Wednesday, March 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'Legion' - David Embarks on His Final Confrontation with the Shadow King in 'Chapter 8'

FX's Legion - Episode 1.08 "Chapter 8"

David faces his biggest challenge yet.

This first season of Legion was absolutely phenomenal. It reshaped what it meant to be a superhero television show. It broke down all the conventions of the genre. But more importantly, it was just fun and engaging to watch. It was complex and weird. It warped reality and the audience's expectations in some fantastic ways. It was a compelling viewing experience from the very first moment until the end. It was a fascinating journey into the mind of David Haller. It all started with the question: is he schizophrenic or does he have powers? That question allowed the show to break free from the confines of time to tell a story out of order and in erratic ways. As Melanie and her team seemingly presented more information to David, the narrative got more straightforward. But the Shadow King flexing his powers led to even more craziness and weird sequences. It was truly inspiring and original. It was the internal fight of one character externalized for dramatic effect in a way that not only affected him but everyone who came into contact with him.

And yet, this finale poses a serious question as well. Who is David without the Shadow King in his mind? Amahl Farouk attached himself to David at a young age. He has always been there warping David's mind and challenging the nature of his reality and memories. He's been a very tricky devil. The more David fought him the more devastating the consequences became for his mind. This finale builds to the final confrontation between the two for David's body. It's no longer an option for the two of them to continue to co-exist. But David also muses what it'll be like without Lenny in his head. He compares it to phantom limb syndrome where a person who lost a limb still reaches for it. The struggle to be one's true self is a universal story that everyone can connect with and understand. It's an arduous journey that taken a long time for someone to find peace and understanding. However, David has never known himself. His entire life has been corrupt because of Farouk. He has no idea who he is. So, he still may ultimately feel schizophrenic. Denying the disease could be even more devastating for him. And yet, he still has to find a way. The stakes are abundantly clear if he does nothing.

This finale does run into some problems through because of the lack of emotional connection to the characters. I definitely care about these people and what happens to them. But a personal connection to them is lacking as well. It's a hard feeling to describe. It should be absolutely devastating when Syd risks everyone for the man she loves and that action ultimately costs Melanie the man she loves. It's a brutal way to end the season. But the nature of the show has been very elaborate and weird. That's been a very good thing. And yet, it's hardly allowed the characters to breathe and relax so that the audience can get to know them. For instance, is Melanie a mutant? When she tells Clark that the age of the dinosaurs is ending, she does so with the smugness of someone who isn't a dinosaur. And yet, the season has shown no hints of powers. She's simply the person running this facility and helping the mutants who live there. Similarly, David is an equally hollow character. At least with him though, that's the point. He is suppose to feel empty without Farouk as a part of his identity. It's been a lot of fun seeing just how powerful he can be when using both of their powers. It highlighted why he's so dangerous that way. But who David is by himself is a mystery the show still needs to provide more context.

But again, that final confrontation is pretty engaging and stunning to watch. Everything starts to go wrong once Syd walks into that room to safe David. She too has her own theories about Farouk. Her analogy is to a cancer. Something that needs to be cut out of the body and burned. But the show itself probably has the more apt comparison with Lenny slowly melting into tar. That's a lot more messy and a lot more complicated to clean up. It makes the process much more difficult. It shows the kind of hold that Farouk has on David's mind. It suggests that cutting him out would also be removing a piece of David. That's why it seems so appealing to Syd when Farouk says the only way David will stay the same is if he leaves willingly. It could be a frustrating decision to see her mess all of this up while David is in battle with Farouk inside of his mind. And yet, it's not. It's once again her doing whatever it takes to save the man she loves. He will change because of this procedure. But how much is seemingly up to Syd and what she does in this moment.

The battle is also compelling to watch because it slows everything down once Syd enters the room. That fight sequence in reality probably only lasted a minute or so. And yet, the show finds a way to elongate it and make sure it impacts every major character who is in the building. The show's perception of time has always been fluid. It has warped it to its whims and shown that time is merely a construct that can be manipulated. That's essentially what this sequence does yet again. It does so to make all of the punches land. Farouk travels from Syd's body into Kerry. At first, it seemed like the Shadow King would be passed on from host to host until it eventually landed in its final destination. But no, it stops at Kerry until David's power is able to send it packing. Of course, Farouk still survives. It lands in Oliver who is able to make a quick escape out of the facility. It's a little surprising that Farouk survives to complicate the story in another season. As the episodes went along this year, it seemed more and more likely that this would be a season-long villain. A battle for David's life. Once completed, it would leave him as a changed man. But now, it's clear that's not the case at all. In fact, it may be even better because it establishes that Farouk is this being who will continue to haunt hurt and hunt down David whether he's in the same body or not. Plus, it allows Aubrey Plaza to continue this amazing performance in yet another season. That's absolutely terrific.

And finally, there is the post-credits scene. Those have become very popular in the Marvel films (well, basically any genre film nowadays) over the past decade. It's perhaps the most conventional narrative device that this season has incorporated. But it still has its pleasures as well. It shows that David can't enjoy his newfound happiness for very long. It was thrilling to watch as the effects of Farouk were wiped from his mind and his memories. And yet, he's not able to enjoy the first moments of peace he's ever experienced in his life. He and Syd spot a pod in the sky believing it to be one of Cary's inventions. It isn't. It instead scans David and quickly sucks him inside. He's trapped inside this small contraption while Syd flees for help. It's a tense way to leave the characters at the end of the season. It sets up the first story of the second season. But more importantly, who is behind this? Is this Division 3 despite the peace they seemingly found during the big confrontation? Or is it some new enemy altogether? The latter would probably be the easy assumption. But if this show has taught the audience anything, it's to never just accept the rational explanation.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 8" was written by Noah Hawley and directed by Michael Uppendahl.
  • It's fascinating to see the finale devote the entire first act to Clark's recovery following the mutant attack from the premiere. It humanizes him in a very sympathetic way. It shows that he has a family and a life. He's not simply the severely burned villain who has just made his shocking return to the story. He's actually the hero of his story with David and his friends as the enemy.
  • The show seemingly plays with time once more in that opening sequence as well. Across these eight episodes, it doesn't seem like much time has realistically passed since that attack on Clark and Division 3. But here, he's seen to have a long healing process. One that takes several weeks until he returns to the job.
  • It's absolutely devastating to watch as Oliver remembers that Melanie is his wife moments before Farouk enters his body. His mind is so wonderfully chaotic. All Melanie wanted was for him to remember who she was. He finally did but she won't learn that for a long time.
  • Of course, it also seemed inevitable that something bad was about to happen to Oliver. A character simply doesn't spend the battle sequence on top of a ladder fixing the power. It was destined to end badly. But at least, he's still alive. He's just driving to someplace warm with Lenny, who is happy and well put together once more.
  • It's a little unusual that Amy isn't seen in the finale at all even though she's at the same facility as the rest of the characters. She would be invested in what happens to David as well. 
  • Cary and Kerry's sibling dynamic has been wonderful to watch all season. It's nice to see Kerry still upset about Cary leaving her in the astral-plane. But the moment where they go to each other in the aftermath of the battle is really special.
  • I have absolutely no idea how this show is going to play on the awards circuit. It deserves to be nominated in every category because every detail was so important to the overall experience. As far as performances go, I would personally single out Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller and Aubrey Plaza. But again, everyone was so great as well. There wasn't a weak spot in the cast.
  • Yes, Legion is returning for a second season. Hopefully, it will be the same timeframe next year as well - though Noah Hawley does have a pattern of making sure things turn out right instead of quickly. Plus, Hawley won't be gone for very long. The third season of Fargo debuts in just a couple weeks.