On X-Men ’97, Professor X and Magneto Fiddle While Rome Burns

Marvel’s mutants are locked in a world of fighting—fighting to survive, fighting to push back against hate. But they’re also just as often fighting among themselves, and this week’s penultimate episode of X-Men ‘97 is no exception… except mutantdom’s two biggest drama queens couldn’t have picked a worst time for their latest squabble.

Previously, I described last week’s “Tolerance is Extinction, Part 1” as the necessary “fight fight fight!” portion of X-Men ‘97‘s grand, three-episode finale, setting the stage for the ideological battleground to come as both Magneto and a returned Professor X made themselves known to the world once again, rising up to tackle the threat of Bastion from opposing fronts. But really, it’s much the same in “Tolerance is Extinction, Part 2” this week. The fighting is still here, there’s a lot of it, and it’s good. The threat of Bastion is still here, albeit paused by Magneto’s almighty EMP pulse, even it’s dulled slightly by the actual ecological threat his magnetic assault means for the world now. It’s just that that ideological schism is now firmly here too, and so far, mutantkind is facing it by, well, going “fight fight fight!”

The X-Men love this almost as much as they love working together. The franchise has always been as much a soap opera as it is a superhero story, and there is no greater, cattier drama than friends and allies getting digs in under the belt and turning on each other for a big bustup. It’s why it makes perfect sense, that even with Bastion lighting half the world on fire unleashing the Prime Sentinels, and with Magneto having shut down electronics regardless of the source worldwide to bring those Sentinels to heel, the real thrust of this episode isn’t how our heroes will stop Bastion, but how they’ll stop slapping each other about the face for five seconds and listen to the arguments everyone’s making.

Image for article titled On X-Men '97, Professor X and Magneto Fiddle While Rome Burns

Screenshot: Marvel

So as Jean, Storm, Forge, Morph, Beast, and Cable lead one team to infiltrate Bastion’s stronghold in an attempt to dampen his technopathic powers, and Cyclops, Wolverine, Jubilee, Nightcrawler, and Charles head to a reforged Asteroid M to try and talk Magneto down from destroying the Earth as they know it—backed up by both Rogue and Roberto, who took Magneto’s potent offer of vengeance for Genosha in the face of Charles’ recalcitrance—we’re really getting more of what we already got. And once again, that’s not a bad thing: X-Men ‘97 is relishing in getting to let loose in its action, and an abundance of fight scenes is actually quite perfect for a show that’s always almost running a little too hot to slow down and let its ideas simmer a little. With not much else really going on in the narrative other than the ticking clock of Magneto’s magnetic field, it lets the thing that matters most rise to the surface. And what matters most to X-Men so much of the time than its two most prominent idealogues trying to cross the aisle?

But this is not some clean hall of debate Magneto and Professor X find themselves in—it’s the heat of battle, and as Rogue growls at Logan at one point, they’re all playing to kill. Mutantkind’s used to lashing out when it’s got its back against the wall, but that’s united against exterior forces: the threat feels different when it’s them duking it out among themselves. And it makes the arguments that Magnus and Charles make to each other different, too. For all the villainous edge ‘97 paints Magneto’s broad actions here with—he is, after all, quite ready and aware of the fact of what he’s doing isn’t just stopping the Sentinels, but setting all of Earth on the path to immediate cataclysm—there is still an understanding the audience, as well as Rogue and Roberto, feel with his hurt, that Genosha was a step too far to be taken on mutantkind’s chin. For all the reason ‘97 paints Charles’ pleas for Magneto to stop with, meanwhile, there is still the fact that his road to tolerance—and yes, that tolerance is in the face of an attempted genocide—is bathed with the bodies of battered and bloodied mutants, as his students scrap among themselves around him, or in how quick he is, the second Magneto’s helmet is removed, to start torturing him with a horrifying psionic blast as he tries to claim dominion over not just Magneto’s powers, but his very body.

Image for article titled On X-Men '97, Professor X and Magneto Fiddle While Rome Burns

Screenshot: Marvel

Both Magnus and Charles want the same things, they always have. And while the situation they’re in sparks desperation from the both of them, it’s neither man that’s wholly right in “Tolerance is Extinction, Part 2.” It’s Cyclops—blasting Charles mid-assault after being given a psychic vison of Jean almost perishing in battle to try and stop Sinister and Bastion; and it’s Wolverine—stabbing Magneto to try and stop his pulse from getting even stronger, the bravest falling in battle first as he puts it. This isn’t the time for the ideological thrust at the heart of the X-Men. It’s the time for them to be heroes, for each other, for their own people, for the world they call home no matter who doesn’t want them there. The path they take in that world after the fact can wait.

We’ll have to wait for next week’s finale to see if their attempt really worked—Logan certainly pays a high price, as the episode ends with Magneto tearing the adamantium off his skeleton in one of the most horrifying sequences of the show up to this point. But even if it does, that pause right now is only a pause… and extinction awaits the X-Men and the whole world if they don’t do something beyond it soon.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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