Legion: Season 2 Premiere: “Chapter 9” – a review

LegionS2

 

As soon as I began watching this episode of Legion, I found myself completely lost and had to resist the irrational urge to go back and watch all eight episodes from the first season.

I didn’t do this. I will cop to going to the first season’s Wikipedia page and giving myself a brief refresher on what happened last year. But, in all honesty, a little bit of confusion is to be expected when watching this show. In fact, it may be required. Not fully understanding what was going on or what might happen next was one of the attractions of the series for me last season. And that sense of un-reality continues in this second season premiere episode.

My brief dip into Wikipedia was more to refresh myself on character names than anything else. The basic plot of the first season still remained in my memory (except for the last episode cliffhanger, which somehow escaped my mind like the Shadow King himself). While I was unfamiliar with the mutant Legion from the comic books, I liked the idea of a possibly insane but all-powerful mutant protagonist. And, I was familiar with Noah Hawley’s previous work as the creator of the television series Fargo. But, Hawley let me down with Fargo‘s third season, and I’m watching the second season of Legion to make sure this series wasn’t a One Trick Pony. (Okay, in Hawley’s defense, Fargo was, subjectively, a Two Trick Pony, and I’d still watch a fourth season if he ever makes one, because the first two seasons were that good).

From the opening sequence of the episode, with Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement) lounging on pool floats, I had the feeling that I’d been dropped into an entirely new story. The series continues to look amazing, with each shot composed with a flair for the artistic and an eye for detail. There’s a lot of water imagery in this episode, starting with the pool. And there’s a not-too-subtle X-within-the-Circle image in a lens flare as the camera emerges from under water.

From this scene, we go immediately into Bizarro World. Summerland, Melanie Bird’s mutant sanctuary, is now just a distant memory, and the mutant characters we know are now a part of Division 3, which were the bad guys in the first season. Here we see a hexagon motif throughout, which makes me think of the Division 3 HQ as the Honeycomb Hideout. I’m not sure if the repeated hexagons are meant to evoke thoughts of hive minds or some sort of Queen Bee-and-drone hierarchy, but that’s where my mind went. More likely, the shapes will just remind us we’re at Division 3 throughout the season without anyone having to tell us.

The Boss at Division 3 is Admiral Fukuyama, who wears a wicker basket over his head and is always accompanied by feminine androids with mustaches called Vermillions. More visual weirdness, which even extends to the cafeteria at Division 3, where David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) waffles are delivered by little boats that travel conveyor-like in a trough in the middle of the counter.

We discover that, after being zapped by the drone at the end of last season, David has been missing for 362 days. He claims to have no memory of the last year. In fact, he says he believes only one day has passed. Division 3 operatives Clark (Hamish Linklater) and Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) don’t believe him. By the end of the episode, neither does his girlfriend, Syd (Rachel Keller). While David was missing, Syd says she developed a ritual: If she could hold her breath until the tea kettle began to whistle, it meant he was still alive. The whistling tea kettle image is repeated a couple of times in the episode, and during one scene in which Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) is inhaling smoke from the trunk of a bejeweled elephant (I can’t make this stuff up, but Hawley can) to apparently get high, the image is mirrored. Maybe it means something; maybe it’s just weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

Since the Shadow King resides in Oliver Bird’s body now, his threat is external rather than coming from inside David. Maybe. There are repeated images of some sort of night club, and something called the “Catalyst” that is causing large groups of people to freeze except for their chattering teeth (which is genuinely a creepy effect). It seems that Oliver is always in close proximity, but it’s unclear that he’s the cause of the phenomenon. The night club seems to be important, because when Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) uses a sensory deprivation chamber to tap into David’s memories, David goes there. Lenny and Oliver are also there, along with Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. A strange dance-off sequence ensues, and all of my questions remain tantalizingly unanswered. We are, however, given a couple of story goals.

The Shadow King is trying to find his real body, and will apparently become all-powerful if he can inhabit it once again. David Haller is tasked with preventing that from happening, so our plot has become a race, of sorts. One of the mustachioed Vermillions tells David that the Shadow King is still a part of him. Not certain what that means yet, but David does seem to be keeping secrets from everyone. One of the secrets is his meeting with someone claiming to be Syd-from-the-future inside the drone sphere. This Syd couldn’t speak, but communicated with him by writing and drawing in the air. She tells him that he must help Farouk find his body. So, David’s secret agenda seems to be at odds with that of Division 3.

Oh, and one other thing, as Columbo used to say, there was also a scene where David gives Syd a compass that will always let her know in which direction she can find him. Where did this device come from? I don’t know. But, I imagine it will figure in the plot somehow.

There is a magic realism to this series that I like but don’t entirely trust. How much of this is really happening, and how much of this is just in David Haller’s fragmented mind?

I almost forgot to mention Jon Hamm’s audio cameo this episode. Yes, Don Draper himself narrates several cutaway sequences in this episode, with some partial animation. One is about the monk who dreamed he was a butterfly (or was it the butterfly who dreamed he was a monk?). Another was about comparing ideas and delusions to eggs, similar in appearance on the outside, but different inside, which segues to a story about a man under the delusion that his leg isn’t a part of him and how he amputates it himself. Not sure what any of it means, but it adds layers of craziness to the show, with just a hint of fairy tale-ness.

I’m intrigued. And I still don’t know what’s going to happen next. I do know that it will be visually interesting and insanely weird though. I will be watching. If you don’t mind being confused and sometimes disturbed, if you don’t necessarily require linear storytelling, then you might find something to enjoy here as well.

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