Legion Recap: The Warlike Man

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Dan Stevens as David Haller. Photo: Michelle Faye/FX
Legion

Legion

Chapter 4 Season 1 Episode 4
Editor's Rating 5 stars

The Legion creative team has to perform a challenging balancing act as the series splits time between mind-bending psycho-drama and X-Men-influenced superhero storytelling, and “Chapter Four” is the most successful example of this dynamic yet. Last week, I predicted that Legion’s shift into a more conventional superhero mode was to prepare viewers for weirdness to come, and I was right. “Chapter Four” is a very strange episode that returns to the fractured structure of the first two installments, jumping between time periods and planes of reality as the mutants of Summerland search for answers about David’s past while David himself ventures deeper into the unexplored territory of his mind.

Written by Nathaniel Halpern with striking direction by Larysa Kondracki, “Chapter Four” begins with the first full appearance of Jemaine Clement’s Oliver Bird, Melanie’s husband who resides permanently in the astral plane. Oliver’s comatose body is currently kept in standard diving dress in a frozen chamber beneath Summerland, but his mind is living it up in a giant block of ice hovering in the astral plane, where he chills in his cream leisure suit, listens to avant-garde jazz and Feist while ruminating on human nature. Those ruminations make up the fourth-wall-breaking introduction of this episode, which has Oliver speaking directly to the audience about violence, internal conflict, and the two different kinds of stories people tell their children: those that teach empathy, and those that teach fear.

This may sound heavy, but there’s an inherent humor in Jemaine Clement’s performance that brings levity to the Nietzsche quotes (“In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself”) and ominous foreshadowing. Clement punctures the intensity of the overarching plot, and there’s a smarmy smugness in his performance that sets him apart from everyone else in the cast. He’s incredibly fun to watch, and he becomes even more entertaining when he interacts with David, who reacts with wide-eyed confusion to Oliver and his icy home. (I love how the bright blue of Dan Stevens’s glaring eyes ties him to the environment during that scene; he’s totally bewildered but there’s also a sense that this is where he belongs.)

Oliver tells the viewer that tonight’s episode is a five-act play about “a fuzzy little bunny that got too close to the ocean,” combining the two stories that he mentions earlier to frame a narrative about both empathy and fear. The empathy comes courtesy of Syd, Ptonomy, and Kerry’s mission to discover what led to David ending up in Clockworks, an investigation that helps them gain a stronger understanding of his history as they visit Dr. Poole’s office and meet his ex-girlfriend Philly. The fear comes from two sources: the malevolent presence in David’s mind that takes the form of Lenny, and The Eye and his Division 3 troops, who ambush the Summerland trio when they go to Dr. Poole’s lighthouse. Learning more about David means becoming more afraid of him, his power, and the parasite that lurks within his mind, and the events of the episode’s conclusion suggest that everyone should be very frightened of what David might do next.

“Chapter Four” is actually light on David Haller himself. He’s spotlighted in the third act, which is composed entirely of his scene with Oliver in the astral plane, but doesn’t return again until halfway through the last act, when he has a tense conversation with Lenny that results in very misguided acts when David wakes up. Philly’s revelation that David’s drug pusher friend was actually a man named Benny introduces all sorts of new questions about Lenny — for starters, did David turn Benny into the woman who was killed by Syd-as-David in Clockworks? — but it also gives us a new perspective of Aubrey Plaza’s performance as Lenny, which has felt very shallow thus far. Her aggressively sinister mania makes more sense when it’s attached to a psychic parasite rather than a human being, and Plaza’s performance in “Chapter Four” presents Lenny as a being of pure evil with the sole focus of using David’s power to unleash destruction on the world.

Cary and Kerry Loudermilk’s relationship can also be viewed as parasitic, as this episode reveals that they are two separate people sharing the same body. The transition into the Loudermilk backstory could be smoother — given Syd’s time at Summerland, it’s strange that she wouldn’t know their story by now — but as Syd continues to feel aftershocks of her psychic connection with David, it makes sense that she would be interested in learning more about two people who are merged together.

Cary/Kerry’s parents were expecting a young Native American daughter, but their mother gave birth to a skinny white boy, who learned at age 8 that there was a girl living inside his body. Kerry only ages when she’s outside of Cary’s body (although that doesn’t explain why she’s 8 years old when Cary first sees her), and she gets all the action while Cary does the boring stuff like eating, sleeping, and whatever people do in the bathroom. Amber Midthunder gives Kerry an antsy disposition that reflects her desire to get to the action as quickly as possible, and it also makes her slightly awkward, which works for a character who doesn’t spend much time with other people. This episode also provides a strong impression of the intense connection shared by Cary and Kerry, which makes the final moment of Kerry getting shot by The Eye all the more effective.

While you can sense the emotional connection between the two characters when they talk about each other, that bond is most heavily reinforced during the fifth-act montage set to Feist’s “Undiscovered First.” As Oliver dances to the tune in his ice cube, the camera drifts to Melanie watching over Oliver’s body, Syd and Ptonomy facing off against The Eye, and Kerry fighting Division 3 troops while Cary’s body copies her movement in his lab. Bill Irwin is an exceptionally skilled physical actor, and this sequence takes advantage of that talent as he engages in an action sequence by himself. Without the use of words, Irwin charts a clear path through Cary’s emotions, beginning with confusion when Kerry starts to fight, then focused restraint as he directs his actions away from David’s unconscious body, and ending with terror as Kerry is overpowered and knocked out. The direction doesn’t shy away from the dancelike aspects of the action, and it’s a graceful, clever way of presenting a superhero action sequence.

That montage ends with Syd using her power to switch bodies with The Eye as the music crescendos, and for a moment it looks like the Summerland trio has the upper hand. That’s when Lenny’s manipulation of David goes into overdrive, and she convinces him to wake up and lash out at the Division 3 vehicle to save Syd’s life, not knowing that The Eye is currently in Syd’s body. The entire fifth act of this episode is a thrilling, engrossing example of what this show can do when it nails the balancing act at its foundation, providing all the weirdness of the psychic exploration combined with exciting action that makes strong use of mutant abilities.

Legion is full of anachronisms, and Carol Case’s costume design plays an important role in establishing temporal ambiguity with a wardrobe that blends vintage ’60 and ’70s designs with modern flourishes. Case also does excellent work connecting characters through their clothing, like putting Oliver in a leisure suit that shares the same cream color as Melanie’s ensemble. Philly’s earring have the same interconnected rings as the ladder David climbs to get to Oliver’s home in the astral plane, and while I don’t totally see the explicit connection between the two — aside from the fact that they used to date, of course — the small design touch creates a visual tie between David and Philly.

I’m fascinated by the use of iconography in Case’s costumes, and she uses graphic T-shirts to evoke superhero design without moving into more traditional superhero territory. In the second episode, David wore a T-shirt with an “L” on the chest that felt like a shout-out to the character’s comic-book code name that gives the series its title. In tonight’s episode, David’s T-shirt has a tornado design that can be interpreted as a visual representation of his devastating power, but it can also be read as a downward spiral signifying David’s loss of control to the parasite in his mind.

The red star worn by Lenny/Benny in the flashbacks is the last big T-shirt symbol. Although I don’t think it’s directly connected to communism, the fear of the Soviet government infiltrating American society ties into the idea of Lenny as a force that makes its way into David’s mind and feeds off his power. The final image of this episode shows Lenny creeping up behind David with a devilish smile, implying that he’s lost the small amount of control he was holding on to. At the halfway point of the season, how much longer until David realizes his full potential for destruction?

Legion Recap: The Warlike Man