Legion has taken us on a mad, brilliant rollercoaster of shocks and scares in the last few episodes, but it was inevitable that the ride would have to slow down eventually.
‘Chapter 6’ brings Legion to something of a chapter break before the season’s endgame, pausing the manic momentum of recent episodes to take stock of the central and themes at the heart of this show.
It lacks the bravura excitement of Legion at its most experimental, which means that the 50-minute runtime feels a touch overindulgent where before it was barely enough to contain all of this show’s ideas.
Yet its singular setting allows Legion to sharpen its focus on some things that before were hazy, offering us the clearest picture yet of the friends and foes that populate David Haller’s world.
Almost the entirety of ‘Chapter 6’ takes place within Clockworks asylum, swiftly revealed to be a reality cooked up by the Devil with Yellow Eyes to placate David and delay the inevitable violence in the real world.
That sense of total control is articulated best in the one concession to Legion’s spirit of unadulterated weirdness: the dance sequence/music video (I’m really not sure how to classify it) featuring Lenny strutting through David’s memories as they’ve become her domain.
It’s abundantly clear that director Hiro Murai has a pedigree in helming music videos, as the sequence has a thrilling visual snap to it with its comics-style splash images and use of Aubrey Plaza’s angular silhouette to illuminate the Devil’s total control. In an episode with less visual ambition than most, this sequence stood out all the more for its confidence in swerving away from audience expectations.
It’s Aubrey Plaza’s episode, as she exerts her supremacy over her environment at every turn, and she continues to deepen her unnerving, off-kilter performance in a way that effortlessly bears the mark of a creature who’s baffled by the dealings of humans, unable to relate to even the concept of emotion or the idea that life can be enjoyed.
Plaza has always excelled at playing alienated outsiders like Parks and Recreation’s April, but in those roles, that aloofness was endearing. Here, it’s downright terrifying, an example of a villain that doesn’t know what inhibitions even are, and her concluding monologue in which she explains how the Devil has stowed away in David’s mind since birth hammers home just how utterly helpless David is against a creature who exists on a far higher level of consciousness than he could comprehend.
Despite the threatening influence that seeps into this episode throughout, whether it’s in the visuals of a pie ridden with bugs or a spot on the wall oozing blood, or in the woozy soundtrack that sub-consciously instils a sense of complete unease, ‘Chapter 6’ also acts as a comforting dream scenario for Legion’s central character.
Learning what makes David feel safe and happy – a confined and intimate environment, an uninterrupted love story with Syd, a different ailment that allows him to maintain some clarity over his identity – provides some vital context for his motivations.
The bitter irony lies in the fact that this dream situation comes as a gift of his greatest nightmare, underlining just how far away David is from any kind of concrete happiness as he’s plagued by his own mental barriers and by the hostile influence of the being that shares his body.
He ends the episode in a coffin, locked away in a gapingly empty void deep inside his mind – a natural result of being blinded by his own desires and trapped in yet another loop that keeps him from making a step forward. It seems very unlikely indeed that it’ll be easy to escape.
Elsewhere, ‘Chapter 6’ depicts the rest of the cast railing against their own powerlessness, probing the edges of the world they’ve found themselves in. It’s interesting that Syd is the one with the clearest eyes about the true nature of Clockworks – suspicious from the start of the inconsistencies and uncertainties that define this particular reality, and able to see through David’s gaslighting to recall their real psychological problems.
After the ending of last episode saw Syd turned into a grotesque victim of the Devil with Yellow Eyes, the choice to place her on the forefront of the narrative momentum in ‘Chapter 6’ is a shrewd one that illustrates the strengths of her character now that her emotional vulnerabilities have been carefully explored.
‘Chapter 6’ functions, broadly speaking, as a set-up episode. It’s full of moments that evoke excitement or fear for what comes next rather than the clean facts of a pay-off; flickers within the minds of the characters about the reality of the situation, or the glimpses of a way out in the constant appearances of the taciturn diving suit that conceals Oliver Bird.
Considering the pace that Legion built up by the end of last episode, such a shift in momentum can’t help but feel disappointing, especially when not all of this breather time feels truly necessary.
For instance, the Eye’s involvement in this reality begins as an intriguing exploration of the insecurities that fuel his behaviour, but then segues into a subplot where he menaces Kerry that feels disappointingly conventional in a show predicated on ripping up the rulebook of superhero shows.
The dynamic between Cary and Kerry has been done a thousand times before, and it feels a little regressive given Legion’s smart and interesting use of its female characters, including Kerry, before. It can do better than stories like this.
Yet there’s still plenty of value in this instalment in the way in which it chillingly establishes the scope of the threat David faces, and how it enriches Legion’s questioning of reality by presenting a world where everything is just a little bit off, like a jigsaw puzzle with broken edges.
And with the cliffhanger of a suited-up Kerry appearing over Syd to offer some kind of way out, it’s clear that this brief respite might be facing a swift end sooner rather than later…
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 16 March 2017 on FOX.
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