The first four episodes of the ’90s X-Men cartoon went out of their way to establish each of the main X-Men characters as important and distinct in their own way. Professor X is the leader, but beyond that, and the role of different people in the hierarchy of the team, nobody really gets singled out as more important than any other. But if any of them leans a bit toward the “star” of the show, it’s Wolverine. And for good reason–he’s the most interesting character, bar none. The fourth episode, “Deadly Reunions,” continued on with the conflict of “Enter Magneto,” but dropped much of the meta-arch about mutant rights and the ethics of people having super powers and focused entirely on two distinct relationships: Professor X and Magneto, and Wolverine and Sabretooth.
What truly stands out as wonderful in this series is that it doesn’t hold the audience’s hand at all during the proceedings. We learn things as the show wants us to learn things. I had forgotten just how much was left for the viewer to infer. In “Enter Magneto,” we learn of Charles and Erik (or Magnus as he’s called in this series) and a bit of their history, but as far as Wolverine and Sabretooth are concerned, we just know Wolverine hates Sabretooth. That’s it, really, because Sabretooth is unconscious for most of that episode. In “Deadly Reunions,” we start to get a sense of Sabretooth trough visuals, not dialogue.
The whole beginning of the episode is the mind of Sabretooth as visited by Professor X, in an attempt to soothe the rage inside, much as he did with Wolverine. But Sabretooth is plagued by demons. We see images of people, most of whom the series hasn’t introduced yet, besides Wolverine, like Maverick, Omega Red, and Deadpool. We have no idea what they did to Sabretooth but they did something. And Wolverine is apparently the biggest threat, manifesting as a creepy insect-like demon with claws.
Later, as Magneto attempts to draw out Professor X into a battle by creating havoc at a chemical factory, we get to see a bit of his history when Xavier probes his mind. His family was murdered right in front of him, casualties in some awful war. The pain and grief are so bad that Magneto flees, to fight another day. It’s not only Magneto in this section; Storm gets caught under a pile of falling debris and passes out, we see her memory of being put in a box as a child. Her intense, debilitating claustrophobia will be major parts of the series later on.
Magneto, Sabretooth, and the Sentinels in the two-part opener are all set up as major villains of the series, but it’s Magneto that has the most direct impact to our characters. He’s the one with whom Xavier has the tie and who still thinks he can change the other’s mind. While there hasn’t really been time to establish their bond, we still get the sense that neither truly wants to harm the other, but will do if pushed. It’s no mistake that both Xavier and Magneto are shown in the opening credits as the masterminds of good and evil, respectively.
This section also allowed for a standout X-Man: Rogue. Completely absent from the last episode, she asserts herself hugely here. She’s really the only one left to try to stop Magneto and/or save everybody at the chemical factory. With Storm incapacitated, Rogue is forced to give Cyclops CPR following a blast from Magneto and she brings him back while absorbing his optic blasts. She has to try to carry both Storm and Cyclops out while keeping her eyes completely shut. But she’s able to laugh about it. She tells Cyclops she won’t tell Jean about the mouth-to-mouth, and then later offhandedly says they ought to do it again. Rogue is one of the best characters on the show. Can’t wait to get to her centric episodes.
And finally the big showdown of the episode is Wolverine and Sabretooth. Wolvie was absent for most of the proceedings, and the entirety of the chemical factory fight, because he objected to his old enemy even being there. The Prof and the others again try to reason with him, that maybe Sabretooth is just misunderstood. “He wasted some friends of mine, for no good reason, and I… misunderstood!” But he returns in just the nick of time. Sabretooth tricks Jubliee into freeing one of his hands and that’s all he needs to start wrecking the place. He would have murdered the young mutant had Wolverine not shown up. Wolverine gets hurt, but Jubilee manages to blow Sabretooth through the wall of the Mansion as the other X-Men show up. It’s not over yet for Sabretooth and Wolverine.
The first four episodes set up a very nice pattern for the show, with a new threat being accompanied by character revelations. It’s incredibly strong in character and the action scenes, particularly in this episode, are good but don’t overshadow the story itself. We’ll have other episodes for that. However, episode 5 is a bit of a lame duck if I remember correctly. We will have to wait a week to get back to the Wolverine/Sabretooth drama, because next week it’s “Captive Hearts,” which sees the X-Men go up against the subterranean Morlocks. Not the crown jewel of the season, but at least Jean will be back (she’s been gone since the two-part opener, as has Gambit).
Let me know what you think of “Deadly Reunions,” and of Rogue’s optic blasts. Still awesome, I think. To the comments!
The entire series of X-Men is streaming on Hulu. If you’d like to watch along as I write these, please do!
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!