A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I have an unusually large amygdala…
“Because I’m sick.” -David
It feels weird saying this about an episode that included the hero turning the dials on a gigantic speaker to quiet the voices in his head, and had the hero and his sidekick smoking from a frog bong, and existed largely inside our hero’s own head as he and his new friends skipped from memory to memory, but “Chapter 2” felt a lot more conventional than last week’s premiere, and a bit of a creative step down as a result.
Now, a lot of the shift in form and content was necessary, not just because director Michael Uppendahl had a shorter window to work in than Noah Hawley did on the premiere, but because so much of the pilot was devoted to placing us inside David’s mind in a less literal way than we get here, so we could understand what it’s like to be him and be unsure of the state of his sanity and/or powers. Having accomplished that masterfully in their opening episode, Hawley and company now have to start telling the larger story of Legion, which involves a fair amount of exposition about the various players — primarily Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird, who dominates much of this week’s action — the stakes, and how the world functions. The cost of getting a delightfully weird and at times baffling episode of TV like “Chapter 1” is an hour like this that has to keep pausing to explain things that there wasn’t time for a week ago because we had to fit in a Bollywood number.
Beyond that, “Chapter 2” runs into the inevitable issue of the audience being slightly ahead of the other characters. There was some of that in the premiere as well, when the Interrogator and his colleague discussed the nature of David’s powers, but everything in that episode was presented in a way designed to make us question the reality of what we were seeing, even an allegedly real interlude explaining what was happening beyond our man’s field of vision. Here, though, Melanie spends a lot of time insisting that what was diagnosed as schizophrenia or Dissociative Identity Disorder was really David not having proper control of his vast telepathic gifts, when it’s pretty clear by now — especially whenever The Devil With The Yellow Eyes blobs up into frame — that the diagnosis lies somewhere in between hers and Dr. Kissinger’s. David is a powerful telepath, and more, but there’s something that runs even deeper than his mutant genes.
And because Melanie, Ptonomy, and the others are only beginning to recognize this, it occasionally makes the story drag — especially since the device of traveling around inside the hero’s memories is a pretty well-worn trope of both superhero comics and sci-fi/fantasy/superhero TV and movies.
This being a Noah Hawley joint, of course, means that the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of it all (or the Pensieve of it all, if you’re in more of a Harry Potter mood) is presented with tremendous style, with brief and distorted glimpses of things we saw in the premiere mixed with unsettling new images and scenes. The glimpses of little boy David being read a nightmarish bedtime book about an angry boy who cuts off his mother’s head were particularly creepy, as was the way the adult David’s session with Dr. Poole skipped a few beats, as if Ptonomy was replaying it via the reel-to-reel recorder in Poole’s office. And Melanie’s headquarters, Summerland, feels just off-kilter enough to be a superhero base on a show from the guy who gave us Fargo.
Overall, though, “Chapter 2” felt more necessary than inspired, moving forward the story — including David’s sister Amy being taken captive by the Eye and his goons — and establishing various rules so that we’ll better understand when they get broken.
Some other thoughts:
* These trips into David’s memory for now provide a reason for Aubrey Plaza to stick around, even though Syd accidentally killed Lenny during the body swap last week. It turns out that David and Lenny were friends and partners in crime prior to their stint in Clockworks, and Lenny comes across less as mentally ill herself than as an addict who perhaps assumed, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fashion, that Clockworks would be a better choice than jail.
* Enter the great Bill Irwin as Melanie’s residence science guy (every superhero team has to have one), Cary Loudermilk. Who should not be confused with Kerry Loudermilk (played by Amber Midthunder), whom we met last week during the escape from the swimming pool, and who has a tendency to appear and disappear at random while Cary is running his tests on David.
* Other character actors of note popping up here: Eddie Jemison (most recently Mr. Boss on iZombie) as the fence to whom Lenny wants to trade the stolen kitchen range for drugs, while Scott Lawrence (recently seen as Daniel Holden’s halfway house counselor on Rectify) as Dr. Poole.
* Soundtrack a bit lighter on pre-existing songs this week, but Syd sings a bit of Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” in the opening sequence, we hear Johnny Woodson’s “Don’t Say Goodbye” as Melanie and her crew are traveling with David, and Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive!” plays over the end credits.
* That Ptonomy’s memory gift extends far back enough to recall the details of his own birth reminds me of one of the more memorable sequences from Netflix’s Sense8 season one, where a beautiful piece of music inspires Riley, and then the others, to recall the moments of their births.
* During that same conversation, we hear an accented voice in the distance — or possibly in David’s head — talking about time travel. Might Legion wind up being this season’s 13th different show to have characters go back in time to hang with Al Capone?
* Note how the show’s aspect ratio occasionally changes, like when we see the Eye and his soldiers hunting for David, and the image becomes widescreen letterboxed.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com