Legion Recap: Group Therapy

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Dan Stevens as David, Aubrey Plaza as Lenny. Photo: Michelle Faye/FX
Legion

Legion

Chapter 6 Season 1 Episode 6
Editor's Rating 2 stars

This week’s Legion returns to Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital and stays there far too long. The pacing for this series has been inconsistent — largely as a consequence of the fractured storytelling structure — but the narrative has never lagged like it does in “Chapter 6.” After last week’s terrifying climax, Lenny has sent the main cast into a psychic reconstruction of Clockworks, where mutants’ powers are negated and considered metaphors for various mental illnesses. As Dr. Busker, Lenny is now the therapist working with the Clockworks patients, keeping them trapped by feeding them false information about their mental conditions.

Oliver’s cryogenic stasis is interpreted by Dr. Busker as a delusion that Melanie has created because she can’t accept that her husband is dead. She’s actually the person who is emotionally frozen, keeping Oliver’s voice on her answering machine and holding on to this hope that he’s still alive in the astral plane. Rather than the literal ability to travel into his memories, Ptonomy has an eidetic memory that allows him to remember every little detail of his past, and he’s constantly reliving his mother’s sudden death when he was a child. He considers himself a time traveler because he can relive the past, and he’s Dr. Busker’s most severe case, given his dark-blue-and-red jumpsuit — a visual signifier that he’s a Clockworks lifer, as per series costume designer Carol Case’s insights into the uniforms.

Cary and Kerry have an unhealthy personal connection, according to Dr. Busker, and while the episode doesn’t really delve into this, the age difference implies a statutory rape angle. The idea of the two of them sharing a body has sexual undertones — but their relationship in this episode doesn’t address that, instead focusing on their emotional connection and general need to maintain close proximity. Cary gets pulled away from Kerry when he’s approached by Oliver in his standard diving dress, taking him out of Clockworks and into the astral plane. This throws Kerry off for the remainder of the episode. The Eye preys on her in a half-baked and derivative subplot, complete with references to Little Red Riding Hood, as the Eye lurks around her.

Oliver’s astral form guides Cary and Melanie out of Lenny’s illusion, but Syd doesn’t need his help to realize that something is wrong with this situation. From the very start, she’s aware that reality isn’t what it seems in Clockworks — it’s a dream, but not an interesting one. Her words actually function well as a critique of this episode, which achieves a dreamlike ambience but falls short in terms of pacing, plotting, and character beats. The pacing issues are especially disappointing because Nathaniel Halpern’s last episode, “Chapter 4,” was the strongest of the series, with a thrilling momentum that kept me engaged for the entire story. “Chapter 6” is very flat by comparison, with minimal tonal variation and a plot that doesn’t really go anywhere.

The script is repetitive to a fault, and while there are intentional callbacks — like Ptonomy and David watching Rudy drool uncontrollably, like the Clockworks patient in the pilot — there are also plenty of other scenes that cover territory the show already visited in the past. The repetition can be seen as an attempt to make the audience feel trapped in the Clockworks routine, but that doesn’t make for a satisfying viewing experience. It’s more frustrating than anything else. Frustration can be an effective emotion if used properly, but “Chapter 6” overstays its welcome by keeping the audience in that mode for its entire length. Legion has constantly gone over the hour-long running time, and this episode doesn’t earn those extra minutes. I found myself wishing that the final moment, which has Cary appearing before Syd in Oliver’s diving suit, was the midway point instead.

While I appreciate Legion stepping back to explore how each mutant’s power can be viewed as a metaphor for a real mental illness, the script doesn’t do much with those concepts beyond the opening sequence. It also needlessly complicates David’s situation by making him believe that he’s manic-depressive, rather than a paranoid schizophrenic. This is a tactic used by Lenny to keep David distanced from his real circumstances; by changing the nature of his mental illness, she’s able to keep him complacent and lull him into a false sense of security at Clockworks. But with Legion already struggling to carry the baggage of David’s paranoid schizophrenia, it’s an odd choice to add even more weight with the manic-depressive angle, which goes under-explored because it’s not rooted in the reality of David’s life.

The scene with Lenny telling David about the fungus that grows on ants is creepy, but plays like a retread of what was shown in “Chapter 5.” It’s also puzzling that she would go out of her way to create this elaborate fiction for the entire group when she could just as easily get rid of David’s friends and seize control of his body — and when Lenny realizes as much, it makes the rest of the episode inconsequential. From a larger plot perspective, it doesn’t make sense for Lenny to go through all this extra work to keep the people that pose the greatest threat to her in a comfortable, albeit heavily restricted, place. It’s an opportunity for Halpern to use the Clockworks environment more, but it doesn’t add much to the overall narrative.

There is some interesting material in Lenny and David’s final conversation, when she talks about God as the only being that matters in life — because God is power, and power is everything. She begins to make a connection between God and David’s father as she talks about this “holy” man who gave up his son; with Charles Xavier as the person at the foundation of the X-Men mythos, he could be viewed as the god figure in this instance. (This is especially interesting in the wake of Logan, which classified Xavier’s mind as a weapon of mass destruction, much like David’s mind on Legion.) The mystery of David’s father is officially a major plot point now, and knowing David’s comic-book lineage has me concerned that the reveal will be anticlimactic if Xavier isn’t the father. We’re getting a lot of buildup to that discovery, and I’m very interested in how it will play out (and if either James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart will cameo if Xavier is indeed his father).

This episode is a spotlight for Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny, who shows a very different face in the first scene, as she plays the stern therapist trying to give her patients a different perspective of themselves. In my “Chapter 2” recap, I wrote that I wanted to see this show give Plaza the opportunity to show more of her range, and tonight’s episode definitely delivers in that regard: it allows her to tone down Lenny’s personality as Dr. Busker while still keeping a sinister edge. Lenny is bottling up that manic energy that she showed in her earlier appearances, but she lets it all loose during a dance number set to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” which has her strutting across the screen in blood-red silhouette before dancing wildly through the different areas of David’s mind.

The “Feeling Good” sequence is an ecstatic moment, and director Hiro Murai’s extensive experience directing music videos is very evident. (As it was in several episodes of Atlanta, which Murai also directed.) There’s an energy here that isn’t in the rest of the episode, which comes from a mix of the heavily stylized imagery, the rousing music, and Plaza’s joyfully frantic performance. It’s a jarring shift from the happenings at Clockworks, but not an unwelcome one — adding some humor to a mostly dreary chapter, as Lenny basks in the glory of everything going exactly as planned.

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Legion Recap: Group Therapy