‘Legion’ Finally Finds A TV Cliche It Can’t Dress Up Enough

A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I wash the dishes while singing along to “99 Luftballons”…

“Something’s wrong. Like a dream, you know? But not an interesting one.” –Syd

Through its first five episodes, Legion took a lot of old storytelling devices that have been worn out to the point of annoyance — chief among them the question of whether any of this is real, or if it’s all taking place inside David’s head — and breathed new life into them through the sheer audacity, imagination, and execution of this creative team. It’s a show where I’ve had reservations almost every week, but reservations that quickly get swept away because OHMIGOD IS JEMAINE JAZZ-DANCING INSIDE AN ICE CUBE?

With “Chapter 6,” the series finally crashes into a trope even it can’t dress up with its usual style and attention to detail. David and the Summerland team find themselves trapped inside a version of Clockworks constructed by some combination of David’s powers and The Devil With The Yellow Eyes, with their real powers and traumas presented as psychological symptoms, like Kerry and Cary’s pathological closeness, or Ptonomy’s fixation on the memory of his mother’s death in Germany.

Placing characters in an asylum and telling them that everything they’ve experienced in the series to that point isn’t real is among the oldest, hoariest of TV cliches. (Airwolf did this when I was a kid, and even then I recognized it as something that had been done a million times before.) It can have value if done right(*), and Legion, with its focus on the mental health of its main character, is more entitled to use it than most, but it’s still a drag, and one that feels like a way to stall the story that Hawley and company are telling across these first eight episodes.

(*) For an example of it being done wrong on every level, I invite you to watch the second episode of Iron Fist— which attempts the whole Gaslight routine before anything has actually happened — when it debuts on Friday. Or, better yet, don’t.

In time, “Chapter 6” does reveal the extent of The Devil/Lenny’s plans for David, and the degree to which it/she has control over his body, his mind, and his many powers. That’s best dramatized in the episode’s highlight sequence, a dance number scored to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” in which Lenny (dressed like a Chicago chorus girl) sashays her way through every corner of David’s mind, sometimes as silhouette flanked by paint smeared images of his past, sometimes literally dancing through his memories. That’s stunning, as are the other ways the visual effects team literalizes Lenny’s omnipresent, omniscient role in this place, like that shot of her giant eyes materializing in the wall to watch Melanie as she’s attempting to prevent David and Syd from being shot by Rudy back in the real world.

But even with the usually impressive array of visual tricks (Syd floating across the floor as she listens to the cricket song, or the beating, bleeding heart under the concrete in the wall), plus some clever reinterpretations of the characters for this alternate reality (Kerry doesn’t know she’s a badass, and is terrified to be away from Cary, or Amy acts out all of David’s worst fears about being adopted by telling him that no one wants him here), there wasn’t enough there to justify devoting a whole hour to our heroes being trapped in this place. “Chapter 4” was as weird as TV can get when David Lynch isn’t involved, but it ultimately moved the larger story along even as it was contorting itself into a narrative pretzel. This was more straightforward and much less illuminating.

Oh, well. When a show keeps swinging for the fences like this, strikeouts are going to be inevitable. I’m surprised it took this long, frankly.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com