Tuesday, April 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'Legion' - New Delusions and Memories Begin to Fester Within David in 'Chapter 9'

FX's Legion - Episode 2.01 "Chapter 9"

Unlikely alliances are formed and the search for the Shadow King begins.

Legion is defined by its whimsy and mystery. It's a show that plays around with the idea of perception and memory. It asks the serious questions of: Who are we? What do we remembered? And why are those memories important? "Chapter 9" has a very fascinating framing device in that it tells multiple short stories about how the idea of consciousness, memory and delusion can formulate and impact our lives. It's a show that grapples with big ideas while still being presented in a very fun and charming way. It's clearly a case of style over substance. The way the show is presented to the audience makes it so entertaining that we can forget just how little we may care about certain characters or dynamics. This premiere has a lot of plot that it needs to cover. And yet, it's also just perfectly fine being a mystery about perception and asking a bunch of questions that have no easy answers at the moment. That could make it very frustrating. David Haller is an unreliable narrator in this story. He has always been that way. In the first season, he didn't know if he was a mutant or mentally ill. So many people were telling him so many different things. The case was made early and often that he was an extremely powerful telepath. So, it was never that big of a mystery. But now, the show is asking an even more personal question about David. One that could be further alienating to his journey and the audience. Has he found a way to lie convincingly to the world around him? Or has he fallen down the path of another delusion in order to make sense of a world that has only grown crazier since the audience last saw? Both are distinct possibilities that open the world of the show up in its second season even more.

But the season doesn't start with David and the explanation of what the mysterious orb was that shrunk him down and kidnapped him at the end of the first season. Instead, it just opens on the beautiful shot of Oliver and Lenny sitting in a pool working on their tans. It's such a beautiful and symmetrical image. It's the two of them being united in both time and personality. But it's also a complete illusion. Lenny wonders what time it is. Oliver counters with the idea that time is completely irrelevant. The amount of time he spent in the astral plane was incalculable. It had no bearing on him and he slightly lost his mind because of it. When he was finally returned to Melanie, he was no longer the same man she once loved. And here, there's no point to worrying about time. This is all just a delusion. It's a reality that can easily create an arm to refill Oliver's drink as well as pan back to show that there is no other human anywhere near the two of them. It pulls back even further to reveal the layers upon layers of this delusion. It's a tease that shows that these two may still be buried deep within David's own mind. He doesn't know if they are there or not. No one does. This episode plays into the fact that David and Amahl Farouk still share a connection. They can still sense where the other is and what they are up to. But there are ways to hide from each other as well. That may be a mental barrier used as a defense tactic. But it could also be implemented by either one as well to hinder this investigation into where Farouk is and what he's up to.

It's then that the show brings David back into the fold of the story and all of his friends from last year. He is discovered a year after he went missing. In that time, Syd and company joined Division 3. They are now working alongside Clark. They are united against their common enemy. They've been tracking Farouk for months. This is a more professional operation that has clear designations and departments for everyone to feel valuable in. Cary and Ptonomy get to work with Clark in investigations. Kerry gets to lead tactical. And Syd and Melanie work as strategy. It's a system they have all relaxed into. Of course, some have faired better than others. It appears that Melanie has been broken by the return and sudden departure of Oliver. It's such a moving and powerful moment when she talks about the sacrifice women like her and Syd make in choosing to be with important and powerful men like Oliver and David. It's a sacrifice because the men always have to leave them for noble reasons of saving the world from the ultimate evil. It's a cruel punishment for them to always be placed in this holding pattern of life. They only come alive when their loved one returns to them. But those moments are fleeting and never the same as they were before. Melanie's spirit has been broken. She is coping by vaping - which could make her an easy target for whatever seems to be encroaching on her. Meanwhile, Syd seems hardened by the loss of David for the past year. She wants to know if it's really him when he returns. She wants to understand where he's been this past year like everyone else. But she is also excited and ready to pick up their relationship exactly where it left off. And yes, that does lead to a passionate and very visceral sex sequence in their personal astral projection.

But David still has big questions that he needs to answer. He claims to have no memories of the last 12 months. And yet, no one really believes that. Ptonomy can sense these flashes of memory that seemingly don't make sense or perhaps he hasn't dug far enough yet. All Clark sees is a bad soap opera plot twist and performance from David. Even Syd can sense that something is different about David and that he may not be entirely truthful with her. But David is still committed to the mission of finding Farouk. He meets the new boss at Division 3 - a man with a basket on his head who speaks through three mustachioed, semi-robotic women. They confirm that Farouk is looking for his physical body. Once his mind and body reunite, he will be even more powerful even to the point of being unstoppable. It's an ominous tease for what's to come next this season. It gives the story this year a solid hook to it. It's a race to find and control this body. The fate of the world could depend on it. And so, David teams with Cary to boost his telepathic signal to track down where Farouk is right now. Cary has built a chamber filled with extreme chemicals as well as strawberry extract that can make it smell better but no less toxic to ingest. It's in that moment where the show produces its most delightful sequence of the premiere. David is taken to a club where he meets Lenny and Oliver. They then engage in a dance battle. It's such a phenomenal sequence because it's so much fun seeing them let loose on the dance floor while one-upping each other. Even Cary gets in on the fun because of course he does. It's a sequence that makes no sense in the abstract but is so meaningful because it presents a reality in which this trio are choosing to fight each other in a very deliberate and entertaining fashion.

And yet, the premiere still has one more tease to drop for the audience and David. It pulls back the curtain to reveal what truly happened to David when he was stolen by that mysterious orb. It became pitch back for him in there. He was trapped in the darkness. He was greeted by Syd. Through a game of charades, he learns that she is from the future and is trying to deliver him a message. That message is to help Farouk find his body. It seems like such a contradictory piece of advice. It goes against everything the premiere has previously set up. David has committed to being honest with Syd in the present. He is promising to never run away from her again. He is giving her the tools to always find him so that they can be lost together. He cherishes that connection. But that's also what makes him so susceptible to this tease from the future. He sees her and immediately takes what she has to say seriously. The show is still just cryptically dropping information from this missing time of David's. It could be David willfully keeping these memories from himself and only parsing them out when the situation requires it. It's enough to be a distraction to those around him while he remains focused on the mission at hand. He's going to have to make a choice regarding which side he is fighting for in this war. Or all of this could still be a trick. The version of Syd from the future may not be her at all. It could just be the latest delusion that has taken ahold of David. It could be Farouk still influencing David's mind. The mind is such a tricky and complex thing. It can easily become a maze that one gets lost in. It's all a matter of perspective. Right now, the audience doesn't have the context to fully grasp everything that is happening and understand how trustworthy David is. That's perfectly fine. As more information becomes apparent, more clarity will come. The show will still have fun and enjoy playing around with time and twists. As such, this is the perfect premiere because it boldly pushes forward on the concepts that drove the show into such remarkable territory in its first season while presenting something brand new as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 9" was written by Noah Hawley & Nathaniel Halpern and directed by Tim Mielants.
  • There is also a pandemic that is spreading that Division 3 doesn't completely understand yet. They have called it The Catalyst. It freezes regular people in their tracks with the only movement being the chattering of their teeth. That's such an innocuous thing that becomes downright terrifying when it's a hundred people doing only that at the same time. It's so eery and petrifying.
  • The Catalyst could be something completely separate from Farouk and David. Or it could be something that they are orchestrating together. Oliver has been sighted at the various events where the Catalyst was unleashed and froze people. Meanwhile, David is discovered in a room where that is happening and his mind needs to overcome it in order to return to his friends and share what's been going on with him.
  • Jon Hamm is the narrator who details the stories that illuminate the show's point on memory and delusion. It's such a captivating vocal performance as well. It's very clinical while still inviting. The images that go along with it are quite profound too - especially the sequence with the egg that hatches into a baby chick only for the second egg to unleash a black monster that devours it and then slowly seduces Lenny.
  • The production design of the new Division 3 offices is pretty impressive. It's so mesmerizing to see the office of the new boss as David stands in front of a painting that makes it look like we're looking at things from the wrong angle. And then, it's also just amusing that the cafeteria has dishes of food floating down a river waiting to be picked up.
  • The premiere also ends on the ominous note of David returning to the club and meeting with Lenny and Oliver. There's no clear indication if this is a flashback or a current astral projection. There's no idea if it's something that exists solely in David's mind or is a way for the three of them to communicate. But it does eventually end with Lenny kissing David which certainly sends the message that Farouk still has his influence on David.