‘Legion’ Goes To Action As The Shadow King Attacks Division 3


FX

A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I sing The Banana Splits’ theme song

“You decide what is real and what is not.” -Farouk

Superhero stories can be and be about many things. They can be character studies, or parables about the world outside our window, or byzantine soap opera epics that let one story unspool for years or decades on end.

Sometimes, though, superhero stories can be exactly the thing we are most inclined to think of them as: action-packed tales of people with fabulous powers using them to attack one another. Legion is very much a superhero story, albeit a weird and post-modern one, and while it’s interested in exploring the nature of identity, mental illness (presented here as another Hammeo-enhanced discussion of the ways the human mind is different from that of other animals), and other lofty subjects, there are plenty of times where it just wants to be a slugfest between mutants. It just so happens to present those slugfests in esoteric ways, so that the bad guy is transformed into a silent horror movie villain while one of our heroes conducts a telepathic rendition of “Bolero.”

“Chapter 10” advances the story of season two in a number of ways, particularly with a more expansive conversation between David and Future Syd where she explains that in her timeline, David will kill Farouk in one week, thus clearing the path for an even greater monster to emerge and wreck the world as we know it. Mostly, though, it’s memorable for a pair of extended action sequences: Oliver and Lenny assaulting Division 3 while David has led the others off on a pre-arranged wild goose chase, and David and Farouk doing battle on the astral plane so that Farouk will stop killing people (or turning them into pigs and fish).

Both are stylistic marvels of the sort we’ve come to expect from the series by this point, but that are delightful to witness nonetheless. The Division 3 attack evokes the “Bolero” sequence a bit in the way it uses a familiar and benign old song (“Swingin’ On a Star”) as the soundtrack for terrifyingly casual violence, and is as much dance number as action sequence. What’s so fun about watching the show is how it mixes cutting-edge digital effects with fairly old cinematic trickeration, so that all it takes is a little forced perspective for Oliver to look like a massive giant looming over Kerry, followed by Cary’s arm sticking out of his sister’s torso after Oliver turns their relationship inside-out. (More on that below.)

The David/Farouk duel is also a mix of past and present visual styles, as well as our first significant showcase for Navid Negahban as the true face of Farouk. Negahban plays him appropriately smug, almost friendly, both because he’s so powerful and because he knows David so well after spending a lifetime inside his head, and though David might be more powerful than the Shadow King, Farouk never seems to be sweating as they transform from wrestlers in singlets, to a samurai vs tank battle, to tank vs storm, back to wrestlers, and on and on. Farouk can do anything, particularly in the mental realm — him unzipping the entire field around the fortuneteller booth once he was done with it was an effective visual representation of how strong he is — and both fight scenes are a reminder of the threat he poses, which raises the question of just how dangerous the threat from Future Syd’s timeline is, and how difficult it will be for even the combined forces of David and Farouk to stop it.

But I bet however it goes down, it’ll be very cool to watch.

Some other thoughts:

* Beyond the dead/transformed soldiers, the attack on Division 3 has another ongoing effect, as Oliver inverts the arrangement between Cary and Kerry, so that she’s the one who’s always in the real world, while he lives inside her except for when he’s needed. It’s disconcerting for both siblings, and perhaps dangerous for the younger-than-her-years Kerry, whose hair starts to turn white (with a streak evoking Rogue’s) after prolonged exposure to fresh air.

* The fembots are collectively given a name: the Vermillion. I can’t decide if I’d be more amused by whatever the show’s explanation for their mustaches will be, or by the show never attempting to explain them.

* Between the glimpse of Future Syd last week and Cary finding evidence of his own handiwork in the probe from the season one finale’s mid-credits scene, it seems relatively clear that he built the thing down the line to bring Present David to meet Future Syd. Though before he clarifies that, he takes a moment to dismiss another fan theory by noting that the probe was not built by the Shi’ar, an alien race featured often in X-Men comics.

* I continue to be delighted and surprised by how purely physical Aubrey Plaza’s work is on this show, in a manner not reflected in most of her prior roles. The scene during the Division 3 attack where Lenny clambers towards a frightened, spoon-wielding Cary is scary because of how precise and strange Plaza’s movements are. Of course, this isn’t quite Lenny, any more than the black and white movie monster or the shrink who danced through David’s memories was, but it felt appropriate to be reminded of the actress’s physical capabilities in an episode where the character pleads with Farouk to restore her to life in her old body, rather than being trapped as his mental pet.

* In addition to the Hamm-led discussion of where madness can come from, we see a black smear — very much like the one we saw in last week’s white room sequence — in David’s room right before he prepares to confront Farouk again, suggesting David is having trouble holding together his own fragile sanity.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.

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