Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

This was a terrific episode of Legion: An exciting jailbreak, a mindfuck of a desert journey, and some intriguingly elusive telepathic trickery all came into play. Unfortunately, then it stopped dead in its tracks for a hoary after-school special about the danger of cell phones. It may be time to retire Jon Hamm’s monologues.

I speculated in last week’s review that the “lessons” Hamm’s narrator has been plying us with over the past seven episodes had reached a natural conclusion. After summarizing the many philosophical discussions contained in each with a “So what have we learned?” wrap-up, the eruption of the delusion creature seemed a sensible place to leave them behind. Instead, another one begins tonight (“the most alarming delusion of all: The idea that other people don’t matter”), and it’s easily the worst moment of season two thus far. It takes the idea of Plato’s Cave—one of the richest and most enduring thought experiments in philosophy—and reduces it to a sub-Black Mirror morality tale about how the internet makes it too easy to treat other people as less than human. While the irony of turning an allegory about the profound difficulty of thinking critically into a facile lesson on technology isn’t without a certain je ne sais quoi, that was far from the intent. These interstitials were interesting and served a narrative purpose up until now; for the first time here, the lesson was not only a clunky drag on the proceedings, it was much less insightful and interesting than everything around it. Yank it out, and you’d have a far superior episode with nothing lost.

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And it’s a shame “Chapter 16" is marred by that decision, because nearly everything around it is successful. Aside from a somewhat awkwardly shoehorned-in origin story for Fukuyama, the workings of the Mainframe were fascinating to witness. Ptonomy’s consciousness is now a part of the machinery, though perhaps more of a detached passenger than aspect of the whole, and as a result, he’s privy to what goes on inside—even when the Admiral himself may be unaware. (The monk, hiding out in the janitorial closet, seems to be unknown to Fukuyama, though who can say what he’s concealing within that psychic-proof mind.) It’s fitting that an exposed wire leads Ptonomy to discover the location of the monastery; energy improperly protected is now leading to the insufficiently protected energy of Amahl Farouk’s body.

Similarly, Farouk’s own investigation finally pays dividends, as Future-Syd reveals the location of his former driver-assistant, the one who helped hide his body in the first place. In exchange, she asks him to give her “the one and only,” which seems to be her term for some sort of perpetual daydream, one where she gets to be back on the open road, the wind in her hair. Farouk’s always seemed to be a carrot-and-stick type, one who’d just as soon flex his diplomacy muscles if it gets him what he wants. By the time Oliver is riding a rickshaw across the dusty, cracked earth, reciting Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America,” Farouk’s glee is practically saturating the landscape. Navid Nagahban’s performance has been engaging, if not terribly revealing of the depths of the character, but he here’s just exuding sinister charisma.

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Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

But the centerpiece of the drama is still the relationship between Syd and David, as it should be. From his opening confession that he and Future-Syd are no longer in contact, to Syd’s gloomy analysis of their future prospects, the two of them talk to, past, and around each other constantly, the fate of their affection just as important to them as the fate of the world. Never is this clearer than during Clarke and Syd’s wonderful heart-to-heart. They touch on the fear of inheriting your parents’ worst traits, the difficulty of trusting others, and whether relationships can survive the inevitable passage of time as people grow into new versions of themselves. Plus, as Clarke reminds her, David is a powerful mutant “who could destroy the world if you hurt his feelings real bad.”

But all her logical critiques of David’s obfuscations and distance aren’t just defeated by her reminding Clarke there’s no learning to be normal when you’re one of a kind. No, they’re defeated by what always defeats them: passionate emotion. Seconds after parachuting into the flat expanse (I’m not even going to try and spell the name of the area correctly), she’s kicking him in the shins, yelling “I’m on your side, asshole!” and finally asking him to prove her wrong—to show that not all stories end the same, that they won’t just end up like the skeletons of themselves they find inside the tent. There are plenty of reasons for them to be apart, but the only one that matters is the one that keeps them together. They love each other, and for all of David’s naive pronouncements about their fairy-tale romance, Syd still wants to be with him, manipulative prevarications and all. I admire the show’s willingness to lean into just how hard it is to get over the hurdle of another person’s often deep-seated imperfections to make relationships work; everyone can be an asshole sometimes, but it doesn’t mean they’re not cringingly vulnerable and hoping for more.

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Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

David’s plan is the most oblique part of this episode, but thanks to the multifarious tricks employed by sharp TV journeyman director Jeremy Webb, the various unusual elements remain tantalizing. Some moments of flash cuts are especially mysterious (the image of the bag being grabbed and the curved metal item when David does something to Clarke and Cary’s minds in the hallway, for example), but watching him plan out the assault on the monastery like a military tactician was a clever way to visualize his mental process. It’s unclear who knows what at this point, but David’s plan is on a psychic timer of sorts, and people’s minds are going off one at a time. Unfortunately, he’s trapped out there with Syd, unsure how to find the body. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time, because Melanie is now a pawn of the Shadow King. The show is kicking into high gear, and it’s unspooling in a bracingly engaging and effective manner. Well, except for those damn lessons.

Stray observations

  • Hope that motorcycle can burn rubber, Lenny. I look forward to seeing if these psychic tactics David is employing are vulnerable to exploitation by Farouk, who may or may not still have some sway over Lenny.
  • Just wanted to note that the phrase “geographic disorder,” uttered when David and Syd enter the tent and find their own corpses, is a lovely one.
  • It’s too bad Melanie knocked out Clarke; I was looking forward to seeing what “find the clock of the long now” meant.
  • Syd fretting she and David aren’t “them” any more was quite affecting, as was Clarke’s aside about the guy who kept jumping out of planes to get away from him.
  • Similarly, Lenny again gets a moving moment when she asks if she’s really here, admitting her big fear is that this is all the Shadow King toying with her.
  • Fukuyama’s nurse is reading him the Rhyme and Reason section of The Phantom Tollbooth in that flashback.
  • Legion significant music cues of the week: Morten Lauridsen’s “Les Chansons Des Roses: No. 1 En Une Seule Fleur” when Oliver arrives at Chez D’Rest; “Comanche Moon” by the Black Angels as David plans his attack. I couldn’t figure out the one playing when Farouk and his former driver are in the car on the astral plane, if anyone else knows it. [UPDATE: Helpful twitter user @TheKnittingShow identified the tune as Domenico Modugno’s “Non Piangere Maria”.]
  • Guess we haven’t seen the last of Melanie Bird’s Minotaur.

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