“Legion” Busts Out, But Keeps Things Tight

Posted on March 23, 2017

 

Okay, Legion. You got us back.

Not that the show ever really lost us. We’ve been cheering this utterly weird take on Marvel superheroes from the very first frame of the first episode. But we found ourselves a little impatient last week, at what we considered some narrative wheel-spinning. There are only so many times we could return to David’s childhood bedroom or the day room at Clockworks before we started getting a little impatient; only so many times we could listen to characters question reality before we have to resist the urge to huff and eyeroll. But thankfully, the wait was worth it and our impatience was a bit premature.We wouldn’t say this episode necessarily made up for the slowness of last week’s. In fact, it had some flaws of its own. But it definitely looped us right back into the thick of it with some amazing visuals and hypnotically tense sequences, as well as some very clever acting by some of the principal players. And when you get right down to it, that’s the entire appeal

First, no matter what else, there’s always going to be a certain thrill to seeing a bunch of heroes start to band together and realize they can fight back against a terrifyingly insurmountable opponent. You just can’t beat a good “the tables are turning” scenario if it’s been as well set up as this one. If anything, the frustration of last episode may have played a part in making this episode’s leap forward all the more satisfying. It was genuinely thrilling to see Oliver and Cary banter and plan; to see Cary befuddled by just how caught up Syd is and how much she’s been paying attention; to see Oliver and Melanie reunited (even if that moment was frustratingly underplayed); to see David finally in full control of his faculties, vowing to get his mind and body back. Good stuff all around.

If there was a downside to the episode, it was that the show had to abandon a good portion of its signature obtuseness and just have characters spew exposition and explanations at each other. It was a rather jarring shift in tone, after 6 episodes of mysteries and weirdness, to literally have the entire story laid out for the viewer. In fact, the tone was so off that we wound up missing quite a bit and it wasn’t until the requisite rewatch that we saw how well the plot is working. The escape from the astral plane seemed at first to be a bit rushed and under-explained to us, but when we watched it a second time, we were struck by how well-plotted it was and how everything had some sort of explanation that could be found in the story. There were a lot of moving parts here – in fact, almost every character was stuck in a different scenario – and yet the landing was definitely stuck when it came to bring them all together.

And all of that exposition gave us probably as much confirmation as we’re going to get that David is the son of Charles Xavier of the X-Men. More specifically, he’s the son of the Charles Xavier of the X-Men films, if we’re going by Dan Stevens’ hilarious blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flawless Patrick Stewart impersonation. “Shweetheart, I won. Give me some shugah.”

 

Two slightly off things, no matter how many times we rewatch: The Eye’s ending and the reunion of Melanie and Oliver. Both seemed rushed and not particularly well thought-out. The Eye was set up as a fairly major villain for the first 6 episodes and we expected to get some sort of backstory on a character with so much camera time. Instead, he was crumpled up and discarded from the story like the first page of a first draft. Granted, it made for a horrifying visual (BOTH times he died), but it felt like a waste of a potentially good character. In fact, when the other dude from Division 3 showed up at the end (we don’t even know the character’s name), our only reaction was “Hunh. This guy again.”  We can’t help thinking a showdown between the O-Men and The Eye would have been a bit more satisfying.

As for Melanie and Oliver, we appreciate the heightened drama of having their reunion being tainted by his memory loss and general scatterbrained demeanor, but even so, Melanie’s reaction to seeing him was fairly disappointing, given its buildup – even if they were in the middle of a slow-motion shootout. To his enormous credit, Jermaine Clement is finding some fascinating things to do as Oliver, and he’s easily the most enjoyable cast member to watch. Unfortunately, Jean Smart is being treated here the same way she was in Hawley’s second season of Fargo. She’s being handed a fascinating character to play, and she’s doing everything an actress of her experience can possibly do with her, but the character herself is never really given anything to do. Like her Fargo character, she seems to exist mainly to silently react to the men around her, which is a damn shame.

Fun things: David’s rational mind having a British accent was clever and funny. And it really hammered home how good Dan Stevens’ American accent really is. His rational mind was essentially Dan Stevens in demeanor and voice, but when he plays David, it’s not just the accent that changes. His whole persona is more energetic, twitchier, self-conscious and too eager to share. His entire body language is different.

Both the chalkboard sequence and the silent movie sequence show how Noah Hawley is willing to play formally, not only to convey information in fun ways, but to pay homage to comic books in new ways. To get the most information he could possibly convey to the viewer without overwhelming them, he leaned into the very essence of comicbook storytelling: using written words and drawings to tell the story. Dan imagined increasingly elaborate chalkboard renderings of his life, reducing reality to black and white lines. Syd, Kerry and Lenny faced off in a sudden inexplicable shift to a silent movie pastiche that forced us to read all their dialogue and consider all their actions in a soundless environment. Both of these experiences imposed on the viewer, the line drawings and being forced to read the dialogue, are exactly like reading a comic book. It’s a clever homage that doesn’t come across as an homage until you start thinking about it.

And finally, we feel it goes without saying that Aubrey Plaza is utterly terrifying in this, since we say it every week, but that shot of her peering through the cracked coffin at the end was …

Let’s just say we didn’t exactly fall to sleep easily last night.

 

Check out more of our TV reviews, and for more discussion on your favorite shows, visit the Bitter Kittens TV & Film forum.

 

Photo: Michelle Faye/FX

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