Wednesday, April 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'Legion' - David Travels Into Ptonomy and Melanie's Minds in His Pursuit of the Monk in 'Chapter 11'

FX's Legion - Episode 2.03 "Chapter 11"

David navigates the maze.

The first season of Legion was such an internal battle for David Haller. He was questioning the nature of his reality. He was wondering what was real and what wasn't. He didn't know if he was this powerful mutant or just simply going insane. The answers he found were even crazier than he could have ever imagined. He had a parasite living in his mind since he was a baby that grew and grew until it completely took him over. And now, the second season is exploring mental illness and reality on a much grander scale. That has always been one of the big themes of the series. It finds the universality in David's identity. The audience can relate to his struggle to find his identity and understand the world around him even when it is completely inexplicable. And now, the show is presenting these brief moments of narration from Jon Hamm that help highlight the theme of each hour while getting the audience to view illness and reality from a new perspective. In "Chapter 11," things start off with Hamm explaining the nocebo effect where one people simply suggests something to the other that festers in their mind until physical manifestations occur. It's a condition also known as a conversion disorder. It's absolutely terrifying to watch in practice as this apparent disease spreads through a group of high school cheerleaders as they each develop the same nervous tick. It's so destructive and foreign. No one can really explain why it is happening or how it is being passed along to each girl. It's just important to note the psychology of this disease. It's something where the mere idea or fear of the idea is enough to create a reality. As the Narrator puts it, the idea of illness can oftentimes lead to illness. As such, the lines between what is illness and what is reality become even more blurred.

All of this is then presented in a story that highlights what these characters' personal paradises are like and just how sinister they may be underneath the surface. It's rich thematic material that shows that everyone is living in their own reality. Yes, everyone has grown up with the same understanding of the rules and laws of this world and what's acceptable and what isn't. Last week's episode outlined just how dangerous it could be if someone was taught a different way. It's still completely normal to that person while being atypical for everyone else. Perception of one's own reality is key to the understanding of the story and the characters of the show. Everyone is living in their own worlds where their perceptions of things are always different than everyone else's. Each person has their own motivation for doing what they do. Their actions are also perceived in so many different ways. Sometimes they come across as intended. Sometimes they are really damaging without the intention of being so. And sometimes it's just pure chaos to really mess with people. This hour enjoys the chaos. It's a story that proudly puts the imagination and dreams of these characters on full display. It certainly has a sense of humor about itself. It's a lot of fun seeing Kerry learn what it means to be living outside in the real world all the time. She's simply not used to eating and going to the bathroom anymore. But it's also just enlightening to see the various worlds that the other characters create for themselves.

Of course, it still seems like a case of style over substance. David travels into the minds of two of his friends after they are stricken with the Catalyst. He first ventures into Ptonomy's mind. He finds him in a maze of a garden where he is simply repeating the same action over and over again. As Cary explains, it's him choosing to forget and just live in the moment. That's the freedom and dream that he has because he can remember every single detail of his life and also venture into the memories of others. He views that as a burden and would just like to relax and be carefree in his version of paradise. Meanwhile, Melanie wants to be omnipresent. She is the second mind that David and company travel into. She presents as this dark space where she is controlling an action adventure video game from the 1980s. It's weird and very specific. It's quite imaginative to see David, Cary and Ptonomy venture through this world trying to play along while not having the patience to follow Melanie's rules. It's only through David coming to the realization that Melanie's life has been defined by the dreams of others after learning too late in life that she just wishes to be careful that Melanie presents herself and is willing to go back to the true reality. These sequences are very fun and presented in a strong and distinct way. But do they inform the audience of anything new about these characters? Ptonomy is still very thin in characterizations while Melanie is mostly intriguing because of Jean Smart's performance. These sequences don't really change that despite being a journey deep into the minds of these characters in a really abstract and important way.

Plus, it ties into the idea that illness is slowly infecting the reality of this entire world. David has always questioned the nature of his reality. That's been a personal hell for him. But now, the narrative as a whole is doing a couple of things that could be tipping the audience off to the fact that there is corruption and illness through so many corners of this reality. The black goo creature from the first segment by the Narrator keeps popping up in random places at Division 3. And now, it is seen crawling into Ptonomy's ear. That's such a sinister and creepy shot. Then, Cary steps in a tar-like substance while traveling into Ptonomy's mind. Meanwhile, Melanie's game simulation warns David and company that they have to keep running or the minotaur will catch up to them. They see that creature. And this isn't the first time a minotaur has been seen in association with Melanie. She was plagued by that image while getting high in the premiere. So, it's clear that something more is going on in the storytelling this year that simply isn't told to the audience just yet. Perhaps it's building to the reveal that Hamm is playing an actual character who will be seen in live-action shortly. Or it could just be a trick meant to keep the audience aware of everything going on. The show is very aware of perception. Here, Farouk shares his side of his story where David's father is the villain. He was simply a ruler of his land who was confronted by an outsider who didn't agree with his decisions and treatment of his people. He sees everything he has done as a means for survival. He wants to be reunited with his body simply to go about living in reality once more while returning to his homeland and ruling again. The show has frequently asked the audience to be suspicious of Farouk. Even here, it's hard to take his pleas for sympathy and understanding seriously knowing that Lenny is still a prisoner in his various astral planes with her being unable to escape no matter what. She can't die. She wants to but can't. She is just along on this journey appearing in whatever projection Farouk comes up with next to talk with David.

All of this happens because it's learned that the monk is the one responsible for the Catalyst. Farouk isn't the creature causing the chattering of teeth. That's still such a horrifying visual in this story. It's always terrifying whenever a new character is seen having lost control of their body while being trapped in a prison in their own minds. They are still completely healthy. They may be living in their wildest fantasies. But again, it's not real and those dreams can be easily corrupted. The monk is making this attack on Division 3 because he is looking for a weapon that was promised in the fight for whatever is coming next. Melanie explains that David is that weapon. He is the only mutant powerful enough to battle Farouk should he be reunited with his body. And yet, the monk is completely aware that David is compromised and working with Farouk. He doesn't trust him in this war. Fortunately, David is able to whisk him away to the roof of the building before he is able to reveal his secrets to the rest of his colleagues. To David, it's very simple why he's teaming up with his enemy. He trusts the women that he loves. He continues to be so puzzled by the idea that there are two Syds. They are completely different. And yet, he trusts what both of them have to say. He spends this entire episode trying to find Syd and see what has happened to her during this attack. That's his grand explanation for everyone. He's in love. It's still brutal. The Syd from the future is sending him direct messages that he needs to hurry. Meanwhile, Farouk points out that David changing the future will completely wipe out this future version of Syd from reality. It's all so paradoxical. To the monk, the world is simple too. Farouk cannot return to his body. The monks slowly went insane simply by being near the body that was left behind. David is only left with a collection of clues as to where this monastery is. He isn't able to get anything helpful out of the monk before he decides to jump off the roof. He too has gone crazy after infecting everyone with the Catalyst and seeing that there is no weapon to avoid what's coming. But David only reacts upon seeing Syd again and knowing that he needs to free her from her mind's prison. It's an abrupt ending. But it's still very passionate and significant.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 11" was written by Noah Hawley & Nathaniel Halpern and directed by Sarah Adina Smith.
  • Of course, it also seems like the monk gives David these clues as to what life at the monastery was like after receiving Farouk's body. He was able to control the child soldiers who then snuck up on David and captured him. It was then that the monk touched David and it seemed like David was there in the monk's place living these experiences and getting a glimpse into this world. It's terrifying because the infection quickly attacks this reality. As such, it really increases the stakes moving forward.
  • The monk also uses the Vermillion to communicate with Melanie and Ptonomy once they stumble upon him while attacking Fukuyama. The leader of Division 3 can't be attacked in the same way that the rest of this facility can. But he is still shown to be vulnerable here. Plus, it's all just a way to show the power of the monk because he is perfectly capable talking on his own like he does with David a moment later.
  • The amount of time that Syd is spending as a cat this season is probably really telling. It's clear that she is yearning for an escape from her reality. She wants to venture into a new perspective. One that is perhaps simpler. It's fun to see the world from that angle as well. But it also probably hints that David won't be able to free her from her mind as easily as he does with Ptonomy and Melanie.
  • It continues to be so fascinating seeing Lenny as a prisoner of Farouk's. She is jonesing for a taste of reality which includes drugs and sex. She is desperate for David to release her from this prison. She just wants the agony to stop. That's such an interesting note for Aubrey Plaza to play. Though it's also notable that her personality keeps popping up in these encounters with Farouk while Oliver is somewhere else entirely.
  • Cary suggests that it might not be so bad for his friends to be trapped in the delusions in their own minds. But David convinces him otherwise by simply getting him to think about what he would do if it was Kerry in this predicament. Of course, Kerry is also affected by the Catalyst. At that point, David is no longer around to help. So, it seems like Cary merges with her once more but that could have some very serious consequences to it.