by Josie Kafka
A large portion of the penultimate episode of Legion’s first season, like the previous episode, took place in a nanosecond on the astral plane thanks to David’s ability to freeze time in the real world. It might be my favoritest episode yet.
Defend my choice, you say? Okay. This episode was great for two reasons: the conversation between Cary and Oliver Bird, and the phenomenal silent-film sequence.
Oliver Bird’s louche wackiness is delightful to watch. His memory problems—is his wife Chinese? Japanese?—play beautifully off Cary’s intelligent insights (no, not Asian in any way). Their conversation was useful in terms of information, such as finding out the identity of the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, but it also emphasized that a lot of that information was relatively easy to discover. For instance, Cary makes a connection between the Shadow King and King the adorable beagle and wonders how he could have missed something so obvious.
Cary also finishes Oliver’s sentences. “An old habit,” he claims, based on his relationship with Kerry. But also an indication, unremarked by either man, of how two intelligent people might arrive at the same conclusion with near-simultaneity. I’m always fascinated by how intelligence is portrayed in pop culture, since it is usually seen as a collection of tics and arcane knowledge. In Legion, however, intelligence is also the ability to assess and comprehend.
Which brings me to Syd, whose interaction with Cary in the white room’s pneumatic-tube-shaped cone of silence paralleled his interaction with Oliver. When Cary told Syd what was happening, she responded with a matter-of-fact “No shit.” Because she, too, has the ability to assess and comprehend, and because this show isn’t teasing out bits of mysterious data, but rather exploring the visual and auditory means of communicating the personal and the abstract.
As in the silent-film sequence. Cary’s glasses gave Syd the ability to see what was really happening. They also sucked the color from the hospital hallucination like a gruesome twenty-first update on the Wizard of Oz. Hawley and director Dennie Gordon are fluent in the language of film as a visual medium. It’s a sensible leap—and a beautiful one—from black and white film to the history of film, one the evokes the power of the seen over the verbal. Because Lenny collapsing The Eye, Lenny trying to kill Syd and Kerry—the whole shebang—was horrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
And that’s why this episode is my favorite: because those two scenes are completely different. The scene with Cary and Oliver’s conversation was almost all verbal. The visuals were effective, but they were not the point. The silent-film scene, on the other hand, had only title cards and old-timey music, because words were not the point. The point was pure terror.
That comfort and fluency with the visual potential of film was also evident in the lovely scene of Regular David and Rational David in the lecture room. The chalkboard that became a terrifying cartoon could have become an unnecessary exposition dump, but the visuals kept it peppy, which allowed us to remember that the show isn’t telling only us what we already know (as Oliver did to Cary, and Cary did to Syd). The show is letting David tell himself what he already knows. And for a man who has been repressing a parasitic monster called the Shadow King since he was a little kid, that’s a big deal.
But this isn’t just a show about David. It is, increasingly, a show about a plucky band of superheroes working together to achieve a common goal. (One of my favorite kinds of shows!) Oliver Bird’s ability to “conduct” reality; David’s ability to affect both the astral and physical planes, not to mention make a gigantic mess; Melanie’s telepathy: they all combined together to help our heroes box the Shadow King deep in David’s mind.
But for how long, and at what cost? The events on the astral plane had serious consequences. Kerry feels like Cary abandoned her. Telekinesis Guy, whose name is Rudy, appears to be dead. Oliver has returned, as has David, of course, but things aren’t perfect yet. The Shadow King has begun to break through. And Division Three has found Summerland.
Without the Meds, It’s Really Hard to Keep Things Straight:
• The Devil with the Yellow Eyes is Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. (If you’ve read the comics, you guessed this already.)
• Rational David: “I’m you. Your rational mind.”
Regular David: “What—ah—and you’re British?”
Rational David: “Like I said, I’m your rational mind.”
• David walking through the rooms that represent his memory but getting stuck in a constant loop may be the best visual metaphor for dealing with metaphor demons (as opposed to actual Devils) that I’ve ever seen.
• Rudy, whom I have been calling “Telekinesis Guy,” is dead, right? I wish we got to know him. I’ll bet he had a cool story.
• I’m really glad Cary finally got to use his halo. So:
Four out of four halos.
Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)