LEGION Review: “Chapter 13”

Partial truths and pure horror.

We all look for patterns, even when an experience like Legion seems designed to stymie everything we’ve learned about pattern recognition. The show can feel like one of those “Magic Eye” posters, where noise deliberately obscures a message – which more often than not turns out to be something unremarkable.

This is television that fosters endless nesting dolls of second-guessing, totally screwing up any pattern recognition skills we’ve built up. Breaking away from formula is a worthy experiment, but Legion is still laying cards on the table, and halfway through this season it’s still difficult to see the pattern through the noise. Are we going to end up seeing something powerful, or just another sailboat?

This week throws more noise and uncertainty into the mix than usual by kicking off with a “previously on” recap – the first we’ve seen on the show. But it’s Jon Hamm’s narrator offering the recap, which begins with “apparently on Legion” as he relates Lenny’s history. The “apparently on” quip breeds doubts. How much of what we think we know about Lenny is true? If Lenny’s story is in doubt, how much of the rest of Legion goes with it?

(Or is the narrator is teaching us that green is red – teaching us to doubt Lenny’s actual history, and David’s with it, with no actual reason to do so? Branching from that is another question: is this stacked set of assumptions just a way to play into the other lesson Hamm’s narrator delivers this week, about coincidence being mistaken for conspiracy?)

Last week’s “Chapter 12”, the most constrained episode of the series so far, focused specifically on Syd, to great effect. “Chapter 13” seems to promise a similar focus on Lenny Busker. While the scope of this episode remains tighter than is typical for Legion, we don’t get the same in-depth understanding of Lenny that we did with Syd. That’s in part because Lenny has successfully been painted as a desperate junkie. Hard to know what to trust with her.

So Lenny is back in Division III, but how? Clark wants to know, and Ptonomy wants to know (but we’re reminded of the delusion that has crawled into him) and ultimately David wants to know. In a series of conversations, Lenny talks about her namesake gran-gran, Lenore, who introduced Lenny to vodka concealed in soda cans when the girl was nine, among other details – which may or may not be legit. She’s had a bad life, this woman, but there’s the sense that she’s pulling details from behind her conversational partner’s ear, like illusory coin tricks.

Meanwhile, Oliver and Farouk are on a desert road trip to find a body. Maybe not the body, Farouk’s real and very dangerous body, but, well, OK [spoiler alert] it’s not the body. Point is that we don’t know that at first. What looks like a wrinkle in the season’s grand “keep the Shadow King from his real body” story is in fact something else.

That “something else” is pretty cool, if also potentially minor in the grand scheme. “Chapter 13,” appropriately for its number, is like an EC Comics horror story – be careful what you wish for, because you might get the worst version of it.

Lenny wanted to get out of Oliver’s head. David wants to know what Farouk knows. These two desires collide in horrifying fashion as Oliver and the Shadow King mold a new body to fit Lenny. The raw material? David’s sister Amy.

The first half of “Chapter 13” is a bit clunky as it sets up parallel storylines which turn out to be the same story, but the back half is a piece of nastiness that hurts both Lenny and David. If the equation had been crafted more successfully, akin to the terrific work of “Chapter 12,” any uncertainty about how this will affect the rest of the season wouldn’t much matter. But like much of Legion, there’s a sense of remove. Shots of Amy becoming Lenny are horrifying, but aside from those moments of pain, we’re not given enough about what this does to Lenny, and virtually nothing about Amy’s experience.

Still, there’s clearly more to this scenario. Perhaps Lenny thinks she made a good deal to get out of Oliver’s head and into a new body. (“I’m not not working with him,” she says of her former captor.) Farouk certainly thinks he’s getting something out of the situation. His only win may be a demonstration to David of his power, but that could be enough. Repercussions for Farouk and Oliver destroying David’s sister Amy to reincarnate Lenny will certainly be heavy, which isn’t to say any retribution will help David.

A few other notes: Ptonomy’s rejection of the concept of “now,” in favor of a binary system that believes only in past and future, is the episode’s best concept, and I’m excited to see how it’ll factor into his fate. Oliver promising to kill Farouk is also vaguely interesting, if also potentially an impotent threat. Didn’t seem to worry the Shadow King much.

Finally, there seemed to be a random glitching sound in the episode about two thirds of the way through. When so much of what we watch now is delivered digitally, such a glitch sound could be deliberate storytelling, or just incidental to the delivery method. In this case it’s probably the latter. The sound did make me think about Legion’s overall instability, and how the show has welcomed so many concepts into its matrix, and left so many meanings open, that I’m willing to accept anything as part of its odd design.

Consequently, I keep circling back to finding the show immensely appealing both in spite of and because of its lack of resolution and deliberately frustrating design. That’s enough of a pattern for me to hold on to.

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