A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as we’re literally saving daylight…
“We’re going to figure this thing out, you and me. Once and for all.” –David’s rational mind
There are many delightful scenes littered throughout the penultimate Legion of season one, and we’re going to talk about many of them in short order. But I’d like to start with a relatively minor one in the grand scheme of things: Cary, having borrowed Oliver’s Jules Verne diving suit to better effect a psychic prison break, takes Syd from the fake version of Clockworks to a more secluded spot on the astral plane, where he attempts to explain the entire plot of the season to this point. Syd quickly shuts down his expository monologue and runs through the whole scenario in a far more succinct fashion because, as she notes with satisfaction, “I’ve been paying attention.”
This conversation made me smile for many reasons. The first of which, obviously, is that it takes place inside a giant version of the kind of pneumatic messenger tube featured at bank drive-through windows. The second is that, like the Cary/Oliver scene that proceeded it — charming and loopy in its own way, because Oliver is simultaneously out of his head (quite literally) and smarter than everyone else — it represents a particularly irresistible genre fiction moment where the good guys come together and start turning the tables on the bad guys. And most importantly, it allows Syd to not be way behind the plot, but on the same page we are, because she is smart, and brave, and pays attention.
One of the more annoying ways that serialized dramas prolong mysteries and/or keep the bad guys in charge is by making the heroes too dumb, or at least too incurious, to figure out what’s going on. (Think of all those times on Lost when Jack met people who were in a position to tell him something about the island, and he instead yelled at them for half an hour.) And when the main characters fall way behind the audience in their awareness of the plot, it makes them look bad and usually makes the show less fun to watch. Legion hasn’t kept the audience in the dark for too long — a benefit of an eight-episode season is that it’s hard to string things out even if you want to — and it makes sure the characters find things out around the same time we do. Oliver and Cary put two and two together about Lenny/The Devil With The Yellow Eyes really being Amahl Farouk, aka the Shadow King, and in short order we see that Syd understands most of it, while one of the episode’s two centerpiece scenes involves David conversing with the rational part of his own mind as they identify all the true facts of his life, how he came to be adopted into Amy’s family, how long Farouk has been with him, etc. Everyone knows what’s happening and what’s important, and the story doesn’t have to lean on anyone’s ignorance to keep moving forward. That’s just better, more interesting storytelling.
Now, to get there, “Chapter 7” has to devote a lot of time to exposition. Enough exposition that most shows would choke on all the backstory being dumped in front of them. Fortunately, it’s happening Legion-style, where even the talkiest, least propulsive moments are presented with so much panache that it never feels like the story is grinding to a halt so that the characters can explain things to each other, and to us. Like I said, Syd and Cary talk inside a gigantic pneumatic messenger. Cary and Oliver talk inside his ice cube, and their discussion of Farouk keeps getting sidetracked so Oliver can bring up his plans to start a barbershop quartet, or insist that Melanie must be Chinese, or can’t find the proper word to describe the condition of his memory. (“Dishes?”) The conversation between the two Davids is the biggest info dump of them all, but because one of the Davids speaks with Dan Stevens’ native English accent(*), and because they’re working in a giant classroom set where the blackboards quickly fill with animated chalk drawings(**), it never drags. It looks lively, there’s a spring in Stevens’ step as he acts opposite himself, and it feels as imaginative as the origin story of the main character of a show this weird and audacious should.
(*) This is a device shows with Brits-playing-American like to do from time to time, both to give their stars a break and to wink at the audience. Legends of Tomorrow did it just last week with Franz Drameh, and had Victor Garber (who’s not English but often sounds like he could be, and was born in the Canadian city of London, to boot) join in.
(**) While the drawings are meant to look fairly primitive, you’ll note that David draws his birth father as bald, and when Amy is flashing back on the night that David came into her family, we see the briefest glimpse of what looks like a wheel with an X insignia. This could all be misdirection, but Legion is an X-Men property, and there have been hints of a certain bald telepathic heroic professor type scattered throughout the season. We’ll see if this is going where it seems to be going — and, if so, whether we actually get to see the character in question.
And as the two Davids figure things out while Cary, Syd, Oliver, and Melanie try to solve problems in both Clockworks and the real world, the action builds and builds until the episode’s jaw-dropping climax: a baroque action sequence set simultaneously in the physical and psychic worlds, with Lenny flitting back and forth between the two while Oliver uses his powers like a telepathic orchestra conductor in the midst of a grand performance of “Bolero,” Lenny turns into a silent horror movie villain (a role that Aubrey Plaza stunningly embodies), complete with black-and-white title cards in place of audible dialogue, and David lets loose with his powers like he never has before (at least, not while he was in control of his own body and mind), tearing apart Clockworks and then catching the bullets that finally sprayed forward once time unfroze. (Having come into his own, he has both Cary’s mechanical halo around his head and a more godlike one floating around his entire being.) I don’t applaud much on my TV (what with the cast and crew not being within earshot to appreciate my appreciation), but that was crazy and gorgeously-executed enough to qualify: the story finally snapping into focus, even as Legion kept things gorgeously weird. Bravo.
This could be an easy conclusion to the season’s story, but as Cary keeps pointing out, the halo only traps the Shadow King, and doesn’t kill or separate him from David. Even before Division 3 shows up outside Summerland, David is seeing The World’s Angriest Boy In The World lurking near him, and once he and the others are surrounded by D3 soldiers, we see Lenny burst out of the same psychic coffin where she had once trapped our hero.
The finale should have a big reckoning between these two longtime psychic roommates. I’m assuming it’ll be presented with at least as much flair, if not more, than we got here.
That was fantastic.
Some other thoughts:
* R.I.P., Eye. At first it seemed like he was just getting folded up like human origami inside the confines of the astral plane Clockworks, but then the exact same thing happened to him when everyone was back in the real world. He made for a creepy enough secondary villain, even if I’m still not clear on exactly what his powers were, other than being able to impersonate the likes of Dr. Poole and Rudy. And with the surprise return of The Interrogator — badly burned, but not dead, from the fight at the climax of “Chapter 1” — Division 3 still has a notable character to represent itself.
* Thus far, the show has mostly asked Jean Smart to be steely and reserved, but boy was she great in the moment where Melanie sees Oliver again while she’s trying to stop the bullets from hitting Syd and David. This is a moment she’s waited 20 years for, but it’s not at all right because of the tension of the moment, and because Oliver’s memory has been thoroughly Swiss-cheesed by his time on the astral plane, and he doesn’t quite know her. (“Have I seen you before? At the poetry slam?”)
* Until Ptonomy turned up when time unfroze, I had nearly forgotten he was trapped in the fake Clockworks with everyone else, and he arguably got one of the better character spotlights of last week’s underwhelming episode (assuming you believe anything he said about his mother was real, and not one of the Shadow King’s fabrications). I suppose you don’t want to have too many teammates together in the halls as they’re fending off Lenny, the Eye, and the occasional phantom zombie — the danger level seems greater if it’s just Syd, a Kerry who doesn’t know how to fight, and a catatonic Rudy — but it’s weird that he was entirely sidelined like that.
* Though Kerry reverts to her combat-ready self the moment she’s freed from the mental prison, we see in the end that the vulnerable version of her from Clockworks wasn’t entirely a fiction. She’s genuinely hurt that Cary left her behind in there, even if he was working on a plan to rescue all of them. This again raises the question of what will happen to her if Cary dies (whether from old age, disease, or superheroic danger) before her. Can she physically or emotionally live in the world without her big brother?
* If you’re curious about the Shadow King’s history from the comics, here’s a good rundown.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org