A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I love a boy in the Army who keeps jumping out of planes to get away from me…
“Chapter 16” is a weird episode even by Legion standards. Or maybe it’s jut weird in a different way from how Legion is usually weird. No matter how bizarre, or how good, an episode is, it tends to feel all of a piece, where “Chapter 16” feels more like a bunch of ideas Noah Hawley and company had that wound up in the same hour because there was no other good place to put them. Parts of it, in fact, are as grounded and human as the show is capable of being. They just happen to be tossed into the blender with other parts that are as inscrutable and/or self-indulgent as the show is capable of being. Certain scenes surprised me with how relatively normal and clear they were, while others left me baffled as to what was happening, and I’m usually pretty good at following this show down its more baroque paths. At times it felt like I was trapped inside that computer with Ptonomy, struggling to understand how things work, while at others I was, at minimum, able to walk around in the real world, even if I had to hack into one of the Vermillion to do so.
The hour’s by far its most clear-headed in the scenes about David and Syd’s relationship. It’s an odd thing, their romance, in that so much of David’s behavior comes out of his love for Syd, yet the show tends to treat their love as a basic fact, rather than something that has to be established or explained or nurtured. Here, in an excellent duet between Rachel Keller and Hamish Linklater(*), Syd admits that she fell for David for reasons specific to their circumstances in Clockworks, and that she’s not sure how she really feels about him, or how much any of them should trust someone so powerful, so erratic, and so much more dishonest than he claims to be. Clark in turn gently points out the terrifying reality of this affair: David could destroy the world if he wanted to — “Or if you hurt his feelings real bad.” (Given all the stories about the Santa Fe shooter and other mass murderers being toxic men who couldn’t take no for an answer, this is sadly timely, if very far removed from our own reality.) When Syd shows up in the desert to join David on the chase for Farouk’s body, there’s genuine tension between them, and for the first time in a long time, they feel like a real couple with recognizable human behavior, even in the midst of the usual trippiness, like the two of them being caught up in a potentially fatal time loop when they go inside the tent.
(*) Hey, remember Clark? There’s a lot of that this week with the supporting cast, who have fallen in and out of the narrative in noticeable fashion. See also Melanie, who’s been in much of the season but in fairly minor ways, suddenly becoming important again once Oliver starts mind controlling her, while other supporting character subplots — like the ongoing complication of Cary and Kerry’s role swap — have been dropped for the moment.
We’ve also returned to the chase structure established at the start of the season, then abandoned thanks to Future Syd and various narrative detours, as David and Farouk are both close to getting to the body(*). It’s a simple enough idea to follow no matter how surreal things get, but some of this week’s flourishes felt either unnecessary (watching time move in reverse for Melanie so we’ll understand why she attacked Clark), not fleshed-out enough (the glimpses of what would happen depending on whom David recruited to help him on the mission) or just plain baffling for the moment (ending the episode on the Minotaur hanging upside-down). And Ptonomy’s adventures inside the computer provide plenty of opportunity for the production team to strut its stuff, even as it feels like we’re traveling the long way around towards introducing this new subplot about a young man being transformed into a secret keeper by the government.
(*) Note the reference to “the Professor” when Farouk tracks down the old woman. I don’t know if the series can ever come right out and mention Charles Xavier by name (much less have James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart or someone else play him), but it sure seems like he is meant to be Farouk’s ultimate nemesis and David’s father.
The episode’s most effective sequence outside the Syd/Clark scene brings back our pal Jon Hamm, who’s still around for psychology lectures even though David has defeated insanity for the moment. (Or has he? The voices inside his head have only grown louder as the season has moved along.) In another effective and chilling sketch, Hamm lays out how our devices have essentially given all of us a form of narcissistic personality disorder, where the world around us begins to feel less real as we filter it through our phones, leading us all to treat real people as if they’re somehow less than real.
What does that lesson have to do with the Secret Keeper, Farouk’s body, Lenny’s side mission, David and Syd’s relationship, the Minotaur, or any of the rest of it? I don’t know. Maybe in a few weeks, everything will neatly fit together. Or maybe this episode was like those figures in the Hamm lecture with speech balloons for heads, too busy looking down at their latest fun distraction to see what’s going on around them.
What did everybody else think?