X-Men: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 5: Captive Hearts
Writer: Robert Skir, Martin Isenberg
Story Editor: Eric Lewald
Story Consultant: Bob Harras
Supervising Producer: Will Meugniot
Line Producer: Larry Houston
Original Air Date: 30 January 1993
Synopsis (from IMDB): “Wolverine has strong feeling for Jean Grey, but she’s with Cyclops. Storm has a paralyzing case of claustrophobia and must overcome this as the X-Men venture into the New York sewers to rescue Jean Grey, and Cyclops from a deformed race of mutants called the Morlocks. Storm confronts the leader of the Morlocks, Callisto, who wants Cyclops to rule beside her as king.”
Our episode begins with a few of our merry mutants engaged in a Danger Room simulation. While it’s mostly unnecessary in terms of the narrative, it does establish one of Storm’s defining characteristics: she suffers from crippling claustrophobia. When confronted with a sliding wall, Storm begins to suffer a panic attack at the thought of being trapped. You’ve got to wonder if this is going to play into the story later (spoiler: it totally does).
This is something I’ve always loved about the X-Men in general – despite their awesome powers. They each have some chip on their shoulder that humanizes them and makes them a little more relatable. Storm has control over the elements but can’t handle tight spaces. It’s oddly charming in a way. The rest of the scene does a fine job of showing each character’s individuality- something this series does very well. The fight sequences don’t just highlight their individual powers, but their personalities as well. Rogue is sassy, Gambit’s headstrong and Storm displays great leadership abilities, until her one evident weakness is exploited.
The rest of the team, meanwhile, is in the midst of their own soap operas: Scott, aka Cyclops and Jean, are about to embark on a romantic evening together. While perennial third-wheel Wolverine remains at the mansion, licking his wounds from his fight with Sabretooth and pining for Jean. Before she leaves, Wolverine makes it clear under no uncertain terms that he’s in love with her. Feelings that are not reciprocated, at least not like THAT.
It’s a bizarre love triangle that is frankly handled better in this series than in any of the later live-action films. This episode does a fine job of exploring that dynamic, albeit briefly. We catch up with the love-birds on their date. They come across a mutant (Leech, of the Morlocks) who is under attack by a group of hate-mongers. Naturally, the two go to his rescue. Of course, everything goes to hell.
Jean and Cyke follow the group down to a subway platform, where several other Morlocks are waiting. The subterranean mutants attack the group chasing Leech, but in doing so also assault many other bystanders. Our heroes manage to subdue most of the Morlocks and save a few innocents from nearly getting crushed by an oncoming train before they’re taken down by an older mutant, Annalee, who puts them to sleep. The Morlock leader Callisto appears and instructs the resident strong-man, er mutant to bring the X-Men back with them.
Back to Leech for a second: his portrayal, while mostly in-line with his comic persona, is pretty inconsistent, which is a problem I have with many of the Morlocks we see in this scene. The young green mutant has the ability to dampen and negate the powers of other mutants. However, when we first see them, it appears he’s using telekinesis to steal some fruit from a nearby vendor. Another of the Morlocks, the mysterious Annalee, displays powers that are not so clearly defined. In the comics, she is able to project her emotions onto others, which we do see later but how she uses this ability to render others unconscious doesn’t make much sense. Her powers get even weirder as the story continues but more on her later.
Back at the mansion, Wolverine continues to lament his unrequited feelings while laying in bed. Staring at a photo of Scott and Jean like some lovesick teenager. This brief scene helps set up Wolverine’s rage (and possible hatred) of Cyclops, which is important later. We also see Gambit in a speedo, for no reason, so there’s that.
Meanwhile, Cyclops awakes in the Morlock’s underground lair and is shocked to see…well anything. In a demonstration of his abilities, Leech has suppressed Cyke’s optic blasts, allowing him to see unencumbered by his shades. This simple act is not out of malice to keep his powers in-check but rather out of kindness, as the young mutant explains. He appreciated the help received earlier and wants to return the favor. This is important because it reveals Leech, at least, to be a compassionate, if not misunderstood creature. Cyclops is then taken to Callisto, who provides their backstory.
As it turns out, the reason the Morlocks hide in the tunnels is because they are too malformed to blend in with society. Callisto has seen Cyclops in action. They believes him to be a worthy companion, who can help her take care of the underdwellers, as well as provide her with an heir. Yep, it’s subtle but turns out Callisto wants to get down with old Slim and make a baby. Needless to say, he’s not interested (his response, “Take out an ad” is pretty hilarious actually) and only wants to get Jean back. His lady-love is revealed, as she is lowered to the floor by chains and pulleys. She blasts her captors with her teke powers and is able to get a telepathic signal to Professor Xavier before she and Cyclops are subdued. Using Cerebro, Professor X pinpoints their location and sends the remaining X-Men to find them.
As Storm leads the others down to the subway, there are a lot of little things I really appreciated: when the team walks down the stairs, Gambit begins to offer Storm a reprieve, before he’s quickly cut off by Wolverine. “Can it, Cajun, it’s her call,” he says. It’s an amusing line but also telling – clearly, Wolverine respects Storm’s leadership and doesn’t want her fears to compromise that. There are also a few nuances such as Storm’s discomfort when a subway train goes by and when they enter the tunnels. Even when Gambit insists Storm needs help, Wolverine just growls. “Let her ask.” As a child, I probably thought he was being a dick. The truth is he’s helping her in the best possible way.
When they finally reach the lair and locate Jean, she’s under the influence of Annalee, imagining she’s the Morlock’s daughter and is terrified of her teammates. In a moment of unintentional hilarity, Annalee pushes Wolverine to think he’s covered in scorpions before he snaps out of it and rushes at Jean’s captor, chasing her away. As Wolverine comforts Jean, Callisto reveals herself, and at her feet, a seemingly dead Scott Summers.
As Jean goes to him, Callisto explains how her tribe will mourn his death but provide safe passage to the X-Men. Wolverine, however, doesn’t buy it and rushes to attack his fallen leader, much to his teammates’ dismay. Cyclops rises, transforming back into a Morlock shapeshifter, and revealing Callisto’s ruse. Of course, this leads to a fight between the surface mutants and the underdwellers. Wolverine uses his tracking abilities to locate the real Cyclops. Confronted with the opportunity to abandon or even dispatch Scott, Wolverine chooses to do the noble thing and rescue him. He comments he wouldn’t be able to take seeing Jean cry. After discovering Wolverine’s feelings for Jean, Annalee once again manipulates Wolverine’s emotions to turn on Cyclops just after rescuing him. If not for Wolverine’s own strength of will, along with a psychic blast from Jean, Cyclops might have been killed for real.
Despite being reunited, the Morlocks gain the upper hand over the X-Men. Their struggle culminates in a seriously goofy fight-to-the-death between Storm and Callisto for the right to lead the mutant outcasts. It’s hilarious watching them go all “American Gladiators” on each other with what are essentially double-bladed lightsabers. Callisto’s even looks like a cheap knock-off of Darth Maul’s trademark weapon.
Storm finally overcomes her fears and defeats Callisto but denounces killing, choosing to spare Callisto’s life. She then addresses the Morlocks, offering them freedom from living underground, which they reject. They choose to remain outcasts until such time as humanity might accept them. Storm then offers her hand to Callisto and designates her de facto leader once again, before leading her wary teammates back to the surface. Once the X-Men are back at the mansion, Scott and Jean enter Wolverine’s room to thank him for saving them both but are shocked to find that he’s left without a trace…
One of the things I loved about this show growing up is that it felt like more than just a normal Saturday morning cartoon. Much like the comics that inspired it, the show felt like a soap opera, as many episodes, such as this one, would end on a cliffhanger. Serialized storytelling was rare for a kid’s cartoon at the time. It was a nice departure to see threads continue from episode to episode, telling an overarching story. Revisiting the series for the first time in a few years, I remember why I loved the show so much, though it doesn’t hold up as well as I would have liked.
The majority of my issues are with the Morlocks. As Callisto explains, they live underground because they’re too “unsightly and deformed” to love among humans. Except that…it’s not actually true. In fact, most of them appear perfectly normal. Sure there’s Leech, and the gray-skinned Tarbaby, and some weird blue guy with a duck face but several among them, most notably Callisto and Annalee, look no different than a baseline human.
Speaking of Annalee… remember how I said her powers were to project emotions? Well, apparently this also includes being able to create illusions, such as the part where Wolverine freaks out because he thinks he’s covered in scorpions. Seriously, it’s hilarious. It seems more like she’s able to alter people’s perceptions of reality, which is a pretty amazing ability. Between that and the fact that she looks like a normal old lady, it’s weird to think she chooses to remain underground when she could use these powers to do just about anything.
However, apart from these inconsistencies, and poorly-defined abilities, this is a pretty decent episode. As I recall, it’s one of the weaker episodes of the first season. The Morlocks posing a far less interesting threat than, say Apocalypse or Magneto. The emotional subtext of Storm’s dilemma, coupled with the Wolverine-Cyclops-Jean love triangle gives some much-appreciated drama into the proceedings.