Thursday, March 2, 2017

LEGION - "CHAPTER FOUR"


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“If that’s weird…I’m okay with it.”

It’s a fine line Legion has to walk.  It’s committed to telling a strange story in a strange way, set in and around the unexplored depths of the damaged, mutant psyche of a damaged, mutant protagonist.  It has to do that with a certain amount of verve and visual inventiveness, to distract us from realizing just how much time we’re spending on self-indulgent gobbledegook.  But it also has to maintain a tether to some exterior, “objective” reality, and make that reality interesting enough to give a sense that there are some stakes that are more than just an excuse for that gobbledegook.  Otherwise it’s just watching someone masturbate.  And no one masturbates so stylishly that I want to watch it for 10 hours at a stretch.

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Sorry, bud, not even you

In the make-believe world, or Astral Plane if you prefer, Jermaine Clement appears as Melanie’s cryogenically comatose husband (look, I said it was a weird episode, okay?) Oliver.  Clement is an international treasure, and his particular style of goofy serenity is perfect for this character whose oracular wisdom is constantly undercut with predilections for horrendous jazz music (as opposed to regular jazz music, which is merely awful), dire beat poetry (not opposed to regular, because all beat poetry is terrible), and magnificently bad leisurewear (because style never goes out of style, damn it).  His opening address to the camera is my favorite bizarre flourish so far, even if it threatens to make blogging about the show redundant.  If it the show itself is going to explicitly break down the fundamentals of storytelling into the designs to foster empathy versus preaching caution, or have Syd ask in voice over “what are we if not the stories we tell ourselves?”, then that takes some of the rhetorical wind out of my sails here.  I can't very well take the observation that David, Syd, and Cary/Kerry's powers all deal with the nature of identity when disassociated from a specific physical anchor, and pawn it off as some strikingly original insight of my own, if the show is just going to highlight and engage with that stuff directly.

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But if it can stay as unpredictable and entertaining as Legion has been thus far, then I can live with that.  Because as weird and meta and elliptical as “Chapter Four” gets, it makes sure to provide plenty of plot movement, revelations and new clues as to just how deep David's problems go, both within his head and without.  We learn his childhood dog was not real, but the yellow-eyed devil is more than just a figment of his imagination (Oliver clarifies that he's more of a parasite than a true alter-ego).  We learn that the Lenny who Syd met and accidentally killed in the asylum was only superimposed over a different, male junkie in David’s memories.  That David didn’t just rob, but assaulted and permanently injured his former therapist.  That his ex knows at least a little about his powers and the Division.  That Kerry/Cary do occupy the same body, at least when there’s nothing exciting enough to hold her attention going on, and that she is significantly younger because she doesn’t age when she’s “hibernating”.  That our main heavy has vast powers that allow him to impersonate or possess others, walk through hails of gunfire completely unscathed, and rock an egregious perm without shame. 

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"Look upon me, and despair."

Also getting more interesting is Amy’s predicament, as she finds herself in a Count of Monte Cristo situation with (one of) David’s former psychiatrist in an adjoining cell.  The cells themselves are works of sadistic minimalism; dimly lit with bursts of harsh flourescents, bare concrete on a steep incline with a glass wall denying even the illusion of privacy.  Along with how she attacks the food tray when it is presented, it suggests that Division 3 has no qualms about giving this innocent civilian the full court press, meaning not just leeches, but starvation, sleep deprivation and stress positions to break her down.  Is Dr. Kissinger a legitimate fellow victim, or part of a more insidious plan to probe what she knows?  In this world, like in David’s mind, it’s hard to be sure of anything.

Which would be irritating, and feel like the most indulgent kind of wheel-spinning, if the characters weren’t aware of and actively trying to unravel these puzzles as hard as we are.  As I’ve said before, that is crucial to making it feel like a ride the show is taking us on, instead of a trick it’s playing on us.  For now, at least.  All of “Chapter Four” is tilting wildly on the rails, but as long as the show can maintain this level of forward momentum without falling off entirely, I’m going to keep digging the hell out of it.

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  • Lennie has “things to do” out in the world.  Given the revelations about her nature and increasing visual ties to the devil with the yellow eyes, this can’t mean anything good.
  • Speaking of the devil, the decision to give him stubbly little twigs for legs is not a great one.  It tips his look from creepy into goofy.
  • Super-specific prediction: Ptonomy’s eye immediately turned milky like The Perm’s when he touched him.  I’d guess this allows The Perm some form of long-distance monitoring that forces the memory guru to actually blind himself, a la the ruse with Philly.
  • David’s initial nod of acknowledgment when he sees Oliver in the old timey diving suit feels like the only natural response when you find yourself suspended in a floaty green void with someone.   It would be the funniest bit in the episode if it weren’t for Clement’s crestfallen reaction to learning that bras have made a comeback while he’s been on ice.  

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