In this week’s episode of FX’s Legion, David ventures into the minds of his Summerland friends to retrieve them from the teeth-chattering paralysis of the rogue monk’s infectious mental disorder.
Chapter 11 is the first episode of Legion that I’ve written about here, and it occurs to me that nobody knows whether or not I actually like it. Well, I’ve got news for you, loyal readership – I don’t f*****g know either.
Luckily I’ve got plenty of spare words to describe Chapter 11, which was the third episode of Legion’s second season, but if I had to summarise the show in just a sentence it’d be this: I keep watching Legion because each episode makes me think I know what’s going on and then reminds me that I don’t actually have a clue.
For some people, and in a lot of shows, that wouldn’t be enough. And even in this one I can safely say that I don’t particularly care about these characters or what happens to them. It’s an intellectual exercise, I guess. The appeal of Legion, at least for me, is attempting to arrange all of its wacky, disparate ideas in a way that makes some fleeting sense. It’s the Rubik’s cube of television, only it doesn’t come with any instructions.
Sometimes I hate it. I think it’s artsy pretence often borders on being outright obnoxious, and its surreal deviations and vignettes are intended to mask the fact that the core story moves at a glacial pace and doesn’t really have much to it. Sometimes I feel like the sole purpose of the show is to tell a relatively simple story in a way that makes the least possible sense.
Often I really enjoy it, as I did this week. I can’t explain why, as I think the above remains true even when Legion is at its best. But in its second season the show is managing to be more cohesive; and more importantly to make it’s odd (and frequent) descents into madness feel layered in meaning and symbolism rather than just being a powerful flexing of the show’s presumably ample effects budget.
In fact, Chapter 11 contains perhaps my favourite scene of the show thus far. In it, David visited the poolside Amahl Farouk, aka “The Shadow King”, who you’ll remember from last season as a bulbous parasitic monster but who now looks and sounds just like Navid Negahban from Homeland. Their conversation touched on subjects like Farouk’s perspective and what it might mean to interfere with a timeline; how a heroic action might prove to be a calamitous one. All the while, Lenny (another dynamite showcase from Aubrey Plaza – still easily Legion’s MVP) repeatedly and unpleasantly attempts to commit suicide in the background.
Of all the show’s stylish detours, it’s the ones like this which work the best. There’s a point to characterising Farouk this way, repositioning him as someone David could potentially trust; as a thinking, self-preserving entity instead of a mindless mental ghoul. Lenny grimly trying to off herself matters, too – not just as cutesy set-dressing, but as a metaphor for her being freed enough from the Shadow King’s consciousness to realise how tethered to him she remains.
In Chapter 11, the monk also escapes and infects Division 3 with The Catalyst – that weird psychological virus that traps people in their own minds and leaves their physical forms with relentlessly chattering teeth. The episode attempts to tie it all together with opening narration that details the idea of contagious mental disorders and physical symptoms spreading without apparent ailment. Don’t be fooled, though. As much as these broad concepts might apply to the show as a whole and this episode in particular, the purpose of Chapter 11 was as a character-building filler episode, and to raise more questions than it ultimately answers.
This is a common problem in Legion. The measure of an episode’s quality is whether the smoke is dense enough to mask the fact there isn’t any fire. Luckily, in Chapter 11, the rescue missions are intriguing enough in their own right that it hardly matters how little the story is being furthered by them. Legion reintroduces the concept of labyrinths and their beastly guardians – there’s that Minotaur again – but it’s more interesting idea is exactly what kind of maze each character conjures for their prison. Ptonomy’s is an idyllic garden that he blissfully manicures; Melanie’s is an old-school text-based adventure that she omnisciently controls.
Besides giving the monk a conclusive farewell and providing some needed explanation about the background of Farouk’s body – and how the two relate to one another – Chapter 11 didn’t really provide anything beyond those imaginative trust-building exercises among the Summerland gang. Is that a problem? S**t, maybe. But as always with Legion, it’s difficult to tell. The show’s biggest problem remains its greatest strength: There really is nothing else like it on television.