A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as bras are back…
“What was real? That was the mission.” –Syd
Kids, I’ve seen some weird TV in my day. I watched The Sopranos‘ “The Test Dream,” and reviewed Kevin Finnerty’s adventures in Costa Mesa. I broke down Hannibal episodes featuring kaleidoscopic scissoring and a corpse folded into a heart that then unfolded into a hart. And I’ve seen many hours of shows created by Ryan Murphy.
But tonight’s Legion may be the weirdest, most abstract hour of TV I’ve seen since Twin Peaks ended(*). Even compared to the previous three episodes — even just compared to the bananas debut chapter, as opposed to the slightly more conventional second and third installments — this was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. And I loved every baffling minute of it.
(*) Somewhere, David Lynch is sitting in an editing bay working on the Showtime episodes and saying, “Challenge accepted.”
“Chapter 4” achieves epic weirdness of both style and substance. It finally introduces us to Melanie Bird’s husband Oliver (again, Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords) in a more tangible form than as the voice of all the Summerland systems: a leisure suit-clad jazzbo whose mind lives inside a giant ice cube on the astral plane while his body is frozen inside an olde-timey diving suit in the Summerland basement. And even as Oliver is hurling out parables and dancing to Sonny Simmons and generally confusing the comatose David, the parts of the episode set in the physical world have such a dreamlike quality — with images dissolving rapidly from one moment to the next, and past and future existing side-by-side — that it’s easy to begin wondering if this isn’t perhaps also taking place on the astral plane, or inside the powerful and very complicated mind of our hero, who doesn’t even really enter the episode until it’s already half over.
Yet despite all the stylistic shenanigans, “Chapter 4” ultimately proves to be far more than just an exercise in oddness. Like “Chapter 1,” the form and content go hand-in-hand: Everything seems off because everything is off, and elements that seem to make no sense at the beginning largely do by the end.
The Oliver material alone is unsettling, particularly as the episode starts out with him directly addressing the camera as he attempts to make a point about violence, or human nature, or just storytelling, before explaining that there are two fundamental types of stories: those that teach empathy, and those that teach fear. But his monologue effectively hangs over the rest of the episode. As Syd, Ptonomy, and Kerry dig into David’s past, the question quickly becomes whether they should feel for him, or feel terrified of him and all the things he’s capable of doing. We know so little about David because his condition — whether mutant power, mental illness, or both — prevent him from knowing very much about himself, but the more Syd and the others learn about who he was before he went to Clockworks, the worse he appears. But then just when the visit to Dr. Poole’s lighthouse seems to be saying that David is every bit the monster — or every bit susceptible to being controlled by The Devil With The Yellow Eyes — that Philly and others suggest, we find out that this is not Dr. Poole at all, but the Eye in disguise, and this whole mission has led them into an elaborate trap.
Up is down, good is evil, Lenny is actually a large man named Benny(*), the past is the present, and David Haller has the power to do almost anything. Of course a large chunk of this episode has to take place inside a giant floating ice cube that Oliver Bird conjured up as a stylish way to pass the time.