Legion Recap: Wandering the Desert


Chapter 16
Season 2 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
A scene from Legion. Photo: ” “/Copyright 2018, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

Can Legion hurry up and find Farouk’s body already? These characters have been searching for eight episodes, and the show becomes more tedious as it focuses on this plot point. The hunt for Farouk’s body isn’t an especially engaging overarching storyline: Season one packed far more plot into the same number of chapters, and if the show is going to drag out the search, it could at least balance it with meaningful character development for the rest of the ensemble.

On the bright side, “Chapter 16” doesn’t meander as much as last week’s episode, and there’s some significant forward movement as David secretly sets up a mission to find the body. He puts psychic suggestions in the brains of his companions, and while he wanders the desert on his own, these suggestions are gradually triggered in the others. David is able to hone in on a location thanks to the help of Ptonomy, who discovers the consciousness of the deceased Mi-Go monk inside Division 3’s tree-computer thing. Ptonomy learns a lot in there, including the history of Admiral Fukyama, who was recruited by the government at age 17 to undergo a procedure that would make him invulnerable to psychic manipulation in a strange new world where no one’s thoughts are safe. This suggests the Admiral will play a major part in the resolution of this season’s story, and it also explains why Farouk has been trying to take out this man who cannot be swayed by mutant abilities.

The best scene in “Chapter 16” is a conversation between Syd and Clark where she opens up about how her feelings for David have changed since he’s been back. These characters haven’t spent much time together, and their talk shows the benefits of pairing off different people in a large ensemble cast. Clark’s paranoia about David creates tension as Syd opens up about their relationship, and she has to be careful about the words she uses because she doesn’t want to paint David as a menace, but she still wants to express her reservations. She loves David, but she recognizes that there are things about him that may always get in the way of a truly healthy bond, so she doesn’t know how to proceed.

I appreciate that Syd is starting to evaluate her history with David and putting in the effort to figure out if she really wants to be with him. She talks about the romance of meeting him in Clockworks and the addictive intensity of their time together at Summerland, and while she adores what they had in the past, she doesn’t know if she feels the same way about their current state. This doubt makes Clark very nervous, and he doesn’t want to see what could potentially happen if Syd hurts the feelings of a mutant powerful enough to destroy the entire world. Luckily for everyone, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen: After Syd talks things through, she decides to hop on a plane to the desert and help David because she still believes that love is the thing that needs to be saved if they’re going to save the world.

During this conversation, Syd says that David doesn’t know what is real and what’s not and that he can’t differentiate between right and wrong. It’s an idea that the Jon Hamm narrator runs with to suggest the most alarming delusion of all: that other people ultimately don’t matter. I’m beginning to wonder if the season was originally plotted with these interludes or if they were a late addition, because their connections to the main story are so thin that they feel like afterthoughts. This week’s interlude makes a case against smartphones and social media immersion by evoking Plato’s Cave, an allegory about perception and how a person’s reality is shaped by what is presented to them.

If a group of people live their entire lives only knowing the world through shadows projected on a cave wall, they would reject the reality outside the cave because it doesn’t align with what has been ingrained in their minds. This interlude posits that smartphones are the new cave and other people have become shadows, which dehumanizes them and makes it easy to abandon empathy. I’ll be honest, though: I have no idea how online bullying plays into this episode, this season, or this series. There’s a place in this show for exploring how delusions can manifest in everyday life, but the writers need to spend more time thinking about how to weave these threads in with everything else so they don’t come across as superfluous. Legion has always felt a bit disjointed because of the fractured nature of David’s mental state, but these interludes are interruptions that pad out the running time and keep us from the good stuff.

While on the topic of recurring frustrations, I continue to lament Melanie’s role, which is somehow both increased and diminished in this episode. I’ve been annoyed by this season’s treatment of her from the start, but I’m full-on angry after “Chapter 16,” which has Jean Smart on screen for approximately a minute. Melanie eavesdrops on Syd and Clark’s conversation, then attacks Clark when he’s about to begin his part of the mission that David psychically implanted in his brain. The action rewinds from that attack to reveal that Melanie’s mind has been taken over by Oliver and Farouk, and it’s a waste of a great actress to have Melanie reduced to a pawn without any agency. She’s barely done anything over eight episodes, and adding injury to insult, she’s been stripped of her identity as others take control of her person.

It’s possible we’ll get some meaty Melanie moments in the final three episodes of the season, and this week’s creepy final shot is an upside-down close-up of the monstrous being that Melanie has glimpsed in her Vapor haze. Is this something Oliver planted in her head? A different, new psychic parasite? None of the above? I wish I was more interested in finding out, but it’s hard to get excited when the writers don’t care enough about the character to make space for her in the plot.

I’m a fan of split-screen storytelling, and it can energize an otherwise monotonous scene by arranging images in different layouts on the screen. It also allows film and TV creators to replicate the look of a comic-book page, giving viewers individual panels that don’t necessarily tell a sequential narrative, but create a specific atmosphere when taken together. This episode uses split screens for three separate sequences, with a lot of overlap for the second two. The first instance is when Ptonomy is exploring the tree: one frame shows his consciousness being bombarded with information, and it is flanked on both sides by static images of Ptonomy’s lifeless body and Admiral Fukyama sitting in his lair. It’s a small moment, but it visually creates a link between the two men that becomes deeper as Ptonomy learns about Admiral Fukyama’s past.

Later, the split-screen is used to show David walking through the desert, with thin horizontal panels that allow director Jeremy Webb to create sweeping panoramas. Oliver and Farouk are also on the move, and as they’re carried through the desert in a rickshaw, their panel moves across the middle of the screen to make their action more dynamic than David’s. The location of the body is ever-changing, and unless the searcher uncovers the secret for reaching the destination, they’ll never be able to find it. Farouk knows the secret, and the split-screen creates a sense that he’s actually moving toward the destination while David is traveling from vista to vista, but not getting any closer.

There’s another split-screen sequence in the desert after Syd joins David, and while it initially feels like filler, there is a purpose behind it. In the preceding sequence, David is wandering alone, but this second one emphasizes that he now has someone by his side, willing to take the journey with him even though she doesn’t know where it will lead. It could lead to salvation or it could lead to death, but they’re going to find out together.

Legion Recap: Wandering the Desert