There are so many A.V. Club staffers watching and discussing Legion that we’ve decided to add weekly roundtables to our coverage of season two. Consider them a complement to Alex McLevy’s recaps, expanding the conversation about a show that can always accommodate multiple interpretations and multiple perspectives.
I’ll be honest: I couldn’t care less about the whereabouts of Amahl Farouk’s body, or who’ll end up with the damn thing in the end. (Even if Navid Negahban gave a fine performance last night as the smirking, multi-lingual original article.) Plot is the department where Legion veers closest to being a traditional superhero series—something that turned me off mightily during last year’s season finale, which practically tied a cape around David’s neck—but I come to this show for the trippy imagery and the subtle depictions of madness, not the flashily cathartic displays of power. Happily, “Chapter 10” offered up a treasure trove of cool pictures, whether in the form of Lenny’s eyes glowing, cat-like, out of the darkness at a suddenly vulnerable Cary, or the impromptu wizard’s duel between David and Farouk as they tried to negotiate a workable mental compromise for their secret partnership.
The big stand-out, looks-wise, is the sequence where David sends his mind racing forward in the tank, trying to catch up to the Future Syd he glimpsed last week. The bonkers set design, all black fur and neon purple light, is already seared into my brain, but the biggest pleasure was the way the scene continued to “skip” throughout, deftly conveying that time’s not quiet right in whenever the hell the two of them suddenly are. My favorite visual in the entire episode, though, was a much smaller touch—literally. Nothing confirmed Farouk’s pretensions of godhood to me better than watching him reach out to clear a smudge from the camera itself, only to idly wipe away part of the episode’s set in the process.
Here’s an honest question: Is there any other show on television as visually and stylistically aggressive as Legion? Has there ever been one? I’m legitimately curious; my brain, as always, runs to Twin Peaks as a reference point, but I’d assume there are other contenders I’m not thinking of.
Regardless, holy shit this show is on one right now. What makes Legion work isn’t that it’s so pointedly “trippy,” it’s that it takes all of these stereotypically “trippy” images and techniques and uses them in service of a larger narrative. The show seems to delight in stomach-lurching leaps through time and space that it then gradually explains; almost every commercial break in last night’s episode resulted in one. Both this week’s episode and last week’s started with long sequences of seemingly incongruous imagery—the orbs in the field, the beekeeper-looking character, the mustachioed androids(?)—but then gradually reveals them to be not pointless psychedelic affectations but substantive players in the show’s larger drama. It’s nice to see something take the imagery of ’60s psychedelia and do something purposeful with it.
Anyway, I think I’m slightly more interested than William in the whereabouts of Farouk’s body, if only because I have faith so far that Legion will use these narrative nodes as springboards for more audio-visual eccentricity. The best parts of watching the show, to me, are those moments when all of the confusion seems to gradually settle, and you feel momentarily confident that you know what (and who) is real and which plane of existence the current scene is on. At least until the next commercial break, that is.
“Chapter 10” juxtaposed the more straightforward plot elements of setting up the stakes for season two with a scene in which a tank “fights” a storm, so in some ways, last night was just another Tuesday night for Legion. The show continues to brim with style, rolling out a disturbing dance/attack number set to “Swinging On A Star” in the first 15 minutes before conjuring and erasing vast fields with the swipe of a finger. Up on the roof, David and Syd are surrounded by the kind of giant floating hands you usually see in video games, another nod to the malleable nature of reality. Set against this hallucinatory imagery, the introduction of time travel looks almost casual in comparison. But one of the things I love about Legion is that subversion of expectations—David’s realization in the premiere that he was speaking with a Future Syd shook him, but he didn’t think twice about leaping forward in time to try and catch up with her. That moment speaks as much to his abilities as it does their bond.
But the biggest surprise comes courtesy of Amahl Farouk, who’s now reached his most dapper form. (Look, I enjoy Aubrey Plaza in a suit as much as the next person, but if she’s going to yield the Shadow King mantle to anyone, it should be Navid Negahban.) I’m not surprised Farouk agreed to David’s terms, because it’s clear the latter still has no idea what he’s up against. We see just how outmatched David is (for now) when he envisions their negotiation as a wrestling match. Farouk fairly purrs with disgust at David’s limited understanding, and maintains his cool detachment when Lenny begs to have her own corporeal form again. Ultimately, “Chapter 10” isn’t about interdimensional travel or even the looming global threat. It’s a proper introduction to a character we’ve seen in various iterations—the search for Farouk’s body represents the show’s development of an antagonist who’s actually interesting.
Legion is the type of show that, given the episode and the way its executed, I’m either completely bowled over or rolling my eyes at. Not having a concrete opinion about the show 10 episodes in could be an indication of its ability to keep me on my toes, or it might just mean that I’m in for the long haul because watching Legion is a lot like dining at Division Three’s delightful in-house restaurant, where you can cherrypick the things you like from the river of whimsy running through the whole piece.
To wit: The show, for all its visual gifts, has a flair for verbal sparring, and “Chapter 10” gives us some dandies in David’s face off with Clark among the tiny food boats at La Barca and his subsequent summit at Farouk’s “Psychiatric Help 5₵” booth. And it’s all fine and dandy until Noah Hawley’s own Shadow King of grand ambitions takes the wheel, and suddenly Dan Stevens and Navid Negahban are in wrestling singlets, literalizing what was previously coated in several layers of metaphor. Based on Farouk’s response, you can argue that the choice was made to show the limits of David’s imagination, but it feels more to me that Legion, like so many of its characters, is its own worst enemy.
To end on a positive note: Whenever Syd switches bodies with her cat, I crack up. Rachel Keller is really selling it in those scenes.
“Chapter 10” was another visually stunning hour of television, but I was let down by some shoddy character writing this time around. Each scene where two characters actually talked to each other seemed to exist only to connect one striking set to the next, and the only relationship between two characters that was compellingly done was the meeting between David and Farouk. I’m disappointed with what the writers have done to Melanie this season so far, and this episode confirmed for me that she’s really only there to provide an alternative path for David and Syd to go down, and neither one is remotely tempted. And speaking of empty characters: Kerry and Cary deserve to be more than blatant exposition devices.
Still, Legion more than makes up for these minor disappointments with its mesmerizing sets and special effects, and it looks like we’re getting into some real comics territory with a world-killer on the horizon. The more ambitious the writers are, the more the show thrives, and thrusting David and company into temporal uncertainness and a world-ending threat sounds like a classic high-stakes comic adventure, which should of course provide ample fun for more otherworldly effects.