Pitchmas 2020, part 10: X-Men: The Beginning

Pitchmas this year is a weekly pitch for a new Disney + series set in the MCU, lasting 12 weeks.

10. X-Men: The Beginning

This is basically X-Men Evolution, but in live action, featuring the first five students (maybe eventually introducing younger versions of those who were teachers at the beginning of New Mutants, too, and the rest of the Giant Size X-Men crew). Could probably even use the same sets as New Mutants on a rotating schedule, too, to get double the value out of them.

I think to make this not perfunctory, we’ll need to really make it sizzle. The pitch is basically the first class of X-Men by way of Stranger Things.

I think the first half of the season would be assembling the team, which in our case means them being found by Xavier. I want to tell the stories from the perspective of the teens, and only briefly touch on Charles- at least for the first half. The second half of the season is entirely Xavier-based, his friendship (and its fallout) with Magneto, and his strained relationship with his brother, Cain Marko.

1. Phoenix: Jean is a special girl. Everyone knows it, and they all tell her so. Every one does. We spend a day with her, at first, and slowly, subtly, the creepiness sets in- they all have the same wooden expression, say the words exactly the same way. Everyone except her parcel carrier (not USPS- a private label). He speaks candidly with her, a little too candidly for someone of her age, and we think his eyes start to glow, and his teeth look too sharp. The young Jean screams out, and every neighbor on the block comes outside in lock step, and he doffs his cap and leaves. A SHIELD touchstone (Fury is always the preference, but Samuel L. Jackson can only be in so many places at once, so it could be a Coulson, Hill or someone else) delivers Professor Xavier to the town. Xavier knocks on the Grey residence’s front door, and is greeted by her father. He says that she’s studying, because she’s an extraordinary girl and can’t squander those gifts. Xavier smiles, and says those are his sentiments exactly. Mr. Grey’s eyes glow, and he shakes off the manipulation. Xavier explains that he’s come at the request of SHIELD because their daughter has formed a psychic cocoon around herself; everyone in its radius gets drafted into her army. Her father laughs off the idea, because the things that feel frightening to girls her age include boys and algebra tests. But Xavier doesn’t hear it, because his attention is drawn by the parcel carrier. Xavier sees him clearly, surrounded by a purple psychic flame as his eyes glow red; his teeth appear too sharp. Xavier tells him his daughter’s instincts are sharper than he realizes, and asks to see the girl. The parcel carrier tries to ring the doorbell, but it doesn’t sound. Xavier turns to look at him through one of the windows in the front door, and he glares as Xavier regards him coolly. Mr. Grey brings Jean down. Xavier explains mutants, and their gifts, and tells her she’s one of the strongest people he’s ever met- that the danger she sensed was drawn to her because of that power- he is a monstrous being known as the Shadow King. Xavier encountered him before- but managed to pierce the veil of his thoughts, and discovered that the Shadow King wished to use him as a host to regain access to the physical realm. Jean accuses Xavier of trying to manipulate her, the way the Shadow King had tried to manipulate her, the way her parents had. She demands that he leave, and he does. The Shadow King, in the form of the delivery man, blasts through her front door. Suddenly, Jean is in her home in the psychic realm. The Shadow King stalks through, and as she tries to defend herself with very limited control, he’s clearly able to shape this realm with a whim. It’s terrifying, looking like he’s won, towering over a terrified Jean, before he drops to his knees. Xavier is behind him, with his fingers outstretched, and yellow tendrils burrowing into the Shadow King’s head. We flash back. The moment Shadow King blasted through the door, Xavier was there, behind him, tendrils piercing his skull. Jean stops cowering and stands, triumphant. Xavier tells him he’s going to be furious, but it was the little girl’s plan- the second he walked through the door; he told her what mutants were as they traded details of her plan. She let him think he was in control, that he was winning, as she systematically took away every element of his power. They’re both fairly certain he’ll be trapped on the psychic plane forever; psychics may stumble upon him from time to time, but he’s lost most of the gimmicks that allowed him to trick his unwitting victims. They leave him, chained, on that plane, and return to Jean’s room. She admits to Xavier that she didn’t mean to manipulate people around her, but she couldn’t control it. She asks if he could teach her how, and he smiles, and says of course.

2. Cyclops: Scott Summers as a child is on a plane flying over Alaska. The plane shimmies, and his father, the pilot, tasks him with checking to make sure his younger brother Alex is fastened tight, then check the cargo. Out of one of the windows, he sees the engine start to smoke, burst into flame, and is completely torn from the plane, taking some of the wing and the door nearest it, sucking out the parachutes. Scott runs back to the cockpit to tell his father. He looks at his boys and smiles. “Lucky I always bring a spare,” he says, and pulls one out from behind his seat. “You two’re small, so it should work for the both of you.” Scott asks about him, and he tells him he should still be able to land it, but he’s not putting all of their mom’s eggs in one basket- “especially since this world is out of perfect eggs.” He helps Scott get Alex clamped into the chute, then tells him to hold on, tight. His father helps him out of the plane. One of the chute straps breaks, and they start to fall, too fast. Scott wraps himself around Alex, to shield him from the landing, and we cut as they hit the mountain. We pull back, to see their father’s plane overhead, a moment before it smashes into the mountain.

We cut later, as Scott, blood dried along the side of his face from a nasty impact with the ground, drags his brother, whose leg is splinted, in the remains of the parachute, towards the nearby town. At the edge of town, Scott collapses beside a chain link fence surrounding a dour-looking building (it was an attempt by a priest to capture the majesty of a cathedral, but scaled to this remote community- the effect is more sinister than anything). We see a sign on the fence, too, “Essex Home For Special Boys.” A man with sharply-defined facial hair is standing with a gloved hand threaded through the fence, just on the other side of the two boys. We pan up his arm, and stop when we reach his jaw, as a thin smile spreads over his lips.

Scott plays with Alex, who can’t really join in the other reindeer games because of his leg (now in a cast). That is, until another boy, a burly one, with big hands and feet and a toothy grin, tells him they need another to even out teams for a game of touch football. Scott’s reluctant at first, but Alex snaps at him, like he wants his pity attention. Scott’s hurt by that, and goes off with Hank. We linger on Alex, reversing the shot as Scott starts to play (he quarterbacks, because he’s got a good eye, a good arm, and talent for leadership; Hank, meanwhile, is a natural catcher with those hands, and is agile to boot), and we watch a knowing smile spread across Alex’s lips.

Scott tries to loop Alex back in, but Hank and his friends are slightly older, and especially having been wounded, Alex is extra socially handicapped. At lights out, Hank nervously confesses to Scott that he’s anxious about an upcoming dance- that there’s a dance with the “Frost Academy for Talented Ladies.” He’s worried no one will want to dance with him. Scott thinks a moment, before telling him that women like to be held- his mom told him that- and with his hands he figures Hank would make any woman feel extra safe and secure. The moment is sweet enough Hank gets quieter, more conspiratorial. He tells Scott he’s not sure it’s safe there, that he isn’t an orphan- that his parents are still alive and he was taken– that they need to get out of there, and Scott’s eyes go wide- so wide we know what’s coming next as ruby red energy bursts from his eyes, shattering through a window. Hank hits him from behind, as Essex appears behind him. Hank explains that he didn’t know what else to do- that Scott might have hurt someone. Essex pats his shoulder gently, telling him he did the right thing.

3. Beast: The episode opens largely as the last ended, only Hank and Scott are asleep on their cots. Mr. Essex, the smiling man who put a gloved hand through the fence in the last episode, preps a syringe. He slides it into Scott’s arm with inhuman precision, then twirls in his heavy dark blue coat (that’s almost a big cape). Essex opens a secret panel into a small lab behind his study. He feeds Scott’s blood into a machine, and lights come up on the room, showing a host of gene-sequencing machines.

We go back to Hank, sleeping fitfully. We hear a voice, Essex’s, but I want it to be supremely subtle, almost subliminal, where some portion of the audience won’t catch it during the first viewing. His eyes open manically, and he yawns, before stumbling out of bed. He uses the same secret entrance to Essex’s lab, and clearly knows his way to Essex once inside. Essex calls him, “Young Mr. McCoy” and claims he was quite the discovery. Hank pouts, and Essex chides him; he says his gift would have been wasted living with his parents- that Hank is free to hate him, if need be, but his education is paramount.

Indeed, once Essex begins speaking to him about Scott’s DNA, he comes alive. While the testing is ongoing, it seems that Scott is one of the catalysts he’s been searching for, that his ability allows him to harness great amounts of energy- possibly enough to finally finish his work. They work together through the night, testing the sampled blood, until Hank falls asleep, and Essex gingerly carries him back to bed.

The next morning Scott wakes slowly. He’s attached to an IV, keeping him partially sedated. Hank tells him that most so-called mutant powers are controlled via the brain- which would explain the catastrophic damage caused by his head injury, preventing him from being able to control it. He segues awkwardly via a joke about controlling himself that evening, when they go to the Frost Academy for the dance, and notes it’s good they aren’t having it there, because of the hole Scott blasted in the wall.

We have a scene where they boys dress. Despite the short notice, Essex was able to have the seamstress in town customize clothes for both Summers boys. Alex doesn’t want to go, especially since he can’t dance on his leg, but Scott convinces him to try and have fun.

At the dance, Essex greets Ms. Frost as Hazel, and tells her it’s lovely to see her, and kisses her hand. She’s a wealthy socialite, her family money coming at least partially from Alaskan oil, hence her interest in giving back to that community. With her is her daughter, Emma; she wears white with furs, not as revealing as the outfits adult her will wear, obviously, but just as sharply stylish. Hank asks if she wants to dance, and she stares at his big hands and says she wears the fur of beasts, she doesn’t dance with them.” He says something cutting in reply, and they both stomp off. Scott follows Hank, and consoles him, and tells him he’s a sweet guy, and he’s going to find someone who loves him for who he is, not the size of glove he wears. Scott convinces him to try again, with another girl, this one staring at him. Scott watches as she smiles, nods, and follows him to the dance floor.

Scott starts looking for Alex when he hears sobbing, and follows it back to Emma. She insists she wasn’t crying. He smiles, and says that doesn’t mean she isn’t upset, and if talking would help, he’s there. She’s stand-offish, and rude, but it also becomes clear that she’s lonely, and scared, and doesn’t really know how to handle people at all. He explains that she sounds like Hank; he was worried no one would dance if he asked them, but that he found someone who said yes, that sometimes to really get to know the best side of people, you have to give them a second chance. He asks if she’d like to dance, and she says yes. We follow them to the dance floor, but as we pan past Essex chatting with her mother, we stay on them.

Essex is boring her, it’s plain. He’s chatting her up because he’d like more funding, and mentions that his work is focused on helping people just like her daughter, that he isn’t looking for a hand-out. She isn’t paying attention to him, because a late guest has arrived. She tells Nathan she has to introduce him to a dear friend of hers, a fellow philanthropist, Charles Xavier. Essex goes white, as we pan to see Xavier. He’s also brought along Jean Grey, as well, both dressed appropriately for the occasion. Xavier peers at him curiously; he can’t seem to read Essex’s mind, which is peculiar. 

Back with Scott and Emma, she tells him she knows he’s scared. He tells her he’s not; his mom taught him how to dance before she died (though he trails off before saying the word “died”). She says not about that. About last night, what happened with his eyes. He stops, and she tells him it’s okay, she’s special, too. That his secret’s safe with her, just like she feels safe with him, she says, nuzzling into his shoulder. As the music fades, Emma leans in and kisses him, and Scott’s eyes go wide. “Oh, no,” she says, realizing her mistake. Scott’s eyebeams blast through the wall and the ceiling.

Ms. Frost screams for her daughter, and runs to protect her; Emma protests that she’s fine, she’s safe, Scott would never hurt her. Essex moves towards Scott, but Charles grabs his wrist, and tells him he doesn’t know who he is, or what his designs on the boy are, but it ends tonight. He calls him a “Sinister” man, and tells him to leave all of the children behind, that he and Emma have contacts that will get them situated in proper homes- we see an overlay of Hank, as he says he was taken, and rage spreads over Xavier’s face. Essex shoves Xavier, knocking him into the wall hard enough he dents it, as his eyes begin to glow red, and we think this is going to go downhill quickly, only Essex’s eyes roll back in his head and he falls over.

Jean tells Xavier she turned him off, like a light switch, and asked if she did good, and he says she did very good. We stay on Essex, who watches a single hair fall from Jean’s shoulder. He can barely move, but with great effort manages to grab the hair as it falls.

Later, we pan through the now empty orphanage, into the no longer shut lab. Essex is extracting DNA from the hair, and that same sinister smile spreads over his lips.

I’m going to be a little less thorough with the remaining episodes, but to give you a taste of what we’re looking at.

4. Angel: Angel flies. Depending on budget, this can be POV, and just be some drone footage, or it could be fairly elaborate. But then Warren wakes to his father knocking on his door. He’s low-key abusive about hiding his son’s shame, binding his wings and tying them down in a way that’s painful. When Warren cries, he shames him for that, too.

Warren goes to his school, something private and high-end. His father shoves him along, past students picking on a girl there on a scholarship, her uniforms second-hand, her supplies in some disrepair. Warren tries to direct his father’s wrath in their direction, only for him to state that she’s “beneath” them, and Warren stares daggers back at him for that.

We recognize one of the boys picking on the girl when he slides into a seat next to Warren; he acts friendly towards him, but Warren doesn’t return the warmth. Cameron asks what’s up, says their families have been friends for generations- that the Worthingtons and Hodges have been thick as thieves since before either family bought their way into respectability. Warren complains about his treatment of the girl, and he says they were only having fun- that they wouldn’t hurt her. Warren isn’t interested. Cameron says this is a lousy way to end a friendship, and Warren spits back that they were never friends, that he was a jerk his father made him be nice to- but he’s tired of being a cog in a machine of jerks that only mints fresh jerks and money. Warren leaves, tells the teacher he needs to use the bathroom.

We linger a bit on Cameron’s day, as he stews.

At lunch outside, Cameron and his buddies make fun of Warren. They intimate that he’s got a thing for the girl, that that’s why he’s being such a girl about it. And he shrugs. He doesn’t care if they think that, because what would be so wrong about it. Not getting what they want, they leave, and Warren watches a bird fly by, and we intercut with his dream from earlier, until a dropped lunch try stirs him from his daydreaming.

It’s Cameron and his buddies, surrounding the girl again. Only Cameron shoved her. His friends are half-shocked, half drooling for more. Cameron’s clearly agitated, realizing he’s probably gone too far, and at the same time feeding off the energy his friends are putting off. He reels back to hit her, and his hand comes down on Warren’s back. That’s enough invitation for all of his friends to start attacking. For a moment Warren hunkers over her to protect her from their fists and feet, until…

Warren tears through his harness, and his school blazer in one motion, then spins, knocking Cameron and his flunkies back with his spread wings. Warren pulls the girl to him, and kicks off the ground, taking flight. We linger a moment on Cameron, as someone approaches, and offers him a hand up. He calls Warren a filthy “mutie,” and says they’re no “friends of humanity.” Then introduces himself as Graydon Creed.

We join Warren and the girl in the clouds, as her scream turns to excitement. He flies them down to a picturesque spot on top of a hill. She tells him he didn’t have to do that. He says he couldn’t stand idly by. They have a cute, flirty sort of thing, and she is very gentle and understanding about his, er, coming out. She asks if she can kiss him; she wants to, but she doesn’t want to make something really powerful and brave about her. He kisses her, and tells her it was about her, that he would have been too scared to do it if it wasn’t for her. She kisses him back, and we linger on that happy moment, because we’re going to need that to power through what comes next.

Warren’s dad berates him on the way to school, treats it like something Warren did to shame him, and the family name, and legacy. He protests, that they were going to hurt her, to which he says, “So?” They pull up at the school. Angry parents have formed a human chain outside, and are wearing, “FoH” arm bands, standing beneath a banner that says something to the effect of “Mutants Stay Out.” The Elder Worthington slides lower in his seat, when there’s a knock on the car window.

It’s Charles Xavier. He offers his help. Worthington asks if he’s a lawyer, and Charles smiles that no, he is not. Xavier walks inside, past the crowd, who murmur. One, who recognizes him, steps to him, and he smiles, and the person steps back, cowed.

Warren watches a bird fly by, and his dad snaps at him, telling him he’s never flying again. Xavier emerges, walking lightly. Behind him comes the principal, who tears down the banner. Xavier says he was glad he could change his mind, before turning to walk away. The protestors howl at the principal as he balls up their banner, and points to their cars. If we can hear him, he’s telling them they have to disperse, and if they don’t, he’ll be forced to call the police.

Worthington asks if his son can go inside. Xavier says that he can- but that he shouldn’t- that this school isn’t good enough for him. He deserves a school where he can be who he wants to be, and where he doesn’t have to threaten legal action or use of the ADA to keep the wolves at bay. He hands Worthington a card, saying he happens to run just such a school, a school designed for special people just like his son. Worthington is skeptical, downright hostile, until he says that it’s remote, far away from prying eyes and ears, from society gossip or any of the other arenas where they might look down on his son’s gifts. Worthington stops himself, and in an uncharacteristic moment of humanity, says that it should be up to his son to decide.

Charles opens Warren’s door, and says that nature has given Warren wings, that it would be his honor to give him a chance to fly.

5. Iceman: Bobby Drake is a pain in the butt. He can’t stop complaining about his mom’s traditions, about her weird smelling fish, or the fact that their “Christmas” presents are wooden and from another century; specifically, they’re getting ready for Purim. She’s hurt by the assertion, but hides it, and tells him it’s important for him to know their heritage. People died for that heritage. Carrying it was honoring their sacrifice, and their strength, and the determination that carried them through centuries of oppression and discrimination. For a moment, it seems like she’s getting through to him, before he says, “Yeah, but my bringing stink-fish on wrye for lunch is ensuring further centuries of oppression.” She glares comically at him. He clarifies that he’s not saying they have to 86 all the Jewish stuff, but dad’s Christian, so can’t this be the half of their heritage they don’t talk about, like how he’s not supposed to talk about anything covered by his jeans when they have company. She glares again, before breaking into a smile, making it clear that she loves him, despite his being a pain in the butt.

There’s a knock on the door, and we see a man we assume is her husband. She greets him as Erik, and he asks if he’s late for the kiddush, and she says they waited for him. They all sit at the table, and she lights two candles, and says a blessing. Then they have a meal, during which Erik asks about her husband, who works swings and isn’t ever there that time. She asks after his work; he does aid work for Jewish charities and the like, and is planning another trip to Israel soon. She tells him she’s struggling to get Bobby interested in his heritage. I think he tells a story from Jewish history, showcasing one of their many struggles just to survive (I’m not sure which would be more on point).

Erik mentions that his parents were both children during the Holocaust, each was the sole survivor from their families- entire lines wiped out but for those single branches. I’m kind of assuming that for this generation of Magneto, he won’t be a Holocaust survivor himself, but have been conceived by two people who lived through it, who were scarred by it, who were orphans of it, that it colored every aspect of his growing up, that everywhere his family ever lived they had contingency plans for escape, not just from the house, but from the city, from the country, from the continent, that it wasn’t until they finally settled in Israel that they found a home they weren’t looking to escape from.

Bobby attends a Purim carnival with his mom. He eats some hamantaschen, and goofs off to impress a girl. He also draws the ire of a bully, who follows them to the Ferris wheel. He shoves Bobby into the cart, elbowing the girl out of the way; the not-paying-attention operator starts the wheel with the two of them on it. The bully is fuming; he doesn’t like the way Bobby was looking at the girl. He says she’s okay, but there’s someone else, someone who he sees when he closes his eyes, when he thinks about sharing his first kiss. The scene is, essentially, Bobby coming out as bi, the dialog reading ambiguously, and thinking the bully shares his feelings (because he’s a dumb, inexperienced kid). He takes the bully’s hand, squeezes, and kisses him. And… it goes okay. The bully was jealous of the girl and not him. Except…  when he took his hand, Bobby accidentally froze it- froze their hands together in a block of ice. That freaks him out. He tries to get away, even trying to climb out of the Ferris Wheel enclosure as Bobby fights him. As the car reaches the ground the Bully punches him in the eye and stumbles backward, shattering the ice, and running. The commotion catches the attention of others at the carnival that a crowd has gathered, who look like an angry mob.

Next shot is Bobby getting locked in a cell. He uses the block of ice still around his hand to ice his black eye, and tells the Sheriff it helps. The Sheriff explains that he had to take him into protective custody; he’d seen that look before, and didn’t want to have to try and ward off a lynch mob at gun point. He says he can release him once the mob disperses and his parents can come for him.

Bobby notices another young kid in the cell beside his, and asks what he’s in for. He says it’s arson- though he didn’t do it, before using flame from a lighter to create a small dragon that melts the ice around his hand. Bobby thanks him, just as the wall behind them collapses, and in walks Magneto. From inside, a door opens, and a bald man in a nice suit strolls in. “Erik, I see you’re still tearing down walls.”

“I prefer to think of it as removing barriers to our people, Charles,” Magneto replies.  

Xavier tells Bobby that he’s secured his release and return to his mother, and can escort him safely out of the building. Magneto tries to coax him to go with him- that he needn’t fear those weaker. Xavier appeals to the bonds of family- to his mother, who is scared, and wants nothing more than to hold her precious child in her arms and tell him everything will be okay. The Sheriff returns, and his eyes go wide. Xavier tells him not to notice Magento until they’re gone, and he unlocks Bobby’s cell. Bobby glances back at Magneto, before leaving with Charles.

We cut to later, Bobby at home. She’s reading the Purim story, and mentions Hamen, and he uses his noisemaker, but peters out. He says he has to tell her something, that he’s different. She corrects him- that he’s special, and she’s known he was special from the moment she first held him in the hospital. He tells her he kissed his first boy today. And accidentally froze their hands together. She asks how it was. “Cold,” he says, then, “not bad, though. Moister than expected. But pretty good, until I got hit in the face.” She smiles, and tells him it took her a while to get the hang of kissing, too, but it was all worth it, because that’s how she got him. He groans. “Mom, you’re going to warp me.” She tells him she’s pretty sure that ship has sailed.

6-10: Now we focus on the X behind the Men. 6 starts with a young, even arrogant Charles Xavier. I think the framing story is the 5 original X-men talking, coming to realize that while they’re grateful for his help, they don’t really understand why he does what he’s done. He finds them, and Jean asks. Now it’s flashback time.

He’s kind of an obnoxious, arrogant prep school jerk. His mother calls him away from his prep school to return home because his father is dying of cancer, presumably related to his work in nuclear physics. Charles decides to stay home with his grieving mother after his father’s death, and witnesses her seduction at the hands of Kurt Marko, a family friend who provides a shoulder for her to cry on. Kurt’s son from a prior marriage, Cain, is in tow; he’s resentful of Charles and bullies him relentlessly. Eventually Charles’ mother and Marko marry. Large portions of the Xavier fortune are put into a trust for Charles, including the mansion where the new family live. Xavier’s telepathy develops, and he discovers, too late, that Kurt is only interested in his family’s money, and doesn’t care for either he or his mother. He tries to convince his mother to leave the emotionally neglectful Kurt, but she refuses, so he seeks refuge by returning to school.

At school, Xavier met and fell in love with Moira. The two had a whirlwind romance, until Xavier received a call from his step-brother. Cain was struggling with a deal going south in Cairo, and needed Charles to bail him out, literally, from prison. Charles, however, isn’t about to unleash Marko on the populace, and follows him. That’s where he bumps into a young thief named Ororo Munroe, being forced to work by a man she knows only by the name Shadow King.

But Xavier’s first concern is limiting the damage his step-brother can do, so he follows Marco. Cain was using their family’s resources and connections to fund an archeological dig. However, the Egyptian government got wind of the unsanctioned archeology, and seized his prize, including a crimson gem, that had ensorcelled Cain on sight. Because of his control over the family fortune, Charles is able to cut off most of his resources; Cain uses the last of his cash on hand to purchase a group of mercenaries to help him fight past the Egyptian authorities. Charles is too late to stop them from penetrating the chamber, and when he attempts to stop Cain’s mercenaries telepathically he finds they’re dead, save one, who is merely dying, all murdered by the vicious Juggernaut his brother has become. Charles tries to stop him mentally, but is unable to so much as speak telepathically to his brother.

Ashamed of his failure, Xavier falls into a depression. He starts drinking, though isn’t too deep in the bag when he senses the presence once again of Ororo Munroe. He feels her fear even more acutely than the last time, and goes to her. This time he listens as she tells him the full story of the Shadow King, how he can control people with his mind, how he uses innocent people as his hostages, threatening to harm them if she doesn’t steal for him. In that way he’s become the premier underworld figure in all of Cairo, and is well on his way to controlling all of the levers of government.

Xavier promises Munroe he will free her. He doesn’t get far, before he’s accosted by local police, but sensing a presence behind them, he severs it, and they crumple to the ground like puppets with their strings cut. Ororo leads him to the Shadow King, still a human at this point. His guards attack, only for them to freeze. Ororo turns, her eyes flashing white and subtly crackling with electricity, before she freezes. Xavier leaps over Shadow King’s desk, and they start to fight, before Shadow King tears him onto the psychic plane.

They battle for a time, before Xavier reveals that he’s sealed Shadow King off from his own body. They both race for a door out, each hoping to take control of Xavier, instead. When they reach the door at the same moment, we cut back to Xavier, probably a close-up on his eye, zooming out, before he starts to move. Everyone in the room resumes moving. Charles directs Ororo away from the desk; on instinct she wanted to make sure the Shadow King was really gone, like checking for a monster under the bed, but he doesn’t want her to see the catatonic body of the Shadow King. We zoom in on his pupil, and inside, in the psychic realm, we see Shadow King banging on an invisible wall, unable to escape.

Through his contacts, Xavier is able to find someone to help rehome Ororo- to take her back to her original home, really. And this is where he meets Erik for the first time. Typically, he works with Jewish charities, and, more secretively, for underground mutant-supporting ones, but he happens to be in the area, and is happy to help the child find her home. He says something to the effect that aren’t we all just searching for a place, to be happy and safe?

Their meeting, and his time in Cairo changes Xavier. He tries to go back to school, but Moira has moved on, and he realizes that academia isn’t for him, that his calling lies in helping. So it’s no surprise that the next episode finds him working in Palestine. We see him doing the hard aid work within the Gaza Strip, sweating through his suit out doors, helping to soothe angry refugees. There is a conflict at the border; it seems an NGO has accidentally promised the same supplies to both groups on the Israeli side as well as those on the Palestinian one. Feeling that the Palestinian need was more urgent, they tried to direct the supplies to Gaza, but were stopped at the border. Word of what was happening got back to some Palestinians, and a protest ensued, that threatened to spill over into violence with the addition of Israeli security forces. Peace is finally brokered at the arrival of Xavier on one side, and Erik on the other, each subtly influencing their sides towards piece, Xavier by calming the crowd somewhat, Erik by causing tanks and trucks to break down before they can reinforce the troops there. The two of them are able to build a compromise, though it’s to stop bloodshed, not for ideological reasons.

That comes later, when the two men share a drink on the Israeli side of the border. They talk well into the night, Charles learning of Erik’s parents surviving the Holocaust, and then dying in a terrorist attack in Israel in front of him. Charles argues that in this scenario, the Palestinians are the ones in camps- that to protect itself Israel is perpetrating something like the worst sin committed against them on another people. Erik is horrified, even angry, but he also recognizes there’s some truth there, too… that maybe the way to protect his people isn’t with a closed fist.

Author’s Editorial Note: After concerns were raised about this passage, I am adding this clarification of the purpose of this passage: Xavier, without using the word mutant, is able to convince Erik that Jews were the mutants of World War II, just as Palestinians are the mutants of that moment in the Middle East- that they deserve to be sheltered from the storm just as he wished his family was, just as he’s dedicated his life to doing for mutantkind. Xavier’s true power, to me, has always been his deep well of empathy; he doesn’t need to manipulate anyone, because he’s seen so deeply into the human soul- including his own- that the pain of others is his pain, and briefly, he’s able to share that gift with Erik in words.

Erik is still proudly Jewish, and I don’t believe he would be able to be completely won over- but that wasn’t ever Xavier’s hope- he views any dichotomy as a false one, any splitting of people into the deserving and the damned to be ceding the solution to the worst of human instincts. So for a time, he convinces Erik that there can be that fragile peace; Erik doesn’t stop believing Israel has a right to exist and protect itself, but he’s more easily able to see the humanity of those who get caught in that crossfire, too, regardless of which side of a border they’re on. -Nic

They work together for a time, building aid agencies that aren’t for either Israel or Palestine, but that coordinate aid between them, and build greater ties between both groups. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship… until it ended.

Gabrielle Haller was a fellow aid worker. She mostly worked on the Arabian Peninsula, but was moving medical supplies through Egypt because of an outbreak. While making their way through some largely overgrown roads, their caravan was caught in an earthquake. Their vehicles were swallowed up, as the quake broke open an underground chamber that had been covered for centuries with sand. The rest of the caravan were lost, supplies, vehicles, everything. Gabrielle was able to crawl from the hole, but had been rendered speechless by her ordeal, and sunk into a catatonic state once she reached help.

She was brought back to the camp used by Xavier and Erik. Not only did it have some fairly advanced equipment, but it was where her friends and coworkers were. There didn’t seem to be anything medically wrong with her, but she remained catatonic. Using telepathy, Xavier was able to help her push past her trauma, and regain consciousness. She was still traumatized, and still feared the evil stench of the thing in the hole, but with time she was able to go back to work helping people, which seemed to be the best medicine for her. It was only at night, when her mind was unguarded, that she succumbed to the fears, and would often wake up screaming. Because of their proximity, because of how much he’d helped her, because they were both going through something of an existential crisis, Xavier and Gabrielle cleaved to one another. Sleeping in his arms the terrors finally began to fade. For her. Unconsciously, Xavier finally felt the full brunt of her terror, and just as unconsciously, reached out telepathically to the place where her horror lied… and discovered that it was real.

Charles woke in a sweat, and got up, to find Erik pacing. He had a problem he didn’t think he could bring to Xavier. Xavier, exasperated, tells Erik they both know they’re both mutants, and that Erik’s untenable problem involves them- and that he’s happy to help. But perhaps more importantly, there is a graver threat to humanity, one hidden beneath the sands for millennia, an evil so unspeakable history scoured its existence from all record, a doom sleeping in an ancient tomb, waiting for the ripest moment to spark an Armageddon that would make the Holocaust look quaint by comparison- a living Apocalypse.

Magneto tells him to shut up. Xavier, thinking he sounds like a raving lunatic, persists, only for Erik to silence him more forcefully with a shout. Then he hears it, too: gunfire. They rush through the camp as people run in the other direction. But the sounds of gunfire are becoming further, and they find Xavier’s tent has been shredded, the bedding he shared with Gabrielle empty and torn. Xavier reaches out with his mind and tells Erik they have her, and he needs his help… and that Gabrielle is pregnant. And that the child will be like them. Magneto tells him “Mazel tov, Charles,” but protests that he didn’t need further motivation than rescuing Gabrielle.

Xavier tells him he needed Erik to understand what was at stake for him- and that she doesn’t know yet. Xavier is able to track them to the place we saw in Gabrielle’s flashback, the sinkhole where her caravan disappeared.

When they arrive, they find a decent size encampment of Hydra soldiers. Magneto is incensed at this, seeing them as little better than Nazis. Xavier tries to argue him down, reasoning that they can get to Gabrielle with no loss of life. Magneto’s having none of it, that Charles’ solution leaves them alive to keep spreading their poison. Xavier does what he can to stem the loss of life, but Magneto rampages. It all comes to a head when they find the officer holding Gabrielle, Baron Strucker. Magneto uses his powers to rip the rifles from the arms of Strucker’s guards, turns them on the Hydras, and fires. Xavier yells out in protest.

Strucker calls them “Ubermensch” and explains to them that the most fervent search Hydra undertook was looking for this buried messiah. “He was waiting for the rise of mankind’s superiors;” Strucker sees mutants and Hydra as natural allies, both representing the pinnacle of human achievement. Magneto is bemused at his arrogance, and sees Strucker as far beneath him, and tries to kill him. Only he can’t. Xavier has restrained him telepathically. It’s hard to put into words the depth of this betrayal to Erik; they’re friends, and Xavier has violated his mind- all to protect a man no better than a Nazi.

Xavier knows what he’s done, but he’s consumed by the evil thing pulsating beneath them. He shares its thoughts with Magneto, in an attempt to persuade him to stay and help. Only Magneto sees the creature differently; he feels that if Strucker’s right, then it was waiting for them- it is doom merely for the humans. “I now see which side you’ve always been on, Charles,” he sneers, before flying away.

Xavier telepathically flattens Strucker, then gets Gabrielle into a truck so she can drive herself back to safety; she says she knows the way, but she wants him to come with her. He says he can’t; he’s seen the thing in her nightmares, felt its rancid breath on his face. He can’t sleep, knowing it draws breathe still- he has to face down this demon. She’s heartbroken, because they both understand, on some level, this is him leaving her, him deciding to go down a dangerous path she cannot possibly follow, that even if by some miracle he survives the ordeal, their love is over.

Alone, now, Xavier descends into the sinkhole. The architecture is Egyptian-esque, think pyramids mixed with alien tech (Celestial, if memory serves). In the center of the chamber is a black cocoon that is nearly an obelisk. As Charles approaches it, it begins to send out pulses of force that nearly knock him over. But he continues forward, struggling against the tide, before eventually touching the obelisk. I think from this point forward we go to a battle on a psychic plane. Probably to preserve long-term casting possibilities, Apocalypse appears as a young Egyptian boy. He tells Xavier that only the strongest should survive, so he welcomes his challenge. Then the boy grows in size, until he’s replaced by a giant blue boot trying to stomp on Xavier. Charles tackles through the foot, ripping the boy out of the construct, grabbing hold of his head. Xavier’s eyes glow, then his hands, then the boy’s eyes, then everything is engulfed in light.

The psychic feedback sends out a bigger pulse, throwing Xavier into the wall, and causing a second cave-in. Most of the architecture collapses inwards as sand rushes in. We cut to the remains of the Hydra camp. The soldiers fled, taking everything they could quickly grab. Out of the sand Xavier thrusts a hand. He crawls out of the hole. And keeps crawling, his legs pulled limply behind him. He manages to pull himself by morning to a small village, and he’s airlifted back to Cairo for medical treatment.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t anticipated seeding Apocalypse like this, and so hadn’t expected to injure Xavier… but I’m toying with 6th Sensing it. So characters who can see through telepathic manipulation talk to him as he is- a man in a wheelchair (off the top of my head, Jean, Essex, Shadow King, Emma). And everyone else sees him walking- that he admits at the end here that it was a crutch, that he felt he needed to project strength- but he understands now, having gotten to know all of them, that true strength comes from being who you really are, not projecting what you think others need to see.

The finale of the season is Cain Marko, now the Juggernaut, attacking the school as Xavier wraps up his tale. His young X-Men have to deal with the Juggernaut, showcasing their new attempts to work cohesively as a team. Iceman freezes the ground, Cyclops knocks him over with an optic blast, Beast grabs him by the ankles and spins him to keep him disoriented while Jean Grey telekinetically unbuckles his helmet, which Angel flies off with, leaving Cain vulnerable to his brother’s psychic assault.

Bonus Pitch: I could absolutely see a spin-off out of this being Magneto: Hydra Hunter, covering the time from after he and Xavier part ways, until he graduates to Supervillainy, basically him going after Nazis/Hydra and doing a riff on Munich (the Spielberg movie) as he tries to wrangle with his own demons; because I don’t think he’s quite there, yet, as a villain. I think what would probably get him there is him trying to focus on just killing the worst of the worst, in the hopes that without the Nazis and Hydra, humanity could learn to get along with mutants, and then with the rise of the Friends of Humanity movement, with the return to the public square of Nazis- it all just becomes too much for him to bear- he starts to think it isn’t a few bad apples, that the whole damn orchard is the problem.  

Even still, I could see needing a third series for Magneto to really gel as a villain. I’d probably go for an Asteroid M storyline, him trying to have his own mutant Israel, only learning that if they displaced anybody they could never have peace so he builds an asteroid out of metallic space debris for his people to live on. And of course, when human governments can’t abide what is basically a weapons platform floating above their heads and attack what was meant as a peaceful gesture, that seals things for him. That is a Magneto you probably could get away with selling shirts saying, “Magneto Was Right.” Not that I think you should… even pop-culturally ironic endorsements of genocide are a bad idea, no matter how sympathetically you build out an origin story. But that is a damn fine villain, if I do say so myself. And I just did.

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