"It's like a dream...but not an interesitng one."
Thus far, Legion has managed to navigate some rather wankery-y territory while remaining weird and audacious enough to be consistently interesting, and savvy enough to cut against the grain of the most insufferable aspects that come with such territory. But “Chapter 6” struggles to maintain that streak, as it dives into one of my most disdained tropes for a fantasy series – the one where the protagonist finds themselves in a mental institution, with a shady doctor telling them that the entire series up to this point has been an elaborate hallucination. This conceit sucked when I saw it on Buffy 15 years ago, it sucked when I saw it on Lost 10 years ago, it sucked when I saw it on The Magicians last year, and without having actually watched the shows, I’ll speculate that when The X-Files, Supernatural, Grimm and/or Sleepy Hollow (probably) did it in the interim it (probably) sucked there too.
The reason this sucks is that it’s not a very credible threat. Obviously these shows aren’t going to conclude that they were all a bunch of bullshit, but imo there’s very limited value in even toying around with that notion. As I got at in my recap of the premiere, making a story about an elaborate hallucination is just pointless – putting a hat on top of a hat. Every story is already a form of elaborate hallucination on the author's part, one they are asking the audience to share. So what can a story about a mental patient hallucinating they are a teenage vampire hunter accomplish that a story about a teenage vampire hunter couldn’t? I mean, alright, I’ll allow that Don Quixote may have some literary merit, but it also doesn’t wait until the end to spring it on us that OMG! the giants were really windmills all along.
|Tommy Westphall can get fucked, is what I'm saying|
So I am not a fan of this conceit, but at first, it seems like “Chapter 6” is going to continue the streak of defying the inherent tackiness of its premises. The cold open manages to keep things lively by virtue of its seamless transitioning between Lenny’s interviews with all of the supporting cast. And the episode does at least avoid the most tedious angle by never pretending that this could be anything but a netherworld where the Devil With Type 2 Diabetes holds sway. But whereas prior chapters have worked around the overly-writerly conceits by having David’s mental state and the deep dives therein be the plot, this is the first time Legion feels like it is stalling. The only new bit of concrete information we get about the backstory or endgame is some more specifics on the Devil's plans for David – it once had a more symbiotic relationship in mind when David was a more isolated and pliable host, but now that he has a love in his life to make him strong (like another superhero), it’s content to mentally imprison him forever and take the wheel for good.
But I also think some of the increased drag is due to timing. I know I was just saying how waiting until late in the game to mess with reality like this is cheap bullshit, but at the same time it is too early in the show’s run to be doing it for character purposes. The supporting cast aren’t established well enough at this point for there to be much mileage out of tweaking their established characterizations by fiting them into a such a skewed Elseworld scenario. And the show’s baseline reality is weird and malleable enough that it doesn’t provide the same novelty that, for example, a kooky Sopranos dream sequence could by way of contrast with its grittier, grounded “real” world. Furthermore, we don’t have enough distance from the pilot for their reenacting scenarios from it (the drool speculation, Syd sneaking into David’s bed) with roles transposed to mean much to us.
The angle from which the episode works best is as the Best Supporting submission for Aubrey Plaza and her tremendous sock game. She gets to mix up deadpan subtlety and wanton vamping to a degree even the early episodes, considerably wacky though they may be, did not allow. And look, I may have found a good deal of the episode to be an indulgent waste of time, but I also would’ve watched Plaza wickedly strut and grind her way around David's memory palace in fishnets and a turtleneck for another 45 minutes without checking my watch. That’s my value judgment, and I don’t have to justify it to any of you. But while that segment may be the easy, liveliest highlight of the episode, she is equally fantastic all over, whether exuding false warmth and candor with the “patients” or physically menacing David while delivering withering speeches about love as a form of slavery or physically manifesting in a piece of floor pie (I’ve told you before, this is a weird show). If anything is going to make such an extended bit of wheel-spinning satisfying to watch, it’s such a normally constrained performer cutting loose and clearly having a ball with material designed to squeeze the utmost from her.
Now for a sad closing note, I will be just diving into an extended road trip next Wednesday, so by the time I get anywhere with enough time to watch and type about “Chapter 7”, it will be time for the finale. So there’s only one more Legion recap in the cards this year. But the better news is that FX renewed it for another year in spite of the unimpressive ratings, so we may just reconvene here in a year or two’s time. Two would be my guess, as his does not seem like any easy show to map out or produce, and with Fargo showing no signs of slowing, Noah Hawley has to rest sometime, right?
- Best bit of the opening: The Perm’s shrugging response to Dr. Lenny’s “I’m sensing a lot of hostility.” The shrug is funny, but it’s the glaring half-beat preceding it that makes it art.
- Kerry/Cary launching fruit cocktail into each other’s mouths in the cafeteria is adorable. I’m not sure what the point of the Perm menacing her in the dreamscape is – does he think he can actually hurt here there? Can he, somehow? – but it’s a nice little touch that he and his old partner Oliver are appearing as the sort of angel and devil to the two halves of Kerry/Cary within this dreamscape.
- The zoom in on the Cherry Pie with Plaza’s face in it feels like a deliberate homage to Twin Peaks’ weirdest, most brilliantly retarded moment. I know I’m not supposed to use that word anymore, but look – a prominent character evaporates in front of the protagonists and a malevolent dancing dwarf traps her soul in the knob of a dresser drawer. Give me another word for that and I’ll mail you ten bucks.
- Particularly in the opening, Melanie seems to be channeling Syd’s hairstyle and mannerisms. I heard some naysaying about whether she was Syd’s mom after last week, but the performance, if not plot detail, really seemed to underline it this week.
- I generally don't find things scary once they reach the level of abstraction that this whole episode operates on, but the eyes opening in the wall made me jump out of my skin.