Tuesday, May 29, 2018

REVIEW: 'Legion' - Melanie Struggles to Differentiate Between Reality and Fantasy in 'Chapter 17'

FX's Legion - Episode 2.09 "Chapter 17"

Inner demons take control.

The supporting characters of Legion are allowed a chance to shine in "Chapter 17." This is an episode almost completely void of David - except for the brief flash that some characters see of him as he is giving them his plan in their heads. An episode without David could be crippling for the show because of his importance in the overall narrative. And yes, it does bring his story racing Farouk to retrieve the body to a halt even though what the supporting players are doing is also in service of that. It's just an odd division that the show decides to employ. Last week established David and Farouk making these plans for their upcoming conflict. They had both discovered where the Monk had buried Farouk's body. They now know where the monastery is. It has just proven more difficult to actually get there because it appears to be a moving target that does a strong job of deceiving them. They could easily get lost out there in the desert. They have yet to bump into each other though. They are racing to cross the finish line and retrieve their prize first. Meanwhile, they are working to undermine each other with their allies back at Division 3. This episode makes it clear that Melanie is operating under the influence of Farouk and Oliver. As such, she is more loyal to them because of her complicated personal feelings towards Oliver and her overwhelming feeling of disconnect from the world around her as of late. Meanwhile, David has recruited Clark, Cary, Kerry and Lenny to his side in the hopes that only giving them pieces of the master plan will be enough to ultimately deceive Farouk and kill him before he is reunited with his body. It's a plan that was already going awry at the end of last week's episode after it became clear that Melanie was not working towards the same best interests as everyone else. Instead, she has been turned by the man she still desperately loves despite the cruel things he has done to her over the years.

Of course, this hour also highlights the limitations of the supporting ensemble of this show. So many of them have come in and out of importance in the narrative this season. There hasn't been a consistent story for any of them. Some weeks they are extremely important and the actors are given meaty material to play with. And then, they are completely absent from the following episode. This has been such a strange and absent season for Melanie so far. Yes, she has made a number of appearances. But this is her most significant hour of the season to date. It's an honor she also has to share with several other members of the ensemble as they are working to help their sides prevail in this war. Up until this point, it was just important for the audience to be aware that Melanie was getting high all of the time. Instead of being beneficial and working at Division 3, she was sitting in her room getting lost in her thoughts. It was an ominous image right away because there was that mysterious minotaur also stalking her. It made it seem inevitable that her story would end in tragedy just like the delusion monster in Ptonomy's head did to him. Of course, he still has value in the narrative moving forward too. Right now, the season is remembering that it has Jean Smart in its roster and is deciding to actually give her something to do. Melanie finds herself tormented because of these feelings of not knowing what's real and what's fake. For years, she believed she was doing the right thing in trying to bring Oliver back to her. But now, she's just realizing that she has fallen in love with a man who will always abandon her to go save the world.

That only adds more poignancy to the moment from the season premiere where Melanie is talking with Syd about the men they have chosen to love. In that moment, she has contempt for Oliver. He has always expected her to be there waiting for him upon his return. He expects that love to still be present and passionate whenever he sees her. He believes that he can go off to save the world and still come home to a woman who loves him. And Melanie has fallen in love with a mutant who has the powers to actually make a difference in the world. His fight became her fight. He gave her purpose. She was able to build an entire life out of that. She was searching for a way to return Oliver to her after he became trapped on the astral plane. After she succeeded with that, he left once again because he was possessed by another mutant. And now, it's clear that she has so much contempt for Oliver. She holds him at gunpoint when he finally does arrive to see her. However, she is still able to remember those emotions of being in love with him. That connection is still very real and palpable. She knows that she shouldn't indulge in those feelings any longer because Oliver may not be in control of his actions. But it's also just so beautiful and meaningful to be with him again in every sense of the word. The world may end in violence. The solution that Oliver and Farouk are crafting may only increase the casualty count. Melanie doesn't want that. But she also finds herself entranced in this new reality. It's enough to make her question what's real and what's a dream. She has lost herself to the grand complexities of the world. Oliver and Farouk have distorted her mind for their nefarious purposes. And now, she is able to knock out Clark right when David needs him the most. Sure, she may not be the most effective spy and Clark may only play a small role in David's plan. But it could make a significant difference in the end game regardless.

Seeing Melanie's deteriorating state is enough to make everyone at Division 3 worried. They all want to know when she will come back to work and be a useful member of the team once more. It's them selfishly trying to motivate her into action because her perspective has been invaluable in the field on a number of occasions. And yet, she can no longer trust what she is seeing and hearing. She doesn't know if this is something that is actually happening to her or if it's a fantasy created by someone else. She also doesn't see anything wrong with being in an ice cube for 20 years like Oliver was. She sees it as something that could be beautiful. And yet, her expression of that falls onto deaf ears because Kerry has such a firm definition of what reality is. To her, reality is anything that she can punch and feel. This hour does a fascinating job in exploring that Kerry doesn't see the world in the same way that the other characters do. She has been learning how to be a human being again this year because she can't just share a body with Cary any more. She has had to sleep and eat for the first time in years. She doesn't understand the concepts of delusions and conspiracies. She just chooses to focus on what's in front of her. That's her entire reality. When Cary suggests that Melanie is suffering from a depression where she feels all alone in this world, Kerry doesn't understand how that can be because Melanie lives with a crowd of people. She is not technically alone. Cary wants to express that people can still feel isolated even when in a crowded room. It's about feeling seen and not just being physically present. Cary and Kerry have always been a fun character pairing because of their close relationship. And here, it's a lot of fun seeing them just enact their small part in this plan with Kerry being frustrated that she isn't asked to do more. She wants to be the one to use the weapon she is getting to the desert. Instead, she has to be content with telling Cary that she will gladly kill death for him in order to ensure that he never leaves her. That's impossible. But she still sees it as a possibility for her future. And that's sweet.

And finally, Amy Haller is revealed to be not as dead as everyone was led to believe. There was always the sneaking suspicion that some aspect of her personality still existed in the body that Lenny now has. Lenny has been haunted and traumatized by that shocking display of torture and violence. She had no consent on the matter. Farouk did this to Amy and Lenny benefitted from it. Now, she can live life as dangerously and precariously as she wants. She is finally free to do whatever she wants again. She has a ton of sex and partying she needs to get caught up on. She was gone for more than a year and needs to start living again. She returns to her old ways instead of being there to support David with his plan. That's frustrating to Amy. She is only in this predicament right now because of her love for her brother. She was so completely loyal to him and only wanted him to be safe and protected in this world. She didn't know what he was truly capable of and just how important he was to the mutant community. She went into hiding in order to protect him. That still wasn't enough to stop Farouk. The Shadow King committed this horror to send a message to David. He still delights in inflicting pain on others. He may have an ulterior motive for releasing Lenny like this as well. But it's much more important to spend time in Lenny's head as she's the one now having conversations with people stuck in a different dimension. Neither Lenny nor Amy are mutants. And yet, they find themselves trapped in this conflict between two individuals who could literally end the world. It's a conflict where they have importance. It's just a matter of actually stepping up and being of service to loved ones when they need it the most. Amy needs to know if Lenny is a good person. She's not. But now, she can make up for that by helping David when he's asking for it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 17" was written by Noah Hawley & Nathaniel Halpern and directed by Noah Hawley.
  • There really is no clarity given as to what is happening with the mysterious minotaur. The show previously showed that creature stalking Melanie as she was getting high. And now, it's a haunting image to see the creature briefly standing behind Lenny as she's aiming this weapon as a part of David's plan. Again, all of this could go exactly as David wants. But it seems like forces are still conspiring against him as well that the audience doesn't fully understand yet.
  • No clarity is given as to what Clark was suppose to do for David either. Everyone else in on the plan only knows their specific task in it. Cary and Kerry understand where these images are coming from while it's even more torture to Lenny who thought she had escaped these mind games. So, Clark maybe should have gotten something else into the trunk of that car. Or maybe he has suppose to do something else that would have only increased the threat against Farouk in the desert.
  • It appears that Oliver is able to win Melanie over again completely simply by transporting her back to her youth. She sees her younger self in the mirror and is immediately transfixed with the image. She gives herself over to that idea completely. So when she first appears in the palace of Farouk's astral projection, she is her younger self first and only becomes her present day image upon giving Farouk the information that he needs about the monk.
  • Kerry is upset that she won't be able to use the weapon she stole from Division 3 in a battle. She is ready to get into a fight again. Fortunately, Cary put a tracking device on the weapon. So even though Lenny and the vehicle disappear before Cary and Kerry can confront her, they will have a way of discovering where this is all bound to go down and if David can succeed in cracking this puzzle in the desert.
  • It's really fascinating to see the camera movements during Melanie and Kerry's big discussion as well. It could be so annoying and dizzy to watch that conversation keeping swinging back and forth between the actors instead of just staying still. And yet, it plays as a pendulum. It's bouncing back and forth from two sides of the conversation who believe such drastically different things and have no way of connecting with one another. It's a directing moment that highlights the disconnect between the two characters at the moment.