LEGION Review: “Chapter 17”
“Are you a good person?” Sometimes it doesn’t matter where the voice in your head comes from when it asks questions you can’t or don’t want to answer.
Everyone has those doubts. In Legion some come from more explicitly foreign voices than others, and just what “foreign” means in this context is open to question. In “Chapter 17,” Lenny seems to be haunted by the voice or spirit of Amy, whose body she now inhabits. Whether this Amy is an echo left in that body, or a manifestation of Lenny’s sense of guilt, or even an implant from David, is unknown. But again, it doesn’t really matter when Amy asks the question Lenny doesn’t want to answer. “Are you a good person?”
Others in Legion face their own questions. Melanie Bird and Kerry chat this week, and their conversation features a reprise of one of the Narrator’s old concepts – that reality is merely a condition of our own creation. Melanie seems willing to believe that she’s adrift on her own little raft of consciousness, projecting the world around her. She was so focused on saving the world, she says, that she overlooked the most crucial fact of all - “there is no world to save. it’s all in my head.” That’s not true, but Melanie needs a new sense of purpose.
Even if her concept of reality is true, for the moment Melanie isn’t willful enough to rewrite her own reality. She’s holed up away from Division 3 and the world, smoking her elephant. It’s redundant to say that Legion creates terrific images, but as we come around to see Melanie Bird’s point of view in “Chapter 17,” the visual motif of Melanie smoking herself into oblivion, puffing from the trunk of a bronze elephant pipe is striking even in the context of this show’s overwhelming visual bounty.
This episode, in fact, nearly bursts with great images. There’s the simple It Follows-esque shot of a blue car in a parking lot lit by a blue neon sign, and the view of a room wallpapered with colored Post-Its creating huge, pixelated eyes. And Lenny strolling away from a car on fire in the desert is pretty great, too.
All these visions are in service of a packed episode that gives us significant character work for Melanie, Lenny, and maybe even Amy as it ties together dangling plot threads from last week and even gives context to scenes going back to the season opener.
In fact, this week circles back to the “our men” conversation between Melanie and Syd from the season premiere, and puts a few other moments from earlier in the season into new context. While I’ve complained about the show’s interest, or seeming lack thereof, in some of its characters, I should know by now that Noah Hawley & Co. are doing things at their own pace, in their own manner.
Now we see that Legion hasn’t pulled away from Melanie; she pulled back from everyone at Division 3 in the wake of Oliver’s disappearance. The brief reunion with her husband, and the realization of total disconnection and change that came with it, has left her unmoored. She’s not working; hence visits from Syd and Kerry, and inquiries passed along from Fukyama wondering if she’ll be back at her duties.
While she’s free from the Monk’s contagion, Melanie is still in her maze, after a fashion. She’s still alone in darkness, still wanting to write her own story, still immobilized.
Melanie’s depression, and her constant self-medication, leaves her vulnerable to Oliver and Farouk, who are ready to tell her exactly what she wants to hear. Or to show her. A couple weeks ago Oliver appeared to Melanie, showing her a vision of her younger self, as Oliver claims to see her, so as to counter her assertions that “the girl you left behind is gone,” and “things between us have changed.”
(Shades of Syd’s recent talk about David in those lines – everyone’s falling out of love. Even Cary tells Kerry that he’ll eventually die, leaving her alone. That’s a different type of breakup, sure, but a split all the same.)
Turns out this younger Melanie, played by Jaclyn Hales, has been around; we just haven’t seen her. She was at the pool with Lenny and Farouk in “Chapter 11,” for example. And while the Vermillions were accusing David of lying back in that episode, Melanie stood there, passing along info given to her by Oliver, effectively lying and spying in precisely the way everyone suspected David of doing. All of which is to say that, as suggested back in the season opener, Oliver and Farouk have been in Melanie’s head for a while.
If we expect a show to play by the rules it’s kind of a cheat to fill in character blanks with an episode that gives new character perspective by revealing a wide swath of information that was previously withheld. But when has Legion ever demonstrated an interest in playing by the rules? Your mileage may vary with how Noah Hawley (credited as writer and director for this episode) chooses to present things, but it’s very much in keeping with the show’s overall concepts of fragmentation and loss of self.
As Melanie is haunted by memories of her relationship with Oliver, Lenny wrestles with Amy’s influence. In short, Lenny knows she’s been freed from Division 3 for a reason but doesn’t want to follow through. She wants to get high and get laid.
(Her getting high looks a lot like Melanie getting high, which is one of this episode’s many sets of echoes. We also see the same restless, shifting camera used for an old David/Farouk talk in Melanie’s conversation with Kerry, among other familiar notes.)
For Lenny, hooking up with a drug den party girl is nothing compared to “the Caligula shit I’ve got planned.” But however high she gets, she can’t get Amy out of her head. Eventually Lenny gives in to David’s plan, which uses multiple chess moves to place Lenny in the desert with a rifle trained on Oliver.
After this dense hour we still don’t know how much Melanie really knows. She doesn’t seem to know that Lenny is in the desert waiting for Farouk. It could be that David really succeeded at obscuring that move, or that Melanie is more in control than we think, and hiding info of her own. We’ll likely find out next week.
And we don’t know how Melanie’s minotaur intersects with Lenny, though re-watching selected scenes from past episodes reminded me there’s the sound of a baby crying when we see the minotaur in Melanie’s maze. Could be important, especially given the stunted relationship between Melanie and Oliver. Regardless, we’ve got most of the pieces in place for a final showdown, and with two hours left in the season there aren’t a whole lot of cards left to put on the table.
(Last parenthetical note: While putting David’s plan into action, Kerry grabs a weapon from a wall cache, which contains a bunch of other objects. Seems like that’s a potential easter egg spot but no old X-Men gadgets immediately jumped out at me. Does anyone recognize that stuff?)