The potential of Legion as a superhero show created by Noah Hawley was never about seeing quasi-recognizable comic book characters in period clothes and editing it in a cool way. That isn’t a Noah Hawley show. That only looks like one. For him, the slick surface that sells a show is only good for marketing. It’s just like how Fargo, especially in its second season, wasn’t just a police procedural with funny accents. There’s always an underlying question that he wants to wrestle with. Last season, Fargo explored absurdism, finding meaning in a meaningless world, and placing all the machinations of man — both evil and good — into proper perspective. Because nothing really matters that much when there’s a UFO floating in the sky.
With Legion, he and his writers don’t care about superpowers. The abilities of David and all of his buddies at Summerland matter because they’re cool and there’s inherently a bit of wish fulfillment in each of them, but what’s really important is how they can affect the forms of storytelling. Unlike the X-Men comics and films, which have used mutations as a coverall metaphor for otherness, Hawley is interested in David’s abilities, specifically, because they allow for the creation of new dramatic planes. Narrative and character development can happen on levels that are impossible unless your protagonist can enter the astral plane or walk through memories or inhabit the bodies of others.
The freedom of the powers also allows Hawley to do something in particular with David. Because his abilities are so powerful, his thoughts and emotions become more potent and have great stakes. When the fact that David is upset can mean terrible things for those around him, the stuff that makes the character who he is allowed to drive the story like plot.
“Chapter 6” is a really good example of that. I’ve written before about how good the show is at working through familiar premises in ways that are totally new and also speak volumes about the character. When the action picks back up after the surprising “Chapter 5” conclusion, which transported everyone inside David’s childhood home to Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, we’ve basically found ourselves in a prison story. The only catch is that the characters, for the most part, don’t know that they’re in prison. David, Syd, Melanie, Cary, Kerry, Ptonomy, and Walter have all become patients at Clockworks under the careful observation of Dr. Lenny and Amy doing her best Nurse Rached, plus some gross fake puking. All of the patients are drugged, probably with the hope of rendering them harmless. Melanie, in particular, seems to be heavily sedated, but not everyone is taking this reality lying down.
Syd has been more sensitive to mind-trickery ever since she traveled into David’s memories, and something about the whole of Clockworks seems off. For one thing, there’s a bedroom door in the hallway that doesn’t match any of the others and occasionally disappears. While she probably couldn’t guess that the Devil with the Yellow Eyes is behind there, roaming through David’s memories to the tune of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” in an almost Bond-like credit sequence, there does seem to be something weird.
(Shouts to director Hiro Murai, who also helmed all of the unbelievably good FX series Atlanta.)
But David isn’t interested in helping. In this version of Clockworks, he’s not the schizophrenic one. That’s Syd. In his mind, he’s manic-depressive. And anyway, who would want to leave Clockworks? In there, he’s at peace. There are no voices, no obligation, no danger, no choice. The dilemma for him is ultimately going to be deciding between the comfy, false security of the world that the Devil has constructed for him or the reality of life, in which Syd appears to be moments away from dying. The alternate reality has built a really compelling struggle for David. What is the value of reality and freedom, when fantasy acts as a shelter from every negative aspect? I have a sick feeling that the choice is only going to be made harder for David once he’s reminded of the bullets heading straight for him and Syd back in the real world.
The episode also offered two interesting glimpses into future. If I had to guess, I’d say one is more of a long-term hint than the other.
In his therapy session with Dr. Lenny, David finds out a bit more about the Devil’s origin. The throaty bastard knew David’s biological father, apparently. From the sounds of it, the adoption was an attempt to keep the boy away from the Devil’s psychological grasp. The villain’s entire plot began as a big “eff you” to dad, with his intention being to just poison David’s mind and move on. But once inside, the Devil saw the benefit of David’s body, the possibilities that were opened to them by bonding together.
Now, last week was the first time I discussed the looming “Is Professor X still David’s father in this version of Legion?” question, and the new info from Lenny has only convinced me more that the show is keeping David’s comic book origin story. I have no idea how the show would incorporate that fact into the fabric of the story it’s telling, but I’m very interested to see where it goes.
Secondly, it appears that Oliver, Melanie’s frozen, astral-plane-stuck husband, is organizing a good ole’ jail break. Could next week, the penultimate episode of the season, be the full breakout? Considering what this season has done with familiar TV episode formats: I really hope so.