‘Legion’ taps the brakes in order to establish some ground rules
Season One, Episode Two — “Chapter 2”
By Jarrod Jones. David Haller’s acid-washed expedition appears to have ebbed some with Legion‘s second episode. If “Chapter 1” could be described as a particularly empowering and periodically frightening spiritual journey — and after what we saw last week it most certainly could — then “Chapter 2” represents the agonizing days that typically follow a spiritual jaunt of this sort, where the mind begins the task of reassembling itself, bumping into things we would normally choose to repress, peeling back the membranes and exposing our mind to the harsher truths of being alive.
If that doesn’t sound like very much fun, that’s because “Chapter 2” largely wasn’t. Oh, it was still engrossing: surveying the fractured jigsaw that is David’s mind, especially after it’s been smashed into pieces, will continue to be Legion‘s strongest mechanism. But there’s still a story to tell here, and lest we forget that this is an X-Men property a character is tasked to remind us that David is a crucial player in the series’ ever-mounting “war”. This is just genre tropes attempting to squeeze in on Legion‘s cerebral fun. (I can’t help but notice some reticence whenever the show’s logo slowly brings its trademark ‘X’ into view — is that hesitation?)
There were startling things found tucked inside David’s memories this week, though whether or not those memories are his to offer up remains to be seen. More on that in a minute.
So “Chapter 2” was largely sapped of that whimsical sparkle found in Legion‘s corker of a premiere. That was only inevitable — after all, Noah Hawley’s second season of Fargo downshifted considerably after its first crackerjack episode. But there are already pesky things niggling away at Legion: Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird feeds David the same hackneyed “What if I told you” jargon that was scarcely tolerated from Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange and was already a painfully obvious device when Morpheus did it back in The Matrix. And yet the episode carries on as though it’s business as usual.
Unfettered by genre subversion David went wandering around his memories, flanked by the telepathic Melanie Bird and Jeremie Harris’ Ptonomy Wallace, whose powers include designing head spaces like a more assertive Ellen Page from Inception. Putting David through the mental grinder at this point in time may not be the wisest thing, but as Ptonomy mentions to David over a glass of milk a war is coming, and by the end of the episode the still-mysterious opposing force demonstrates that it isn’t above snatching members of David’s family. Expedience is key.
That leads us to a wonderful guest spot from vaudevillian Bill Irwin, who sticks David in an MRI for a bout of memory gymnastics. David’s memories are going to be essential if we’re gonna see any more appearances from Aubrey Plaza’s manic Lenny; Cornflakes was indeed done in by Syd after her mind-meld with David last week. Though it’s revealed that Lenny and David were buds before their respective stretches at the Clockwork hospital — here they’re seen schlepping a stove to a local drug peddler to score a crystal blue concoction, designed for achieving momentary ecstasy.
Those drugs may be responsible for the black clouds peppered throughout David’s mind, but probably not. His recollections of his father are generally met with flashes of red fury, which in this show generally means a room full of stuff is about to explode. He can’t — or won’t — let us see his father’s face; either way, this draws us further towards the Bob-like vessel of malevolence that is the Devil With the Yellow Eyes. David’s globular nemesis seems to have left his mark on Syd as well: I felt drums in my head is her post-freakout confession during the young would-be lovers’ moonlit rendezvous.
Forgive some of Legion‘s more recognizable narrative detours. There’s still a whopper of a mystery afoot, and after the fanciful pageantry of last week, there were still rules to be established. Like Syd’s opening rendition of “Road to Nowhere” reminds us: the future is certain, just give us time to work it out.
Syd: “It’s this feeling, the closer I get to someone? It’s like being covered in ants. These little, anxious needles under my skin. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to scream.” David: “Well, we wouldn’t want that.”
Cary: “You have an extremely large amygdala.” David: “Thank you.”
BEST MOMENT: Dr. Poole stands up during his session with David to close a closet door. Director Michael Uppendahl shoots the door from a sinister low angle, where the frame begins to shudder as the good doctor approaches, unaware of what’s lurking in the darkness.
EPISODE’S MVP: This is still Dan Stevens’ show, though Ptonomy’s words about his in utero memories had an unnerving musculature to them. (“Imagine you’re in your mother’s body, warm and blind, until –” *snaps fingers*)
WELCOME TO THE MACHINE:
– Red continues to pop up whenever David’s stress levels grow. This week’s red sightings: the blood on the blade of the World’s Angriest Boy, the chairs during David’s therapy session, Cornflake’s Twizzlers (she even coos “red” in a drug-fueled rapture), Ptonomy’s cardigan, splashes of color during the Clockwork reveries, the MRI scanner beam, the star on Cornflake’s t-shirt, the power light of David’s mental stereo unit, the exit sign at the Clockwork hospital, the neurological signals which fire from David’s very agitated brain.
– David can’t speak about his father because something is watching him closely whenever the subject comes up (maybe that Devil With the Yellow Eyes represents Marvel’s lawyers?) Of course as comic book fans will tell you, David’s father is none other than Professor Charles Xavier.
– There’s an Xavier Institute thing going on here with Melanie’s facility, though it more closely resembles a day camp. (Complete with naptime bunkbeds!)
– The glitches in David’s memories means one of two things: either David is self-editing his memories, or someone else is doing it for him. Regardless, David’s mind is a scary place.
7 out of 10
Next: “Chapter 3”, soon.
Before: “Chapter 1”, here.