The frustrating thing about illness is never knowing when you’re going to get hit with it. Sure, you don’t want to be around someone coughing and feverish, and it’s best to wash your hands before eating, but there’s only so much you can do to prevent infection. So how much worse is it to become the architect of your own disorder?
There’s a lot happening in this episode of Legion, and while that’s always true, the majority of the issues raised in “Chapter 11" involve people’s control—or lack thereof—over their own physical state. The series is trying to get at the ways in which we all construct our own realities, once more attempting to close the gap between David’s immense power and the rest of us, demonstrating it’s not a quantum leap between the two, but merely a question of degrees. Sure, it’s a lot less impressive to make yourself vomit by creating a reality where you’re drinking an emetic than it is to rearrange the world so that you’re standing on a rooftop with a monk possessing the world’s deepest basso profundo voice, but there’s a connection, however mild. The idea of illness can become illness. The world in your head can become your world. These feelings spread. We’re all closer to madness than we care to be—all it would probably take, in many cases, is a group of people telling you the moon is orange when you see yellow. If a group of real-life cheerleaders can all suffer from the same bizarre conversion disorder, it’s not hard to imagine the rest of us falling victim, however improbable we may consider it.
This is one of those times David gets to do some honest-to-god hero work, journeying inside the minds of his friends to save them from the mental prison of the Catalyst illness. Accompanied by Cary, he first rescues Ptonomy, then the three of them manage to pull Melanie out of her infected state. And both sequences are powerful metaphors for the nature of the victims. The show hits us over the head a little too hard when it has Cary come right out and explain these fantasies, but that doesn’t much diminish the aesthetic and emotional heft of these mental mazes built. Ptonomy, the master of memory, wants nothing more than to be able to forget, to simply live in the moment. And Melanie, robbed of her own life, dreams of being able to control her own story, of dictating the terms of life for herself and those around her.
Only, that’s just one part of the illness. Sure, it appears to imprison you by finding that which you most want and giving it to you, a la the Nexus ribbon from Star Trek Generations, but it does so by trapping you in a permanent condition. There’s no enjoying this state of affairs, because you can’t realize there’s any other manner of being to compare it to. It’s simply the way things are. And that’s as bleak a maze as any possessing a deadly Minotaur at the center, as Melanie’s seems to. Every supposed pleasure has a Minotaur hiding somewhere, a dark aspect that could pervert and destroy the whole thing. Too much of a good thing always masks a real danger, be it the long-term cost of smoking or people in frozen tableaus, teeth chattering hideously, unaware they’ve left their bodies to a paralyzing stasis. The Catalyst manifests the most visually unsettling version of this nightmare scenario.
The realization that it’s the monk, and not Farouk himself, causing the contagion is a startling one, but no more so than the confrontation with Melanie and Ptonomy in Fukuyama’s room, where the “machine that bleeds” has been compromised by the monk. Bearing the cords of his communication path with Vermillion (the androids who speak for Fukuyama), the monk argues for keeping the Shadow King’s body hidden, especially from David, the “weapon” capable of destroying it. But David arrives just in time, spiriting the bald holy man away before he can spill the beans on David’s collusion with Farouk. Legion is starting to use David’s powers more and more in pragmatic and interesting ways, rather than as unexpected twists or the opportunity for another idiosyncratic dance-off. And the suicide of the monk, meant to prevent anyone from getting the location of the body, pushes David back, leaving him with only the clues in his mind from the history he experienced of the monks slowly going mad guarding the interred physical form of Amahl Farouk.
Adding a level of ticking-clock excitement to all this are the flash visions of Future-Syd, trying to signal David to H-U-R-hurry before she’s overwhelmed by whatever grey swarm seems to be drowning her. David’s exasperated attempt to explain to the monk why he’s working with Farouk comes down to one basic fact: “I trust her,” he says, knowing as he says it that such assurances mean nothing to those fighting against the potential destruction unleashed by reuniting the Shadow King with his body. By the time he’s jumping into Syd’s mind in the final seconds of the episode—the most abrupt cliffhanger the show has done outside of everyone being transported into the Clockworks fantasy in season one—the episode has delivered one rousing sequence after another, each one pushing the narrative forward, with even the oddball visual elements and asides all in service of a tightly constructed story.
In the middle of all this comes a much more compelling discussion with Farouk than the one we got last week, albeit with fewer opportunities for David to turn into a tank. Because this time we finally get to discover Farouk the character, rather than Farouk the monster or Farouk the Lenny puppeteer. Like last season’s finale that opened with the events as seen from Clark’s point of view, even a dastardly villain is the hero of his own story. There’s no villainy in Farouk, at least from his perspective (delving into the origin of the word helps Farouk force David onto his home field, language-wise). He was running his own land, minding his own business, when David’s father—“a white man...is this important?” Amahl slyly calls out—comes along and takes him out, makes him a “refugee,” in his own words.
And no matter the ways David tries to show Farouk the evil he does, to the Shadow King it’s merely in service of survival, of getting back what he sees as rightfully his. “No supervillain, destroy-the-world bullshit?” David asks skeptically, when Farouk assures him he just wants to return home and live his life. Their respective understandings and explanations of Farouk’s goals are like ideological ships passing in the night: He may have agreed to end the killing for the time being, but once the Shadow King has his body back, his definition of “living my life” will almost certainly conflict with what David had in mind.
Not only that, but Lenny’s predicament is becoming clear to David as well. Just as last episode saw Lenny bargaining for a way out of the situation, now she turns to her old friend, trying to make him see that she’s not in control of this situation, that being used as a skin-suit by the Shadow King wasn’t her idea. It’s still not clear who this version of “Lenny” really is, but the pathos exhibited as she looks at David with pathetic, desperate hope, is surprisingly moving. Once more, Aubrey Plaza is bringing so much to this role, even when she’s trapped.
There are plenty of lingering questions to address next time, including where the hell Cary Loudermilk went to when he vanished (inside Kerry?), what Syd’s maze will look like outside of a massive snowstorm, and piecing together the clues to the location of the monastery, but for now, it’s enough to appreciate the way Legion is developing episodes that are structurally unique and engaging without sacrificing a whit of momentum. That’s one hell of a superpower.
- Cary teaching Kerry how to be in the world provided some of the best comedy, from her hating eating but liking cream soda to the horrific learning curve of going to the bathroom. Cary: “And then it has to come out.” Kerry: “Of my butt.”
- Another reminder of how much Kerry means to her counterpart came up when Cary suggested to David that Ptonomy’s predicament in the maze might not be so bad, since he’s getting his ultimate fantasy. David asks what Cary would do if it were Kerry in that situation, and boom: “You’re right—wake him up.”
- I love that everyone’s first response when confronted with the cow is just to say, “Cow.” And then Cary’s admonishment to the bovine: “Don’t touch anything.”
- If you looked closely, during the first act flashback to Farouk’s initial defeat and his body being stored by the monks, in the reflection of his glasses was the story of the Shadow King’s defeat as rendered on the mental chalkboard by David last season.
- Traces of the delusion creature’s black goo trail can be found just about everywhere, it seems.
- David’s pained reaction to getting sprayed by Cary’s household cleaner: “Argh—so lemony!”
- Can we please get cat-Syd every episode?