Thursday, February 23, 2017


Apologies if this is even less timely and coherent than usual, in the middle of a work trip at the moment, so I didn't have time to watch the episode twice or dig as deep as I'd like.

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Legion is technically a superhero show, but it’s one where the ghost of Jermaine Clement haunts a coffee machine at a mutant wellness retreat, reciting obscure Japanese parables. Maybe that sentence sounds immediately appealing to you.  More likely it sounds like I was typing my way through a stroke.  But it’s the show that’s crazy, not me.  I think.   

The last half of “Chapter 3” is a suspense sequence that takes place entirely in the main characters’ head, which is generally the most aggravating shit in the world, but somehow I found it not just interesting but actually suspenseful.  A big part of that was the World’s Angriest Boy In The World showing up in person, which fuck that thing straightaway.  Fatboy with the yellow eyes was somewhat creepy, but that giant paper mache head wigged me right the hell out.  This is nightmare imagery that would do David Lynch proud, which is the highest praise cinematic nightmares can receive. 

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By way of contrast, the lowest form of cinematic nightmare

The biggest way “Chapter 3” tries to switch things up in the memory sequences is making Syd the active explorer.  David balks at this, both because of the whole lurking yellow demon thing and because he is ashamed at having her see his junkie past up close and in technicolor.  This is understandable, as those lows are pretty damn low but also because we all have our own particular and strongly held beliefs about the exact pace at which we can dole less savory details about ourselves without scaring off our partners for good.  There are some things, like flatulence or masturbation or robbing our doctor's home for drug money, that we may be comfortable admitting to in the abstract, but balk at allowing our beloved to witness in person. 

Syd feels like she’s seen it all, though, as her mutant power has allowed her to step into the shoes of others many times over.  This is difficult for David to understand; he’s never even been comfortable being himself, so being someone else on top of that sounds like a special kind of hell.  Syd’s fairly zen about it, though, assuring him that no matter whose body she may have been occupying, she always remained herself.  Which is as good a metaphor for engaging with fictional narrative as any. Through fiction, I’ve “been” a Chinese guy, and a junkie and a mutant and a little girl.  And she thinks, like me, that stepping into David’s memories represents no real danger, just the next step if we’re going to continue with this story.  That it’s more traumatic than she or I anticipated is the episode's greatest feat.

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That and the whole coffee maker thing

That trauma comes courtesy not of David's drug-addled sins, but by the creeping, obese memory-revenant and that goddamn freaky storybook.  That Syd can see them while the other tourists cannot is intriguing, but in the end, these threats in David’s head remain more eerie than tangibly dangerous.  Unsettling and inventive imagery only gets you so far, and an awful lot of these first three episodes has consisted of revisiting the same memories and scenarios.   Even with the efforts to tie David’s therapeutic progress to the “real world” predicament of his sister and thus provide some sense of urgency and impetus for the mutants to push past the usual bounds of their dream theater, “Chapter Three” walks right up to those limits.  I’m not too worried that Legion wants to live entirely within David’s head for the long term, but if it does, then it may just find some Emmys for directing and visual effects in there.  But it will be in danger of losing my interest in the process, and I think we all know which of those things is really important.

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IT'S ME!!!

  • So Cary and Kerry somehow, sometimes share a body?  Sure, okay.  Why not. 
  • Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny is unhinged as a living junkie, but disconcertingly hot as a pugnacious ghost. It helps that she seems to be speaking directly on my behalf when she chides David about ignoring his sister’s plight to focus on learning to love himself. 
  • The Perm feels a surprisingly formidable opponent, for someone who hasn’t actually done anything yet. 
  • Even in a dream state, the book’s mangling of Melanie’s hand was some cringeworthy stuff.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


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“Do the work.”

The most interesting angle of the memory trips that dominate “Chapter Two” is glossed over rather quickly.  Ptonomy the “memory artist” mentions that the visitors can interact with the memories, but it should be avoided because it changes the memory.  There is increasing evidence that this is not a fanciful dramatic invention, but a fairly accurate reflection of how memory actually works, which creates problems for, among other things, a justice system built upon eye witness testimony.  With the disclaimer that I'm no scientist, the basic conundrum seems to be that the more we revisit memories, the more they become polluted with the needs and feelings of the present day.  While the research is not 100% conclusive, the underlying hypothesis is basically that our brains were never designed to take unbiased snapshots of actual events, but rather to foster split-second decision making in life-or-death situations.  This means that any objective recording of external reality is quickly overridden by the need to fit that data into an existing framework of cause-and-effect.  It makes a degree of sense from an evolutionary standpoint, as for our idiotic orangutan forebearers, it was frequently more important that basic fight/flight decisions be made immediately than that they be made rationally.   

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What this means is that our brains are less recording devices than narrative engines.  That we don’t meet every day with a fresh slate and make decisions based on rational reactions to what we encounter.  Rather, we get up and tell ourselves a story about who we are and what kind of world we live in.  And when it doesn’t match up with the facts, it’s only rarely that the story is the one that is bent in order to bring them together.

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see also: Bias, Confirmation; Facebook Feed, Your

I don’t think that such concepts are lost on Noah Hawley.  The thing that unites Fargo across the very different film and disparate seasons of the TV show (okay, aside from wintry setting, inept criminality, and funny accents) is that they all examine the fallout when regular-ish folks run into circumstances so extreme that they can’t be bent far enough to fit the accepted stories about themselves and their communities.  Thus far, Legion has also focused on the stubbornness of the old narrative of David’s mental illness trying to reassert itself over the new, paradigm-shifting evidence of his crazy superpowers.  But “Chapter Two” does not do quite as good a job as the pilot of making that compelling drama.

As I blathered about last week, I don’t like it when my fake narratives spend a whole bunch of time on “fake” stuff that isn’t literal within the world of the story.  Every story is a fantasy already, so I don’t have much need for the extra layer of artifice between me and whatever the point is supposed to be.  Or to quote something I may have only heard in a dream (if quick Google returns are any indication) “making a movie about a dream is like putting a hat on top of a hat.”

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Alternately, you could make a movie about dreams that are more stultifyingly rulebound
 than the audience's real lives, but you're moving into Expert-Only level difficulty there

So I am not keen on segments of fantasy stories that take place within the character’s mind, or coma dream or Imaginationland or whatever, which the bulk of this episode did.  It’s kind of jarring how quickly, after a plus-sized premiere that made time for plenty of dream sequences and a random Bollywood dance number, this episode drops us right into the Eternal Sunshine therapy sessions. It feels like there is an entire act of “first day at Hogwarts” introduction stuff to get us acclimated to the mutant retreat Summerland that is just being skipped over.  But maybe not letting us acclimate is the point, to keep us feeling as off-balance as David does with all the new information he's being bombarded with.  Even so, it seems like we spend a lot of time exploring David’s past in rather leisurely fashion before the reveal that his sister has been abducted introduces the type of ticking clock that such a device requires to feel more vital than wankery-y. 

It's not a total slog, though, as the show’s visual and aural inventiveness is still on full display, and the relationship between David and Syd is developing into a sweet, genuine (if convoluted) anchor for the already convoluted mythological and structural elements.  I was skeptical of the coupling at first, because it kicked off with a love-at-first-sight trope that I find to be the height of bullshit, not to mention thoroughly unromantic. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with immediately wanting to fuck someone before you’ve heard them speak, but insisting on calling that love just highlights how shallow a reaction it really is.  But as with everything I talked about last week, their “romance of the mind” takes a tired dynamic and inverts it, with their respective powers putting them in a sort of reversed one-night stand set-up.  Instead of being physically intimate right off the bat and struggling to navigate the emotional vulnerability that follows, they're still struggling to figure out holding hands while she has already studied his childhood trauma and literally walked a mile in his shoes, and he knows her private thoughts without even trying.  Not that it would take a psychic to spot the lie when she tries to convince him to stay by holding hands, listlessly insisting “I want to.”

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Man, what a slut.

It’s unique and cute dynamic, and the visual flourishes are impressive and ideas intriguing, but both regular readers of this blog know I’m a plot guy.  So I’m looking forward to the conspiracy thriller aspects ramping up, as promised by the stinger with The Eye menacing Amy with a container of leeches. That’s creepy and immediate and has stakes grounded in the show’s “real” world, rather than solely within David’s head. And I need a steady tether to that kind of thing for the headier stuff to remain interesting color rather than self-indulgent wheel-spinning.

Put another way, you better do the work to make one damn fine hat if you’re going to try to entertain me by putting another hat on it. 

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Other random stuff:

  • That story David’s dad reads him is Babadook-level dark, with what it forebodes about what happened to his mother.  But the title “The World’s Angriest Boy In The World” is the best thing to ever happen, so there’s that.
  • I’m still confused by the body-swap with Syd.  Apparently their minds entered each other bodies, and then later rather than the minds re-swapping, their physical bodies switched places?  I’m not saying this is against “the rules” or whatever because its all gobbledegook, but it is certainly not intuitive.
  • The others can’t see the Devil With The Yellow Eyes when he appears in David’s memories, and he lies to them when they ask what he is reacting to.  He's a real creepy bastard, however, and I’m going to throw it out now that he’s not an independent figure but a projection of what David becomes when he loses control of his powers and feelings and lashes out, becoming the World’s Angriest Boy In The World, Who Maybe Accidentally Killed His Mom.  If it is verifiable that it is actually Dan Stevens under all those prosthetics, please do not tell me. 
  • I love the Carpenter-esque “Conspiracy Theme” that pops up when David gives us a glimpse of Amy investigating in the hospital.  Though most of you assholes probably hear it and just think Stranger Things.
  • The scene where Syd talks David out of running into the Division’s trap is nicely punctuated with a shot of her moving behind his shoulder in the elevator.  Still not touching, but the framing places her within in his personal space from our perspective.  Visual storytelling!