Tuesday, June 12, 2018

REVIEW: 'Legion' - A Significant Role Reversal Forces David and the Audience to Look at Things Differently in 'Chapter 19'

FX's Legion - Episode 2.11 "Chapter 19"

In which David fights the future.

David Haller is a villain now. There's no nuance or subtlety to the situation. He rapes Syd. He wipes her memory away after she rejects and confronts him about his inner monster. Then, he has sex with her in order to prove that the connection they have is loving and real. It's absolutely wrong. It immediately paints the audience's perception that he is now a monster. The only point of contention is whether or not the show earns that moment and the pivot within David. It's playing around with the idea that David Haller is both a mutant and mentally ill. That's not a bad narrative idea to explore. It is also doing a role reversal where David is now the villain and Amahl Farouk is the hero. That too is something that has been explored quite a bit this season. But it would be one thing if the show was building up this conclusion where Farouk was able to manipulate all of David's friends into seeing him as the monster who must be put in a cage and tried for his crimes. It's something completely different for the audience to witness him committing this truly heinous act. There is simply no justifying that whatsoever. There won't be a way to undo it either. The show can't just magically reset the clock at any point in the future and say that David is a good and noble hero again. No, he commits a sexual assault and it is absolutely disgusting and vile. He is the villain. That's simply who he is now. It could run as a complete condemnation of the character the audience has been watching for two seasons now. David has been dim and naive. But the audience has never been asked to see him as the true enemy everyone else in this world should be fighting. Works of art can have unreliable narrators. This show has always played around with what's real and what's not. And yet, there has to be perhaps to those deceptions and misdirections. This feels like the exact ending that the show was going for in this very unfocused season. It presents a significant pivot that will completely change the show for the rest of its run on FX. It's the show twisting the audience's expectations. But again, the audience has to ask if it's ultimately a rewarding reveal or if it's the show going past that line just in order to be sensational.

This season of Legion was frustrating mostly because of how aimless the main narrative actually was. The story of David and Farouk racing each other in order to find Farouk's body was this plot that was dragged out across eleven episodes of television. Along the way the show kept getting distracted by whatever colorful and imaginative ideas that Noah Hawley and the other writers and directors came up with. This is still a visual stunning and terrifying show. There are many individual sequences throughout this season that were particularly marvelous to watch. This show is so creative with the way it envisions the world. It has a unique perspective that has allowed it to stand out in the cluttered superhero genre at the moment. But there still has to be substance underneath all of the stylish details. There needs to be a reason to care about the characters actually involved in this story. And yes, there are still some very relatable moments over the course of the season. The bond between Cary and Kerry only grew stronger. They are the closest thing the show has to being audience surrogates where they are the ones who have a complete hold of the truth and understanding what happens. Their minds aren't altered in any way. So, their perception of the world is what the reality should be for the audience. That's the way that we should view the story. And yet, there are plenty of narrative dead-ends that the show introduced this season and then never came back to whatsoever. That includes Cary and Kerry reversing their roles and needing to spend time as two individuals instead of one body, Kerry grew old rapidly at one point in time, and Ptonomy died and was uploaded to the main computer at Division 3 that connects him with the rest of the Vermillion. Those are important details that are mostly dropped in the concluding episodes of this story. That's a problem because it makes the show feel completely unfocused. Yes, it's powerful to see David journeying through the multiverse or simply wandering the desert endlessly for days. But there has to be strong reasoning behind those moments as well. In this season, the character motivations simply got lost.

David was told to help Farouk reunite with his body because Syd from the future told him to. In her timeline, Farouk dies and the world ends shortly thereafter. She is delivering this warning to ensure that a different outcome occurs. It's still a world where Farouk is free to reign as dangerously as he can. That's still a significant threat. But it's one where the balance of the world is left in check so that it avoids complete destruction for a little while longer. And yet, the show right now seems to be suggesting that David has always been the villain and that his turn into the monster was inevitable. Farouk made a compelling argument to Syd through Melanie just last week in showing her David's true face and how much pleasure he took out of torturing people. That too could have been perceived as part of the sickness that Farouk was spreading throughout David's friends. It certainly felt that way last week because the show wanted the audience to blindly follow the love story that exists between David and Syd. It wanted us to see that relationship the same way that David did. That was foolish for anyone who actually bought into that convention because it was always clear that David was the romantic who refused to see the reality of their relationship. His actions were difficult on Syd. His absence almost destroyed her. And now, he wanted to believe that everything was fine now that he's back. It wasn't and he did nothing to make it right. That plays into the narrative that David is now delusional because he believes he deserves to be good and in love. He has told himself that he is the hero of this story and that the hero gets the girl in the end. That's his programming at the moment. But the show is highlighting the monstrosity of that belief. David is the monster because he violates Syd in such a personal and traumatizing way.

But again, it still feels like something the show will try to explain away though Farouk still playing with the minds of those at Division 3. David believes he has prevailed over his greatest adversary. The parasite that lived in his head for thirty years is about to die. Farouk has reunited with his body and is now made completely powerless thanks to Cary's machinery. He can't stop what's about to happen. David was incapable of stopping Syd when she was pointing a gun at him and ultimately decided to pull the trigger in order to save the world from him. She could understand that future Syd warned David about all of this knowing just how monstrous he would one day become. She could see the villain inside him this entire time. Her motivations are still murky as well though. She too may be trying to buy into the idea that David just needs to get the help that he needs. He was just too broken because he was raised with every single one of his thoughts being twisted by Farouk. And yet, it's absolutely painful in the moment when David is trying to rationalize everything that he has said and done because he's the hero and he's in love. Love is what's worth saving in this world. This war is being fought to save all of love. That thought has been fueling all of David's actions. He needed to rescue Syd by saving the world from Farouk. And now, Farouk is simply able to whisper into a mouse and deliver a message to Syd. He is able to give her her memories back. Those memories may still be twisted. They may be only what Farouk wants her to see and hear. It's the kind of argument that could easily lead to him being released and becoming the new, all-powerful mutant working for Division 3. That makes no sense whatsoever though. Just because David's friends become aware of how villainous he is doesn't excuse Farouk's own behavior. He should still have to go on trial and deal with the punishments for his crimes. But instead, he is right there in the end to create the image that he is now the hero and David is the villain.

All of this is played as David experiencing a psychotic break. When Syd shoots him, he ends up back in his childhood basement. He is listening in on the teachings from The Narrator throughout the season. It all harkens back to the idea that a delusion starts with a simple idea. David's multiple personalities are now telling him that he became delusional the moment that he met Syd and she told him he was more than just normal. He was actually incredibly special. His mind is now telling him that that was the lie in an attempt to control him. His friends were absolutely terrified of what he could do. And so, they reigned him in as much as they could. They were afraid of him whenever he was being dishonest to them. They could tell that he was keeping secrets. And so, they were plotting behind his back in order to oppress and destroy him as well. That has never been the case though. It shows that David is still experiencing the delusion because he no longer has a solid grasp on his reality. And yet, that can't excuse his behavior here. He is a villain plain and simple because of the sexual assault that he commits on Syd. The show tries to play things to the reality of the situation where the man is so desperate to prove that he is in the right that he couldn't possibly see his actions as actually being so destructive and harmful to the woman he claims to love. If he loved Syd, then he wouldn't have done this to her. He only sees the error of his ways after she remembers what happened as well. She was peacefully ignorant in the moment because she lacked her memories. Cary could see the truth. Then, it was unlocked for Syd. It's easy to understand why they all turn on David. The audience should be doing that as well. It just points the show in such an awkward position heading into the third season. On the one hand, focusing on David as the villain could really force the show into figuring out what to do with its supporting ensemble and making them the actual heroes of this story. On the other hand though, it could just be more indulgence of bad behavior that shouldn't be rewarded with David remaining the focal point and the audience needing to have some kind of understanding of him and his issues at all times. It's frustrating because both options seem very real and very problematic. As such, the show could be digging itself into quite a hole. This season was frustrating in many ways. And now, it leaves me very concerned for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 19" was written by Noah Hawley and directed by Keith Gordon.
  • Again, the most stylish moments of this finale are actually the most entertaining pieces of the story. It's just fun watching that opening battle where David and Farouk are singing along to The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" while their animated avatars are fighting in the sky above them. It's a sequence of gorgeous cinematography and playful commentary on the conventions of this story.
  • At one point, the show cuts ahead three years in time to show that Oliver and Melanie are happily living in their own bubble on the astral plane. Their bodies are safe and hidden away somewhere on Earth. But right now, it's more important for them to just be living this peaceful, idyllic life not having to save the world whenever chaos erupts. Of course, it also should make the audience assume that Jean Smart and Jemaine Clement are probably leaving the show because their character journeys are done at this point.
  • It's miraculous to see just how ineffective Farouk was when he was actually reunited with his body. The entire season built up this threat that he would be unstoppable if this occurred. He is certainly a menacing presence. But him knocking the Cradle into the distance doesn't stop it from being used against him. Nor does he actually kill Clark which feels like a lame copout after such a surprising moment last week.
  • It really is great that Kerry enjoys talking about fighting a minotaur over and over again. That was her big excitement of the day. She and Syd fought a minotaur that has been haunting so many characters both in reality and on the astral plane. They won too. That's incredible. But it leaves Syd mostly tired after a traumatizing day and Kerry wanting to detail what the creature's blood smelled like.
  • FX has already renewed Legion for a third season to debut sometime in 2019. This is still one of the most imaginative and unexpected shows currently airing. And yet, it also makes me wonder if Noah Hawley works better in the Fargo format where he's just telling self-contained stories each season. Yes, the second season of Legion was very different from the first. But it still followed the same characters and story. This is really Hawley's first opportunity to tell an ongoing story too. So, it should be very fascinating to see how things develop in Season 3.