A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I’m wearing two bathrobes and listening to jungle sounds…
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” -David
“I know, but it is.” -Amy
Last week’s episode was frustrating in large part because the shocking revelation at the end of it involved a character the show had completely forgotten about. “Chapter 14” attempts to rectify that, in double the usual off-kilter Legion fashion: not only are we being reminded about Amy’s importance to David only after we’ve learned that she’s dead(*), but in an episode that skips around a half-dozen alternate timelines, including periodic glimpses of “our” Amy and David mixed in with David as a junkie, a homeless fugitive, a heavily-medicated guy with a mustache struggling to make it through each day, and the richest man in the world, among other scenarios.
(*) More or less, anyway. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Amy hanging out in the pool with Oliver in some upcoming episode.
Comic books and science fiction both love tales of infinite universes created by infinite decisions, because they create a fun way to explore different versions of the main characters and stories while still preserving the versions the audience knows best. A character like David, with his vast and diverse power set (which Legion has never bothered to define beyond, “telepathy, and also anything else he needs in a given moment”), and who has lived his whole life with other voices (some real, some not) in his head, would seem to lend himself particularly well to What If? scenarios. But “Chapter 14” doesn’t take the idea far enough. It’s almost all set-up and no story, and even the larger emotional point it’s making about the importance of Amy to David’s life gets lost in the jumping from one reality to another.
The Homeless David and Junkie David sections don’t really involve Amy, and are there to provide, respectively, a bit of action (which climaxes with an ageless Kerry Loudermilk slicing David vertically in two with a katana) and an explanation for the less nerdy about how alternate reality theory works (though, if you’re watching Legion, chances are you’re nerdy enough to get it without needing someone to spell it out with cold french fries). Family Man David offers the one wholly happy outcome for him in the episode, though Amy’s also absent from that, and Cubicle Drone David is mostly a reminder that David’s peculiar mind occasionally conjures up harmless and entertaining diversions like a mouse lip syncing to Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love.”
There are three timelines that seem most important to our tale: Billionaire David, Mustache David, and Our David. In the first, he has completely embraced his powers and used them for selfish ends. He has everything a man could possibly want, but doesn’t seem to be enjoying any of it, and his relationship with his sister is a cold and distant one where she has become utterly dependent on him. Mustache David is something of the inverse: Amy has convinced David to bottle up his mind with the help of medication, and she’s built a life for both of them where she’s able to maintain constant supervision (even if sometimes via speakerphone) to make sure he’s functioning and taking his pills. The prime timeline is fairly close to that, as Amy pushes Our David to get his life right, and eventually has him admitted to Clockworks, which will kick off all the events that lead up to her body being taken over by Lenny. None are great outcomes, but if you were to show the other two to Our David, he’d surely opt to be the rich guy whose sister is still alive in old age, even if they don’t get along and he uses his powers to abuse her the way he does everyone else.
It’s Legion, so there will always be interesting stylistic flourishes (like David’s victims vanishing and leaving only ashy silhouettes behind), and good performances (Katie Aselton did a nice job modulating between the multiple Amys, even though she couldn’t rely on wigs and makeup nearly as much as Dan Stevens could), but there ultimately wasn’t enough there there to justify an episode-length detour like this, particularly as things should be getting very tense in the hunt for Farouk right about now. You can take a step back from all of the hour’s disparate pieces and see an image where the timeline we’re following is by far the worst one for David, because of what happens to Amy in it, but even in an episode that’s primarily about grieving her loss, she too often gets brushed aside by the narrative gimmick. And the individual timelines are premises in search of a plot, if that.
FX recently announced that season two will have 11 episodes, rather than the 10 that were originally announced. I enjoy spending time in this universe that diverges in so many entertainingly strange ways from our own. But I do wonder if the decision was made in part because as Noah Hawley neared the end of the season, he realized he’d gotten too distracted from the plot midway through the year.
What did everybody else think?