Sorry about that week off, folks, but hey, at least I only missed one of the best-weirdest episodes of TV in the last decade, right? I was skeptical about spending a lot of time in an elaborate, hallucinogenic mind-prison designed to trick the characters into thinking it is real. But the resolution, as with most of the season, was trippy and horrifying and somehow comprehensible to watch while being nearly impossible to describe out loud without starting to wonder if this is what it sounds like to hear yourself have a stroke. It finds room for stylistic indulges like the awesomely-terrifying silent film attack and chalkboard fight (I keep telling you, this is a weird show), but knows when to cut through the narrative crap by having Syd cut off an exposition-dump by hitting the big bullet points and noting “I’ve been paying attention.” The rest of the exposition load is carried by Oliver’s amusingly addled stream-of-conscious dialogue (his vague conviction that his wife was Asian was one of the season’s best bits of comedy) and David’s rational mind manifesting with a British accent (the logic of this being utterly unassailable, even to that rational mind, is another). And then it wraps up that by offing the Perm in particularly brutal fashion, to underline that these elaborate mindfucks actually have consequences for the characters in the “real” world.
The finale itself remains extravagantly incomprehensible to anyone that hasn’t fully immersed themselves in the detailed parasite metaphors surrounding Amal Farouk, and the hazy intricacies of Melanie and Oliver’s history or Cary/Kerry’s powers, and the back-burnered machinations of Division Three. It’s a bit of a comedown from the high-pitched lunacy of its immediate predecessor, and as such it is not the strongest episode of the season, but rather the exact sum of its parts. I wouldn’t say that I was completely tired of watching David and Syd astrally wrestle with Lenny’s various projections, but I am glad that they settled on eight episodes, rather than ten or twelve, for this particular arc. And while David may have finally exorcized the devil that has infected his mind his entire life, Legion didn’t suddenly cure itself of all eccentricities in the home stretch of this inaugural season. We still get things like the fantastic, cheeky image of the SWAT totem pole, and the gnarliest make-up on Lenny yet. But I’m most intrigued by the reintroduction of Clark the interrogator, and the groundedness the character brings to a show that has been more Mad Tea Party than X-Men spinoff.
|Pictured: The most grounded aspect of this show|
One of the things I like best about Hawley’s work on Fargo is the ability to suddenly promote a minor character and make them feel rounded and vital to the story in the course of a single episode or scene. Legion has already dabbled in this, with the early glimpses of Cary/Kerry and Oliver’s first appearances barely hinting at how sympathetic and central to the climax they would become. It’s also kind of done it in reverse with Ptonomy, who had an early spotlight as an idealized, zen spirit guide before dropping unceremoniously out of the astral plane and whose characterization seems to have regressed into a bloodthirsty partisan for the finale. To be fair, it does make sense for the guy whose superpower is never forgetting anything to be the one advocating for a scorched earth approach to warfare. But David, whose memories are anything but infallible and not even entirely his own, sees a broader if fuzzier truth, a forest obscured by the trees of total recall – that no war can ever be ended without a certain degree of willful forgetfulness. As Littlefinger once rasped at us, we don’t have to “make” peace with our friends.
The lengthy, humanizing intro sequence showing us the toll that David’s rescue took on Clark serves as a counterpoint to Ptonomy’s intransigence, a reminder that even the biggest asshole is the hero of their own story. And actually, the only moment when he has even come off as much of an asshole is when he orders the rest of David’s Scooby Gang killed. But then, how many of the Division have they killed throughout the season? We’re not predisposed to look kindly upon government agencies wanting to study our heroes in labs; movies have taught me from birth that they are the bad guys in that scenario. But if mutant powers actually existed, that is exactly what I would want. And it’s not like the “good guys” at Summerland aren’t doing the same. They just have nattier wardrobe choices and a jauntier soundtrack to compliment their poking and prodding. Clark and Ptonomy have both picked their sides and dug in, but really, one’s position is not inherently more heroic than the other’s.
Because didn’t the dinosaurs have the right to fight for their survival? The mutants’ agenda seems reasonable in that they are only asking to be left alone, but is that viable option for someone as self-evidently dangerous as David? “Live and let live” is a great platitude, but we’ve been putting reasonable (and not so reasonable) limits on precisely how we let live since we were chillaxing in caves. None of us want to live in a world where Gary Busey has a fleet of tanks at his disposal, or Kanye West can set off nuclear blasts with his mind. Is it really unreasonable for Clark and the Division to think that maybe a diagnosed schizophrenic with the power to stop bullets and make people’s blood drain out their eyeballs should not be allowed to walk free? Syd points out that he’s not actually schizophrenic, but in fact literally possessed by a separate, malevolent entity with superpowers of its own. She seems to neglect, however, that this is much, much worse than schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia can be cured through the powers of gambling
and dance, if movies have taught me anything
All of this is by way of saying that one of the more promising aspects for next season is the addition of Clark as a highly reluctant ally. I am perhaps a bit more skeptical of the Summerland crew’s heroic bonafides than I am supposed to be, and not quite as invested in the Syd/David romance, so I like the idea of having someone congenitally nonplussed around to shake up the group dynamic. I’m less enthused about the prospect of Plaza splitting villain duties with Jermaine next season (much as I do hope Lenny joins Oliver’s nascent barbershop quartet). The guy is a treasure, and I’m sure he is similarly capable of stepping up his deadpan to a scarier, more arch level, but Plaza has been a revelation as Lenny/Farouk/King/The Devil.
When I first saw her in the promos, I thought okay, she’s going to be in a sardonic, damaged sidekick role. She’ll be good for that. Then as she became something of a devil on David’s shoulder, I thought cool, this is bit looser than I’ve seen her, but there was always something vaguely scary about her comedic persona, so it works. But even halfway through the season I would not have thought that she could carry the primary villain load, much less such a demanding and constantly shifting portrayal. She had to moustache-twirl, she had to actually twirl in crazy dance sequences, she had to interrogate and sexually harass and obfuscate and freak out and be Hannibal Lecter and a silent movie monster, and do it all under various layers of heavy make-up. She was fantastic at all of it, alternately terrifying and funny and sexy and otherworldly and always having a viscerally great time doing it. If the Emmy’s were worth a damn’s toenail, she would get a nomination just for the work she does with her eyes when David freezes her in place. It’s great, and it’s all done through the full
Beetlejuice make-up, with the rest of her face frozen in a hideous, underbitten rictus.
And that’s Legion’s first season in a nutshell. Ostentatiously weird, pretty creepy and kind of funny, oddly affecting, and unlike absolutely anything else on TV. It will purportedly be back in a year’s time, but in the meantime, I hope to see all of youse in the frozen north for a new season of Fargo.
- During his recovery, Clark contemplates life with half a moustache (or beard, or chinstrap) in his newly burned state, in a subtle reflection of David’s musing about what life – and he himself – will be like without Lenny as a passenger.
- Similarly, Kerry and Cary don’t ever reattune, even when they reconcile. And Melanie loses her husband all over again. Everyone but Syd is facing life as less than a complete set.
- We never found out what, if any, mutant power Melanie has. I hope she turns out to be an aged-up Dazzler, if only because it would add a tragic, star-crossed element to her romance with a jazz/barbershop bum if she were the premiere disco-based superhero. How can one’s terrible music taste ever coexist with the other’s?
- One good thing about Oliver being Lenny’s new host is that it should mean we are done with the Devil With Type 2 Diabetes monster design. It was occasionally deployed with some effective creepiness, but all in all I never found its look as menacing as it was supposed to be.
- Yes, I’m still attracted to Aubrey Plaza even when she’s caked in heavy, rotting, Beetlejuice-with-a-hangover make-up. So thanks, Legion, now I know that about myself.