All Work And No Play Makes Dull Mutants — Işık Barış Fidaner

Figure 1: The Aurora Borealis Lorna and Marcos produce when they touch

The Gifted is a TV series (2017-) about mutants with super abilities. The mutants in the series “use” their abilities to various ends with excellent capacity, but they could really get more creative and “play” more with their super powers. I don’t mean to call anybody “dull” in the title, my point is just that the mutants could be much more creative than they presently are. The purpose of this text is two-fold: Introduce a few basic terms from my theory [1] and examine the contents of this TV series.

As a Žižekian, I see jouissance as “the only substance recognized by psychoanalysis” [2] yet I separate it into two parallel constituents: Exigency and Enjoyment. Three basic stances are based on this distinction: Consumer is the stance where Exigency and Enjoyment remain undistinguished, User is the stance where Exigency reigns, and Player is the stance where Enjoyment reigns. There is a dialectical relation between Exigency and Enjoyment that are essentially two sides of the same jouissance.

In The Gifted, the main manifestations of the super powers are (1) as uncontrollable urges and (2) as trained abilities. The natural course of events is for the super powers to manifest themselves initially as uncontrollable urges and then for the mutant to train his/her powers to be able to “use” them properly when needed in certain situations.

A trained ability perfectly distinguishes Exigencies, so it’s the stance of a User, a mutant “using” his/her power effectively. This is the most common kind of manifestation of super powers in the series. Each of the sides in the war try to “use” their super powers most effectively for their own purposes. Typical example: the portals Clarice makes for mutants to reach specific places. She then even complains of being “used”. “Why and how should mutants use their powers?” is the fundamental question that moves the plot forward.

An uncontrollable urge is manifested in a confused state of mind, which does not properly distinguish Exigencies from Enjoyments, thus it’s the stance of a Consumer, a mutant immersed in his/her powers, manifesting them as some kind of Freudian parapraxis. This is presented as the natural way for the initial emergence of super powers, like when Andy destroys the school building. It also happens in extreme psychological circumstances, like when Clarice creates portals unconsciously, or like when Lorna gets angry with Esme and breaks the bed.

There is also a third kind of manifestation that is less common than the other two: Sometimes the mutants distinguish their Enjoyment and “play” with their powers. Although not as emphasised as the other two kinds of manifestation, one could argue that this third kind is the ethical focus of the series. The good side is distinguished from the evil side by their ability to freely play with their powers, the typical example being the Aurora Borealis Lorna and Marcos produce when they touch (Figure 1). But freely playing with the powers is also presented as a possible sin, in the case of Wes’ manipulation of images.

This third kind of manifestation is rather infrequent in the series. The “freedom” of the “good side” is mostly represented by their “use” of super powers for “good purposes”, and finally leads to a division and disagreement over proper means and purposes (at the end of the first season; the second season is set to begin in 25 September 2018). I think the mutants’ active freedom can be more frequently represented by their free play of powers, as in the rare example of the Aurora Borealis.

In a flashback scene, Lorna asks Marcos “When you discovered your ability, what was the first thing you did just for the joy of it?” Marcos says “What joy? I was living on the streets in a cardboard box.” After Lorna shows how she can float in the air and insists for a demonstration from him, he says “Seriously, I don’t know… It’s dumb.” and finally shows a play of light reflections with some pieces of glass. After this dialogue, they discover that they can make an Aurora Borealis.

So why do the mutants not “play” with their powers so often? In Marcos’ words, maybe they find it “dumb” to be creative. Maybe they consider it more “clever” to “use” their powers in constant life-and-death situations with a well-justified paranoia (due to the scriptwriters, of course). It’s “smarter” to be effective and functional in a paranoiac world than being creative and free in a more forgiving world. This seems to account for the “all work and no play” aspect of the mutants’ activities in The Gifted.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] Postmodern Alienation Model, Dr. Işık Barış Fidaner

[2] Less Than Nothing, page 457.


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