AND WE’RE BACK! Hi, Evolution! I’ve missed you!
Not only am I back recapping X-Men: Evolution, but I get to jump back in with my hands-down favorite episode of Season 1.
Remember back in Episode 3, when I told you that a lot of the best stuff in Season 1 revolves around Rogue? This is what I’m talking about, right here. “Turn of the Rogue” is a great showcase of my favorite aspects of X-Men: Evolution: the balance and interaction of the superheroic and the personal; emotionally resonant coming-of-age stories; and some of the strongest writing and performances of the season.
Also, Mystique turns into an eagle.
LET’S DO THIS THING.
We open—as X-Men adventures tend to—with a locked gate and a KEEP OUT notice.
Storm is patrolling in a security guard uniform, which pretty much guarantees that this is either a Danger Room exercise or a weird sex game with Logan. Or both, I guess.
Nope, it’s definitely just a training session,1 because Shadowcat ghosts up from the walkway and hits Ororo with the superhero-cartoon-classic knockout spray. That’s totally cheating if you’re the heroes, but I guess they get a pass because they’re kids (which actually seems like an even better reason not to give them knockout spray, but what the hell do I know?).2
Anyway, it’s all very 1992, and I love it.
Spike takes out Wolverine the same way—sans phasing—and it’s nice to see that Wolverine is committed enough to his role to feign fear.
Once the guards are out, Jean telekinetically lowers Scott and Kurt down to their objective: Storm (presumably not the actual Storm, since she’s busy playing an unconscious guard). Storm is knocked out and chained to a pole, under a fancy laser grid; and also suspiciously white.
Cyclops manages to blast through the chain without disrupting the lasers, but Jean is surprised by a now-conscious Security Guard Wolverine. She drops the dudes through the grid, which is fortunately the kind that sets off alarms rather than the kind that dices you into tiny heat-cauterized cubes. The boys make a beeline for Storm, but—surprise—it’s not Storm at all! It’s Rogue—and she’s brought the opening credits!
Rogue absorbs Scott’s powers—although she doesn’t knock him out, which would be a pretty good sign that this wasn’t the real deal, if we hadn’t caught on already—and blasts Nightcrawler; at which point Cyclops stops the simulation. The Roguebot sinks to the floor; and you guys, I find it so profoundly unsettling that Professor Xavier owns robot replicas of his students’ classmates. That is some Arcade-level3 creepiness going on, there.
The Prof isn’t happy that Scott has stopped the simulation. Scott isn’t happy that Rogue is in the scenario. Wolverine and Storm aren’t happy that they have to go debrief instead of exploring the full potential of those security-guard uniforms. But there’s no time to talk about it, because it’s time for a school field trip!
That’s right, kids: the geology club is going spelunking! The teacher, Mr. Retedzke4, looks really unhappy to be there as he warns the students not to bring any “game toys,” which the kids reluctantly unload.5
Scott and Jean, who are too cool for game toys, are arguing about Rogue. Scott is upset that the Professor is throwing her into Danger Room simulations when they’re also trying to make friends with and recruit her. That is in fact a super valid concern! You’re a good kid, Evolution Scott. Too bad Principal Mystique is eavesdropping, smiling her superlatively sinister smile in a way that pretty much guarantees that she’ll find a way to use this against you.
I feel vaguely that I should also note that Scott and Jean are wearing different civilian clothes for the first time in this episode. I guess geology field trips are where all the kids let loose and go wild, at least for values of “wild” that involve mustard-yellow mock turtlenecks with the sleeves rolled up. Jean has apparently decided to wear white slacks on a caving expedition, which I guess is the kind of thing you can get away with when you’re telekinetic.
Meanwhile Rogue is working out alone in the school gym—which is decked out with similarly odd motivational posters to the ones we saw in the cafeteria in “Mutant Crush“— listening to the geology club get ready for their field trip and wishing she had a peer group that didn’t consist entirely of supervillains. There’s a super sad bit where she pointedly snaps the blinds shut, and then peeks through them at Scott and Jean being all platonically snuggly,6 but it’s interrupted by Mystique who’s come in to tell Rogue that she can’t have friends.
No, seriously. Mother of the year, there.
As in “Speed and Spyke,” I’m once again somewhere between impressed and horrified by how generally Mean Girls Mystique’s evil plots are. This feels less like an ideological conflict, and more like Xavier and the villains are leaders of opposing cliques, trying to undercut each other socially.7
After reminding Rogue that the X-Men are supposed to be her enemies, Mystique sends her off on the geology field trip to be “reminded just who [her] real friends are.”
Mystique’s machinations presumably go further than subjecting Rogue to hands-on lessons about metamorphic rocks bookended by two hours of sitting alone on a bus, because we immediately cut to Mr. Retedzke informing Jean that administration has booted her from the trip because she has too many absences.8 And Jean’s spot has been filled by none other than—you guessed it—Rogue.
Back at Stately Xavier Manor, Professor X goes to close an errant window when he finds himself imprisoned by the power of MAGNETISM! That’s right, kids: Magneto has graduated from paperclips to window frames. We’re all very proud.
Magneto is also very proud: specifically, he’s come to compliment Xavier on the development of his students’ mutant powers, and to inexplicably shame Xavier for not telling his kids that Principal Evil Powerbutch Sigourney Weaver Darkholme is actually Mystique.
I really don’t understand why Magneto would do this. On one hand, yeah, maybe he shakes Xavier’s confidence in his own leadership skills; but Magneto’s also basically urging Xavier to blow the cover of Magneto’s strategically placed lieutenant. Really, dude? Really?
Meanwhile, the long-suffering Mr. Retedzke is driving a school bus full of rowdy teenagers through a snowstorm in the mountains. “This isn’t a snowmobile trip, people,” he chides his charges, despite the fact that the bus is clearly towing a trailer full of snowmobiles.
Incidentally, it strikes me as an amazingly bad idea to drive a schoolbus—one towing a loaded trailer—through a snowstorm on narrow mountain roads. I mean, we’re talking about a vehicle that’s not particularly maneuverable and very top-heavy, and—notably—lacks seatbelts. CHOICES, BAYVILLE.
Scott seems to share my concern, but maybe that’s just because his default facial expression is worried. Rogue, on the other hand, is glowering spectacularly over the back of her seat. I love this kid.
As it turns out, Scott and I were totally right, and the bus skids around a sharp turn and starts to careen off a cliff. CALLED IT. Luckily for the Bayville Geology Club, Cyclops has a window seat and is able to use his force beams to stabilize the bus while everyone else is distracted by almost dying—well, everyone but Rogue, which means we get a brief exchange of awkward smiles, and it’s adorable.9
Unfortunately for the geology kids, the bus is fucked. Fortunately, this saves them from their teacher’s deeply dubious plan, which appears to be a three-point turn on the treacherous road they almost fell off. In a school bus. Pulling a trailer.
Rogue pipes up with an idea: they can take the snowmobiles the rest of the way to the cave they were headed to and waiting out the storm there. This plan seems flawed to me, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on why, because my familiarity with snowmobiles basically begins and ends at this cartoon.
Mr. Retedzke also appears to have misgivings, but he’s easily swayed by a bus full of enthusiastic teenagers, which is exactly why he should not be in charge of one. The kids pair off and drive carefully and responsibly to the predetermined rendezvous point.
Ha, no, just kidding. Rogue challenges Scott to a race, and he takes her up on it, because teenagers make terrible choices.
The best thing about this scene by far and away is their snowmobile buddies—an unnamed blonde girl and Emergency Backup Alex Paul, respectively—who are justifiably terrified when Scott and Rogue tear down cliffs like it’s fucking Casa Cristo.10 While they’re both being awful here, Rogue takes it up a notch by actually trying to ram her classmates off a cliff.
“Man, that girl is wiggy,” Paul exclaims. Thank you, Paul. You can go home now.
“No trophies for second place,” Rogue sneers when Scott and Paul finally pull up, as we hear her buddy throwing up offscreen. It’s the little details that really make this episode.
Back in Salem Center, Wolverine has joined Magneto on the Charles Xavier Conscience Train, and is urging the good prof to tell the kids the truth about Mystique.
“How do you tell students that their principal, whom they’re supposed to respect, and their enemy, are one and the same?” asks Xavier, who has apparently never met a teenager in his life.
Logan counters with the excellent point that if you trust kids to fight crime and maintain secret identities, you can probably trust them with the information that their principal is a supervillain. I think I’ve talked about this before, but I really like versions of Wolverine that skew harder to mentor than mercenary, and Evolution Wolverine does that really well. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy Scott McNeil in this role, but the answer is a lot: he’s got just the right balance of gruffness and consternation.11
Xavier doesn’t have the chance to rebut, because Storm and Jean arrive with some bad news: there’s a blizzard in the mountains! And Jean didn’t get to go on the field trip! Because his sense of scale is kind of iffy, Xavier decides that this clearly means something suspicious is afoot,12 and sends the X-Men to check it out. Professor Xavier is a total helicopter headmaster. I bet he has the X-Men deliver the kids’ lunches at school if they forget them.
Meanwhile in the mountains, the geology club has finally made it safely to the cave, where Mr. Retedzke is drawing dubious analogies between geological metamorphosis and mutation. Rogue, who has no time for this bullshit, wanders off into the caves; Scott follows, and nearly stumbles off a cliff. The camera lingers on rocks falling into the chasm below, which is basically television code for “Someone is definitely going to fall off this thing sooner rather than later.”
“I need to know, Scott,” says Rogue, “What is it you want from me?” I assume that there are roughly a zillion fanfiction stories where this scene turns into makeouts and crying, probably at the same time.
“I don’t want anything,” Scott tells her. “Well, except maybe your friendship.” He’s so earnest it’s almost physically painful.
Rogue is less interested in friendship: she wants to know if Principal Evil Powerbuch Sigourney Weaver Worst Mom Darkholme was telling the truth about the X-Men fighting pretend Rogue in battle simulations. Wait ‘til she finds out they actually own a robot replica of her.
I talked about this a little with Wolverine, earlier, but one of my favorite things about “Turn of the Rogue” is how well it highlights what I love about the characters at the center of it. Cyclops—especially Evolution Cyclops—is the Hufflepuffiest Hufflepuff ever to Hufflepuff: an incredibly sincere, compassionate kid who’ll go to incredible lengths to make sure no one get left out in the cold and tries his damnedest to do the right thing; and that is never going to be more evident than it is here.
Unfortunately, Scott doesn’t have time to make much of an impression on Rogue before Paul appears to shepherd them back to the group.
“Paul here is your friend,” snaps Rogue, “but I bet you never practice fighting him!”
“I’m afraid you’d lose that bet, Rogue,” says Paul, morphing first into Principal Darkholme, then Mystique,13 Because she’s Mystique, she follows up the reveal with a super kickass villain speech that ends with a line I am 100% sure she has been practicing for days in front of a mirror:
“You X-Men are nothing but puppets for Charles Xavier, and I am a sharp blade cutting your strings, just so I can watch you fall!”
Then she pushes him off a cliff.
Rogue is less than enchanted with her mentor’s decision to outright murder the only person who’s ever actually been nice to her. Mystique tries to compensate with some half-assed rationalization about how she’s really just protecting Rogue from the X-Men’s lies, but Rogue is pretty much done at this point.
“What did you do to Paul?” Rogue demands.
“Let’s just say he missed the bus,” Mystique tells her, which sounds totally sinister until she adds, after a portentous pause, “thanks to a little miscommunication about the departure time.” So I guess Paul’s not actually chopped up in a locker, just wandering around a parking lot looking confused.
Rogue, unimpressed, decides to get the truth from Mystique the old-fashioned way: psionically sucking it out through her skin in the form of a montage of recycled footage from “Rogue Recruit.”
With Mystique out of the way, Rogue runs to find Scott, whose mutant powers apparently include the world’s strongest fingertips, given that he’s caught and is still somehow hanging on to a ledge about sixty feet down. There’s a moment of impending doom when Mystique appears to be jumping down to finish him off, but, nah, it’s just Rogue with some borrowed powers, and she manages to pull him back up.
“It’s getting kinda hard to tell the players without a score card around here,” Scott complains.14
Their reunion is interrupted by Mystique pushing a gigantic boulder down on them. I love how pleased she always looks when she’s being evil. Follow your bliss, Mystique.
Scott and Rogue dive out of the way, and land in the icy underground river below, where by some miracle they do not immediately drown. The river sweeps them toward a rock wall, which Scott manages to blast out of the way, so they careen over a waterfall instead, which I guess is marginally better.
The kids land on a narrow rock bridge straight out of CLIMACTIC STANDOFF SETTINGS ‘R’ US. They’re both freezing and wet, and Scott has hit his head and is semiconscious.
“You’re gonna be okay,” Rogue reassures him. “You’re gonna be—“ She stops for a moment to take stock of the situation. “Oh, man. We’re gonna die.”
Have I mentioned recently how much I love Evolution Rogue? So much, and Meghan Black’s delivery is just spot-on throughout this episode.
Despite freezing wind, certain death, and traumatic brain injury, Rogue and Scott manage to cement their friendship with the glue of being jerked around by adults they trust. GO, TEAM!
As the kids bond in the face of their inevitable doom, the grown-up X-Men are high-tailin’ it to the mountains in the blackbird: Wolverine in the pilot seat, Xavier silently judging, and Storm in the back, loudly protesting that she’s “a weather witch, not a snowplow.” Oh, Storm. You tried.
Not hard enough, though, because in the cave, Mystique has just turned into a GIANT WOLF. Okay, then. Scott’s pretty much out at this point, which is a problem, because he was the one of the two of them with powers that worked outside of biting distance.
Scott’s state is proving a problem for the X-Men, as well—without his conscious mind for Xavier to lock on to, there’s no way for them to find the kids in what have by now become total whiteout conditions.
Rogue’s initial plan is basically to use Scott as a beacon—continuing the fine comics-based tradition of dragging him around and aiming him like a cannon while he’s unconscious or semiconscious, which they seriously do for like a third of X-Men: The Hidden Years. Unfortunately, maintaining it for any length of time pretty much requires a telekinetic, which Rogue’s not; and while Scott manages to keep his eyes open long enough to catch the attention of the blackbird, that still leaves the problem of Mystique, who is still a super pissed-off wolf.
If only Rogue had some way to—and I’m just spitballing here—maybe like borrow, or, say, absorb powers from people she was near? That’d be pretty useful, right? Apparently we’re on the same page: Rogue absorbs Scott’s powers and blasts wolf Mystique off the bridge, at which point Mystique TURNS INTO A MAJESTIC FUCKING BALD EAGLE AND OH MY GOD, I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH.
Before she can swoop in and carry the kids off to feed her young or whatever, Eagle Mystique is blocked by the descent of the cavalry Blackbird and a very irate Wolverine, who appears in the hatch to threaten Eaglestique with his claws. She squawks angrily and swoops away, which is kind of a shame, because I feel like Wolverine just straight-up punching a bald eagle would be the best gif of all time. Instead, he leaps down and grabs Scott and Rogue just as the bridge crumbles away, which I guess is also acceptable.
“Where’s your allegiance, kid—us or them?” Wolverine asks Rogue, who’s curled up shivering in a corner of the Blackbird.
Rogue is worried that answering wrong will get her thrown out of the jet. “Nope,” says Wolverine, “Not our style.” The X-Men prefer to menace children on the ground, thank you very much. Rogue, whose life is pretty much going to suck either way, chooses the X-Men, earning her a claw-free handshake from Wolverine and a knowing smirk from Professor X.15
Later, back at Stately Xavier Manor, the kids have gathered to take their asshole teacher to task for not telling them that the principal who was making their lives miserable was in fact a supervillain. TRUE FACT: There is nothing more satisfying than watching Charles Xavier’s students call him on his bullshit.16
Rogue, as the newest addition to the team, gets to officially state this episode’s Jedi Lesson, which boils down to “honesty is important.”
Professor X agrees to try to lie a little less, and Scott and his recent head injury pipe in to add, “It’s nice to know we’ve all got something to learn. That’s what makes us X-Men.” Actually, Scott, I’m pretty sure that what makes you X-Men is using your mutant powers to fight to protect a world that hates and fears you; and maybe also the costumes with the Xs on them. Nice try, though.
1. While I (reasonably) assume that Logan and Ororo use the Danger Room for weird sex games ALL THE TIME, they also seem like the kind of people who’d be generally aware of appropriate boundaries as adult authority figures.
2. I checked with my mom, who teaches middle school, and she confirms that it is in fact probably a bad idea to give knockout spray to humans at developmental stages when they’re basically wired for impulsivity. (That said, pretty much any argument against giving kids weapons is also going to be an argument against training them as superheroes, which would pretty much preclude this series, so, ONWARD!)
3. Comics arcade, not Evolution Arcade, who does not—to the best of my knowledge—keep robot replicas of anyone in his basement.
4. My kingdom for a version of this episode where Professor Garrity from “Mutant Crush” is along as a snarky co-chaperone.
5. The Game Toy is a little known handheld gaming system best known for such smash hits as Bokéman and Super Maria World.
6. I think the fact that they’re touching is supposed to make this extra poignant—look, Rogue, it’s everything you can’t have—but the fact that they’re doing it through fabric completely undercuts that particular point.
7. Yes, I realize that this is a show set in a high school. However, most of the plots in question are masterminded by adults, so I maintain that those setups are still super weird.
8. Bayville really needs some kind of half-day superhero program or something.
9. Look, I KNOW Scott and Rogue are the Official Signature ‘Ship of the show, but fuck, I like them so much as friends.
10. Go, Speed Racer, go!
11. I just looked Scott McNeil up on IMDB, and apparently he played Grumpy Bear in the series Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot as well as a stand-alone animated movie, and I cannot describe how happy this makes me.
12. He’s not wrong, but he’s right for the wrong reasons.
13. I’d like to think she was just hanging out, waiting for the right straight line.
14. Somewhere in the X-Pert Cave, an alarm blares. Miles looks up from the bulletin board, where he’s pinning red string between images clipped out of the Stryfe’s Strike File special, and leaps to a red phone. “Rachel,” he calls, “To the Blackbird! We’re needed on Earth-11052!”
15. It’s gonna be SO AWKWARD when she finds the Roguebot.
16. Well, maybe Wolverine punching a bald eagle; but sadly, that ship has sailed.