Tuesday, May 8, 2018

REVIEW: 'Legion' - David Explores the Many Lives He Could Have Lived in 'Chapter 14'

FX's Legion - Episode 2.06 "Chapter 14"

What could have been...

Many shows out there have explored the theory of multiple universes. The idea that every decision one makes in life has the potential to split off into several different realities where each outcome is explored. As such, it creates a countless number of universes that is constantly growing and expanding. Some of the universes could feature people who resemble ourselves now pretty closely. Then, there are other possibilities where we look completely different. It's a fun concept for science fiction shows to explore because it gives the story and characters the opportunity to mine the choices not made. It can be a formulaic premise as well. Usually, the main character goes on this journey to ultimately realize that his or her experiences in this new life would shape them into a person they don't want to be. As such, he or she returns to their original reality content with whatever has just happened to them. That's basically the path that Legion takes as well. However, the show expands on this premise to present multiple worlds where the relationships are all fundamentally the same in how they are rooted in the dynamics the audience understands. But it also expands on them to give them new meaning especially in regards to the devastating loss that David has just experienced at the hands of Farouk. It's a complicated episode that doesn't always succeed. In fact, there are moments where the hour is really struggling to find any semblance of plot whatsoever. The audience has to really read into things in order to find a strong emotional core to the hour. But it still all comes together in the end as well because David learns his lesson that his current reality is the one he is living in and needs to accept. It's unclear if he's going on this journey with the audience to explore these alternate lives or if it's just a narrative trick to entertain the audience. But it is fascinating to see how the outcome does affect our understanding of the story at the heart of it all.

Amy's death last week wasn't all that rewarding or gut-wrenching. It should be a big deal that the sister of the main character was killed in the middle of his war with his greatest foe who has already corrupted so much of his life. Of course, death is still pretty subjective on this show. Lenny was killed in the very first episode. She still maintained a presence in every episode since. And now, she has a new body and is her own independent woman once more because Farouk no longer has a purpose for her to fulfill. She delivered the crushing blow to David but Lenny didn't know anything about that. She is still there for him to comfort him in the aftermath of learning that his sister has just been killed so that she could have a new body. But again, it was such a lackluster reveal last week because the entire story propped the mystery of it up only for it to fall onto a relationship the audience really didn't have any investment in. Katie Aselton was a series regular on the first season but Amy was never the most important character. In fact, she was pretty forgettable because the narrative just never seemed interested in following up on what's going on in her life. Her death was the first time she was seen this season. And now, it seems like the show is using that moment of trauma to better flesh out this bond between the siblings. It does feel like a case of too little, too late. The show already pulled the trigger on this twist. No new understanding of David and Amy's relationship will make it any more complex or nuanced for the audience. It's simply just a way to prove that this really was a relationship that meant so much to David.

As all of these various realities play out for the audience, it's clear that David and Amy's bond as siblings is at the forefront. Of course, it's not present in every reality. Some of them only appear in a few fleeting moments - like David as the drug addict explaining the premise of this hour or David in an office seeing a mouse sing Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love." That moment is certainly amusing and strange. It proves that David's mind is going to be active and weird no matter which path he ultimately decided to pursue in life. Farouk always possessed him as a baby and would live inside his mind for his entire life. As such, his powers are always going to be present. That means he is never going to be capable of living the normal life that Amy desperately wants for him. That was such a huge dynamic between them last season. She just wanted him to get better and conquer this mental illness so that he could have a happy family like the one she has for herself. That's all she ever truly wanted. And yes, one reality does paint a very pleasant and happy portrait of David with a wife and two children. That's certainly the happiest reality that is seen throughout this episode. It doesn't end in tragedy like so many of them do. But it's also notable that Amy isn't around to experience that with David. Perhaps a sense of normalcy would lesson her compulsive need to take care of him all the time. That was the position she has always served through his life. She's been his care taker. If he ever became normal, he would no longer need her in that way. But that's the only way he has ever had her. So, he could have happiness. It just may come at a cost from the relationship that actually means something throughout this entire journey.

Elsewhere, the show depicts a David who is simply wandering the streets as a homeless person. He has no one in his life to care for him or treat him with compassion. That stands in contrast to the segment where David is basically a crippled old man who needs help with even the basics of life. In that reality, he has a caretaker willing to make him food and brush his teeth before bed. It's happy because it seems like the voices in his head are quiet and he's not hurting anyone. It's just a lonely existence because it's the two of them trapped in this cycle where it's impossible for David to do anything else because he simply doesn't have the strength to do it. Meanwhile, the homeless David is just seen as a rambling lunatic roaming the streets. And yes, the show does play straight into the stereotypes of what the homeless are like here. He rejoices at finding a shopping cart to carry all of his belongings and he's being beaten up by a bunch of punks who think it's funny. It's in that moment where his powers manifest themselves once more. He is able to completely eviscerate these tormentors. He can simply wipe them from existence in an instant. And yet, he too also wants to be free from this world. He is tortured by the thoughts of his own mind. He faces these physical threats but it's more daunting to be attacked by the words in his head that aren't coming from anything around him. He is ready for this life to be over. In the end, he is ultimately given that once Division 3 corners him and Kerry cuts him down. That's a brutal sight. But again, it's notable because Amy isn't around to help care for him during this traumatic existence. This is one fate he could be living if he didn't have that bond.

However, it's in the stories where Amy has a direct impact on David's choices that are the most effective throughout this story. In one, David has decided to completely repress and deny his powers. Amy is his caretaker who carefully monitors his strict medication schedule. The drugs make him slow and incapable of doing more than just this menial warehouse job at a dairy company. It's not an exciting life. David wants more of his personality to shine though. It just does in the worst of circumstances. It's clear that no matter how many pills he takes Farouk will still find his way through to torment David. David will still see things that aren't there. Here, it just leads to him being noticed by two police officers who simply don't have the training to help a person with mental illness. He is being very forthcoming about his issues and struggles. But it's a story that still ends with David in handcuffs, then wiping out everyone on the block except him and Amy, while also being shot. It's a tragedy because he listens to her and still ultimately dies. The inverse also plays out in another reality. In this one, David has embraced his powers. He uses them to become the richest man in the world. Here, he has no real use for Amy or her desire to make him normal. Instead, she's the one dependent on him because he can radically change her life. She is desperate for a new house. She has become obsessed with the material things. Meanwhile, he has no compassion for her and is completely fine just torturing her whenever it pleases him. So in the end, David has to accept the path that he is on. He listens to Amy's words that it sucks that this is his reality but it's what he has been given. Farouk tells him that he can simply determine what is real himself. And right now, David is choosing to keep Amy real even though she is no longer around. That's a significant and emotional plot point that the show does achieve in the end. It just takes a long time to get there.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 14" was written by Noah Hawley and directed by John Cameron.
  • It's important to get flashbacks of the prime timeline sprinkled throughout all of this as well. It's important to remember that Amy wants David to settle down in a normal life and him feeling incapable of doing that because he's sick and verging on suicide. It's heartbreaking to see her drop him off at Clockworks to get the help he needs knowing that that's the decision that eventually sets him on this new path for his life.
  • This entire story also highlights just how much blind faith and trust David puts in his relationships. He immediately forms close bonds and connections with people. As such, it potentially stings more to him than to the audience whenever something compromises those bonds. But now, it seems inevitable that he'll rely even more on Syd after learning that Amy is gone.
  • Dan Stevens is aided a great deal by changes in wardrobe and makeup throughout these various stories. They help inform his performance. Of course, the makeup made to age him up isn't the greatest. It's a little laughable in some areas. The ridiculousness of the homeless David is an extreme look as well. But the heart of David is still able to be seen from all of these different perspectives.
  • It's nice that the audience gets to see the transformation from David as the simple coffee boy to the richest man in the world. He starts simply by giving Laura advice on how she is being screwed over in this business deal by her potential new partners. Then, their roles reverse with Laura becoming his long-suffering assistant whom he keeps around simply because he enjoys how much she resents him and his success. He has such a god-complex that mirrors Farouk's. And yet, that's the core aspect of this specific story.
  • Katie Aselton being listed as a guest star this season makes me think this is probably her grand goodbye to the series. The show probably could think of a way to keep incorporating her somehow - though possibly not reviving her by stealing someone else's body. It could be fun seeing her torment Lenny's mind so that she too could get a stronger understanding of the life David has always lived. But the plot probably just doesn't have time for that.