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Despite being the best show currently airing on television, Legion has been a bit uneven in its first three episodes. After a twisted but excellent pilot, the past two weeks have had to contend with doling out exposition at the expense of digging into the show’s strange yet wonderful aesthetic. Well, “Chapter Four” brought the series back on track with one of the most complex and crazy hours of television I’ve ever seen (and I’ve watched some strange hours of television).
From the opening scene, with Melanie’s husband Oliver (Jermaine Clement, this time in the leisure suited flesh rather than as a disembodied voice in the coffee machine) offering a parable about teaching children empathy rather than fear (a story that, whether or not Oliver meant it to, gets at the heart of what makes David tick), it was clear this wasn’t going to be your average television episode. With constant twists back and forth into reality and the astral plane, the past and the present, memory and perceived reality, I’ll fully admit it was hard to keep things straight throughout the hour. But that dissonance made it easier to appreciate the situation Syd and Ptonomy found themselves in- questioning if they were still in David’s psyche, even as they were certain they had returned to the real world. And it also linked us to David’s own struggles to escape the astral plane and return to “save” Syd (who really didn’t need saving, despite what the Lenny-shaped voice in David’s mind told him).
From a purely character perspective, “Chapter Four” gave us our best look yet into who Syd is. She is, at her heart, an innocent young woman who naively thinks she can save David from what’s out there. That isn’t to say she isn’t a fighter, or that she isn’t practical enough to use her powers to protect those she cares about (as evidenced by her smart body-swap with The Eye), but she still believes that her and David’s love can conquer the odds stacked against them. It lends a touch of sweetness to the series that it needs to keep from being overpowered by everything else it is throwing at us.
We also got a better understanding of the Kerry-Cary situation, with our longest look at the Kerry side of things. As great as it was to spend time with both halves of the character, the explanation of their mutation did lead to some clunky dialogue that wasn’t necessarily needed (for a show that is willing to send us to astral planes and have its characters be chased by life-size storybook characters, it could have trusted us to take as read that Kerry only ages when she’s out of Cary’s body rather than explicitly tell us). I will admit I wasn’t as taken with Amber Midthunder performance as I have been with Bill Irwin’s (I will admit to squealing with glee when Irwin got to use his spectacular mime skills to perform Cary’s physical reactions to Kerry’s fight scenes- Irwin is such a spectacular physical performer, I’m thrilled the show is making use of all his talents), but assuming both version of Loudermilk make it out of their dire straights alive, there’s certainly time for Kerry to grow on me.
Finally, I want to touch on the mystery of Benny/Lenny. As we know from various interviews, the character of Lenny was originally written for a male actor, but when Aubrey Plaza was cast, she insisted that Noah Hawley not change anything about what was already written for the character. I’m not sure if that directly factors into the extra confusion around Benny/Lenny’s existence or not, but it’s certainly something worth remembering moving forward. We know that some version of the character did exist in the real world, since both David’s ex-girlfriend and Syd saw versions of the character and remember her very differently. Perhaps she’s a mutant who can shape shift? Or perhaps she’s something even stranger: a manifestation from David’s psyche that he made real, and who he controls? Is Lenny actually the devil, hitching a ride on David everywhere he travels (as evidenced by the coloring of the character as David escapes the astral plane)? While I’m not normally a fan of mysteries, I’m really intrigued to figure out this one.
— The episode was so full of great performances, but major kudos to Katie Aselton for her work as Amy this week. I’ve been trying to figure out where Amy fits into everything, as she’s spent the series separated from most of the major action, but I was glad to see her get her own standalone arc this episode. Amy seems like she will be a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to figuring out David’s past (that revelation about King seemed rather ominous), and not simply a pawn to lure David out to fight (although I suspect she will serve that purpose as well).
— While Legion, like all television shows, has budget constraints that an X-Men feature film wouldn’t necessarily be constrained by, the series is still churning out some really amazing special effects that serve to create the strange dream worlds that set up the entire aesthetic of the series. The time in the astral plane was such a mess of time period confusion and color that I felt disoriented while sitting on my couch. It was almost Twin Peaks-like in its execution. I loved every second of it.
— While I don’t trust the Lenny manifestation in David’s psyche, she was right: Summerland is a strange name for a community. Although, after meeting Oliver, I have a better understanding as to why it was named that way.