator Kelly saved from assassination but kidnapped by Magneto, meaning the Sentinel-ruled future might still happen. That’s a ton of anticipation and only one 22-minute episode to wrap everything up, and to the show’s credit, it gets to the point as quickly as possible while doing what it’d done best for the first 12 episodes: focus on the characters. Action’s gonna action, but it’s the relationships between the various X-Men that make the show so wonderful.
And luckily, there are enough X-Men to have a bunch of pairs. After Magneto’s kidnapping of Kelly results in Sentinels retrieving him and wounding the master of magnetism, he’s taken to the mansion to heal. There, he and Xavier have the kind of debate you come to hope for from the two characters, and ultimately Magneto deigns to help his friend defeat the Sentinels. Not a ton of moments, but nice.
We also get Gambit, who’d become a super important character in the back half of the season, teaming up with Wolverine to infiltrate the Sentinels’ base and break through the discarded mine that serves as the hideout. Gambit had been the last holdout to want to join the fight to save Kelly, but he eventually does. Throughout the season, Gambit and Wolverine been fighting and bickering, but in this episode, Wolverine pushes Gambit to safety, perfectly prepared to take on a dozen Sentinels alone, which leads to Gambit breaking back in and saving Wolvie’s life in return. Brothers in arms are the strongest brothers. Gambit even gets the equivalent of a kiss from Rogue at the end. Well done, Gumbo.
The episode also gave Jubilee a chance to show what she can do. After being “the kid” for the whole season, she’s yet again expected to sit out the fight. But instead of whining or acting like a kid, she stands her ground as a member of the X-Men, and explains that fighting this fight means more to her than anything in the world. She’s in tears by the end of the speech, and it even gets Wolverine to change his tune about her coming along. Jubilee joins Rogue and Storm topside fighting off various Sentinels with aplomb.
Which leaves Cyclops and Jean Grey to save Senator Kelly. It’s this scene that turns the tide of the whole season. Trask and Gyrich still planned to use Sentinels to eliminate mutant kind and the newly rescued Senator Kelly wanted to give them all the support he could once he became president. But Master Mold, the impossibly giant sentient Easy Bake Oven of the Sentinels, had taken control, turning the Sentinels against everybody, humans and mutants alike. It’s a bit on the nose, but Trask calls out, “You’re not supposed to hunt humans, just mutants!” to which Master Mold replies “That is illogical. Mutants are humans.” In a very quick moment, the entirety of humanity’s perceived differences from the mutants is cut down by the logic of machines.
The first season of X-Men was very ambitious, but not nearly as much as seasons to come would be. The rest of the series touched on everything from the Phoenix Saga and the Shi’ar Empire to the Savage Lands to Mojo to a ton of stuff in the future. It became the science fiction powerhouse of the comics by spending time developing the world and the main characters. In the course of the 13 episodes, the audience got to know and like each of the nine main good guys, even spent a decent amount of time with Beast in jail (he’s released at the end of “The Final Decision”). We learned how everybody feels about everybody else and what most of their hopes and fears were; we got to see them at their best and their worst. In an action cartoon with superheroes, that’s surprisingly deep.
In my humble opinion, the only real duff episode of the bunch is “Captive Hearts” but even that has some good development of the Cyclops-Jean-Wolverine love triangle, so it’s not a total loss. That’s a very high batting average for a show, let alone a freshman-year show, and even further than that a show with untested properties in the overall zeitgeist. See, folks? It pays to have good writing in any situation, even a low-budget Canadian cartoon based on a comic book.
Thanks so much for reading all of my X-Men Reanimated articles, and let me know in the comments below if you’d eventually like to see more of this, or what other show you’d want to see. Until then, Bub!
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist and a lover of animation. Follow him on Twitter!