Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

Poor Melanie Bird. She’s spent her life in pursuit of a man who got stuck in the astral plane, then finally returned just long enough to stoke her hopes for a long-awaited rekindling of their romance, only to disappear once more. She followed his dream for so long, and now it might be too late to find her own.

The women of Legion drive “Chapter 17,” and it provides much-overdue insight into Melanie Bird’s actions over the course of this season. Last week’s cliffhanger revealed she was under the spell of the Shadow King, but we didn’t know how or why. All we knew of Melanie is that she’s been spending her time lounging on the floor of her room, inhaling massive amounts of vapor and getting high as hell while pontificating about the nature of the men—and the women who love them. “Our men,” she says, as we watch a modified version of the scene with Syd from the season opener play out again, now with the growing realization that Melanie’s eyes and ears can’t be trusted. Her heartbreak is all the worse once Oliver returns to lure her into the thrall of Farouk, as the vision of her younger self leads Melanie into his psychic poolside prison, just long enough to pull from her the information he wanted about the monk and Division 3. All those gauzy interactions with Oliver, all that helpless rage and frustration and grief, and still she ends up back with her lost love, knocking out Clark and giving herself over to the enslaved mutant she desperately wants to believe in, even after all that’s occurred. That’s not misfortune, it’s a damned Greek tragedy.

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Visions of others haunting damaged women is the central motif of this episode, pivoting as it does between Melanie’s drugged-out encounters with Oliver and Lenny’s mental confrontations with Amy Haller. Amy, it seems, may not be as dead and gone as we thought, having now become the angel on Lenny’s shoulder, pushing her to help David by carrying out his nebulous, fractured plan. One woman longing for her old, younger body (and simpler life) having that need push her straight into doing the bidding of their nemesis; the other reveling in a new body yet resentfully going along with the commands of a man she loves, albeit in her own unusual way and with the help of the woman who had her own body taken from her. The idea of women trapped in some way by their physicality, and subject to the psychic imperatives of the men using their feelings to push them toward certain behaviors, is fraught with larger implications about the world in which we live.

If Legion is a funhouse mirror held up to our reality, intentionally distorting it to get at deeper truths about identity, culture, and how to make sense of all the chaos, then there are several ways to read this narrative of displaced selves. Melanie gave herself for a cause dreamed up by another, and now finds herself ineluctably bound to his fate—even as she fumes against the cruelty of her situation, she’s pulled back to it as though her life and love are inevitable, forces beyond her control. Lenny was thrown into a body she didn’t choose, but bears the burden of guilt for the consequences. Perhaps these women are caught in the maelstrom of male desire (malestrom?), pushed and pulled in conflicting directions that use their own emotions against them. Or perhaps the two experiences aren’t related at all; as Legion’s unseen narrator might suggest, our pattern-seeking brains are leading us to see conspiracy where there is only coincidence. But unlike these characters, we can dismiss the latter idea: This is a TV show, explicitly designed to create artistic order in the chaos. Conspiracy is all there is.

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Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

One of the more purely enjoyable elements of “Chapter 17" is the opportunity to finally spend some quality time with the Loudermilks. Still stuck outside Cary’s body, Kerry Loudermilk is slowly revealing the degree to which her vision of the world depends on clear-cut distinctions and the assumption of a one-to-one correlation between image and truth. The earlier scene of her visit to Melanie’s room, which at first glance seems to be solely about Melanie and her increasingly disconnected sense of self, is later revealed to be as much about Kerry’s literal-minded perspective on things. Her flat refusal to entertain Melanie’s thought experiments is the flip side of her later refusal to entertain the possibility of Cary’s death, of how reality could shift in a future time. She’ll stab Death to prevent Cary’s death for the same reason she scorns Melanie’s musings about existence: Kerry knows the world she lives in, and she won’t brook any challenges. She’s never alone in a crowd, because she’s decided she isn’t.

Really, it’s just fun watching the siblings work. Amber Midthunder and Bill Irwin are such a great Mutt-and-Jeff pairing, the two actors playing off each other’s physicality with wit and charisma. (Noah Hawley and Nathaniel Halpern’s deft and often funny script doesn’t hurt, either.) Cary and Kerry getting the vision of David’s plan, racing out of Division 3, and then immediately bickering over what to do next was an engaging caper, as compelling as their subsequent dinner scene was heartfelt. With only a couple episodes left this season, there likely isn’t much time to focus on them, but they are the secret MVPs of this series. Here’s hoping season three gives the Loudermilks a standalone episode to really shine.

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Screenshot: FX

Lenny, by contrast, remains as fascinating and flawed as ever. She escapes Division 3 thanks to David’s intervention, only to run straight back into her former life of drugs and depravity. (She’s got “some straight-up Caligula shit planned” to really embrace debauchery and make up for lost time, as she informs Amy.) She wants to act like the past year or so never happened, to return to her selfish, wastrel life, but her new guardian angel—and that nagging conscience—won’t let her. Hence, she arrives in the desert, weapon in tow, ready to carry out the unknown but presumably violent plan of the man she would do almost anything for. “Why does it always end in violence?” Melanie wonders, right after braining Clark, ratting out what she thinks is David’s plan to Farouk, and leaning into the touch of her turbulent lost love. Because of these men, the show suggests. These men, and their plans.

Stray observations

  • The most intriguing visual element of David’s plan, seen only in these little visions, comes from Lenny’s part and is captured above: The Minotaur on the desert road behind Lenny, as she looked down the sight of her gun.
  • On a related note, I believe this was the first we’ve seen this season of the World’s Angriest Boy.
  • That was an explicit Repo Man homage, right? When Lenny gets in the car, it starts glowing green, and then vanishes in a flash? Between that and “Chapter 14"’s Clockwork Orange shout-out, they’ve really been leaning into the cinematic tributes this year.
  • Amy wants her body back.
  • Legion significant music cues of the week: During Melanie’s first drug montage, we get The Flaming Lips’ “The Castle”; during Lenny’s welcome-home party, it’s The MC5's “Kick Out The Jams”; and for the Repo Man homage, it’s (very appropriately) The Kinks’ “Destroyer.”
  • Kerry, confronted with Melanie’s reflections: “I’m gonna go—you’re clearly having a senior moment.”
  • If they’re relying on Melanie as the mole, that’s a clear suggestion that Farouk thinks David is confronting him alone. The plan might be working so far, but who knows how key a role Clark was supposed to play?

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