I can summarize most episodes of X-Men: Evolution from memory, in a fair degree of detail; so it surprised me when, in reviewing the Season 1 roster, I realized I recalled almost nothing of “Survival of the Fittest” beyond the fact that it involved some kind of summer camp scenario. When I started to watch, I realized why: in a season where even the bad episodes are usually entertaining, this one is just boring as all hell.
On my first pass, I stopped taking notes five minutes in, because nothing was happening. By the halfway mark, I was actively fantasizing about watching paint dry.1But I am nothing if not committed, readers. I promised you a recap, and a recap you would have, come hell or high water.
Ah, well. At least I get to judge cartoon teenagers for their fashion choices.
I like this episode, because this is where Evolution starts to catch its stride and find its voice. “Middleverse” is kind of a mess animation-wise, but it’s also a one-off, a lighthearted breath of fresh air before we dive headfirst into the Big Ongoing Story next episode.
It also gets bonus points for being a Forge episode, which is almost always a plus. Comics Forge tends to be dark and brooding and at the center of convoluted storylines and soap opera, but two out of three animated Forges are uncomplicatedly delightful. The best animated Forge, of course, is Wolverine and the X-Men Forge, who just straight-up is Miles to the extent that we had his action figure in college and more than one person assumed it was a custom portrait. But Evolution Forge is pretty great, too.
You know how I said that X-Men: Evolution is really entertaining even when it’s really, really bad? This week, we’re gonna put that to the test. Prepare for more rock puns than you have ever heard in a single 22-minute stretch. Also, Transformers. Kinda.
In other news, I still have no idea what the titles refer to.
BUT FIRST, A PRETEND HORROR MOVIE!
We open with the Pryde home, in a fictional town in Illinois. The town has a name, but I don’t care what it is, and it’s never going to be relevant again, so I’m just gonna call it Fake Deerfield. Cool? Cool.
Kitty dreams that she’s falling, and–spoiler–she actually falls through her bed and floor and lands in the basement. She wakes up screaming, and her parents rush down to comfort her. They think she was sleepwalking–until they look up and a PORTENTOUS FLASH OF LIGHTNING illuminates her blanket, embedded in the basement ceiling.
OH MY GOD! THAT’S–actually, wait, that’s not scary at all.
Okay, look, I get what they were shooting for here, but you know who has the least horror-movie powers of just about all the X-Men? Hint: It’s definitely Kitty, barring the stories where phased becomes her default state (which this isn’t). Framing this scene and the Prydes’ cheerfully generic suburban house like a horror movie reminds me of one of those recut trailers where you try to make a movie look like a genre it obviously isn’t; or a kid telling a shaggy-dog joke and then waiting for you to be overjoyed at the lack of punchline; or the entire movie White Noise.1 It’s all buildup, with no proportionate payoff.
Meanwhile, back at Stately Xavier Manor, Kitty’s late-night spill pings Cerebro. Does anyone else find it unsettling that Professor X has a psychic supercomputer that provides him with turnaroundfull body scans of teenagers?
Also, Cerebro accurately predicts the outfit that Kitty is going to wear to school the next day.2
“What am I?” wails Kitty. “What’s happening to me?” Just give it five seconds, kid–the credits montage identifies you quite clearly as Shadowcat.