by Josie Kafka
Legion’s third episode is its least confusing and most frightening; It leaves us with a cliffhanger based on character rather than puzzle-solving.
Willa Paskin’s review of the Westworld season finale complained about that show’s alleged focus: “When Westworld began, it too seemed poised to explore rich thematic material about consciousness, trauma, and humanity and instead spent eight episodes communing with a Reddit board.”
Paskin is wrong—Westworld rewarded clue-hunters then mocked them, and was worth far more than the sum of its scavenger hunts—but she’s on the right track: clue-hunting is a popular attribute of many shows that skew “genre,” thanks to Lost, The Song of Ice and Fire, and the enthusiastic fandoms stories like that engender.
It’s fascinating trend, but one that creates a fissure in readership or viewership. There are those fans who attempt narrative mastery through hunting for plot clues, and there are others who attempt artistic and aesthetic mastery by exploring and analyzing character, theme, and execution.
The serial model of both television and some book series (like George R.R. Martin’s, or Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy) provides the impetus for the clue-hunting model, as waiting around for the next book, next episode, or next season means we need to have something to do. On the flip side, the serial model makes aesthetic appreciation difficult: how can I talk about David’s character if I’ve only seen 3/8ths of the first season’s portrayal of it?
Which leaves me with this episode, and the ending: after another disastrous memory tour—one made worse by sedating David—Melanie, Ptonomy, and Syd are left with an unconscious superpowered mutant who is trapped in his own brain.
Earlier in the episode, David had wondered if perhaps he really was crazy, and if you know anything about the comic books, you know that’s a good question to ask. Even the show itself, without referring to the X-Men (although they did use the term “mutant”) has made clear that there’s something more than telepathy or telekinesis here.
Especially in terms of the Devil with the Yellow Eyes. He haunts David, but is it an external haunting or an internal one? That’s really vague, so let me try again: is the Devil an external threat, or a part of David that he has tried to suppress? A combination of the id, perhaps, and a misguided superego attempting to suppress David’s powers and memories.
That’s similar to the role Lenny plays in this episode. In life, she was the nagging friend who encouraged David to reject the normalcy he never thought he should have. In death—subsumed into David’s mind—she has become a reminder of what matters most: saving his sister from The Eye.
But it’s also similar to all of the other parts of himself, or of his past, that David wants to suppress. The World’s Angriest Boy, for instance. Little David saw him in the “real world” (shudder), and he popped up in the memory walk in a way quite different from any other people. Philly, Amy, King the Dog were like characters on a screen that David and his new friends were watching. But The WAB broke the fourth wall and chased our heroes down. As Melanie said “It’s like your brain is defending itself.”
That repression links to David’s father, of course, in ways we do not yet understand. This maybe a show about superpowers, but it’s really a show about the lies we tell ourselves in our attempts to stay sane. There’s a Catch-22 here: to access his powers, David must do the hard work of intense therapy; doing the hard work of therapy might mean David accesses but does not control the true extent of his powers.
Without the Meds, It’s Really Hard to Keep Things Straight:
• David and Syd’s conversation about where they were from had some interesting resistance: “the country” and “the thirty-first floor” are abstract concepts rather than specific locales, but they are connotatively richer. The geographic ambiguity matches the temporal ambiguity, too, as this show continues to oscillate between the 1960s, 1970s, and the near future.
• Cary and Kerry morphed into each other, didn’t they? Is their power the ability to separate into active and contemplative bodies?
• Melanie’s story of her husband was quite touching, especially in the way it gave new meaning to her listening to the fable the espresso machine told her.
• As was Syd hugging Little David. I wonder how long it had been since she got a chance to hug anyone?
• If my next review of Legion takes as long as this one did, I give you permission to feed me to the World’s Angriest Boy. I think he’s hungry.
I’m going to give this 2.5 out of four World’s Angriest Boys. Not because it was bad—it was great—but because it was all set-up for what’s to come.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)