Legion Recap: Vapor Haze


Chapter 17
Season 2 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Suzanne Tenner/FX “/FX Networks.

Legion has been an inconsistent show from the very beginning, but this season has the creative team squandering the potential of this series by settling into mediocrity. We’ve had one glimpse of greatness in the multiversal character analysis of “Chapter 14,” but outside of that, the character development is shallow and the overarching plotline is tedious. I’ve been saying I want more of Legion’s supporting cast, but this week’s episode does exactly that and still underwhelms. We finally get more from Jean Smart, but she’s still shackled to a drug addiction story line that purposely makes her character totally stagnant. Everything about the Melanie thread is needlessly regressive, and if the writers are going to make such a drastic change with the character, it needs to be justified in the script.

We know that Melanie turned to Vapor when her husband awoke from his coma only to become the latest host for a psychic parasite, but she’s dealt with some intense stuff in her life, so why is this the thing that pushes her to her breaking point? There’s an important transition missing there, and the show skipped past it in the one-year time jump at the top of the season. This episode does go back in time, but only 13 days, when Oliver first started taking control of his wife’s mind. He appeals to Melanie’s urge to return to the past by showing her a younger version of herself, and she’s able to be that person in the mental realm, where she interacts directly with Farouk but doesn’t realize it because she’s so high.

The pacing of this season is a huge problem, and tonight’s episode is a prime example. I’m not sure if the 11th episode was filmed with the rest of the season and then announced afterward or if the team got back together to film that extra chapter, but tonight’s episode would have been the penultimate based on the original season order. The momentum should be building to the finale, but instead it grinds to a halt as the writers give us unsatisfactory check-ins with the supporting cast. Cary and Kerry get some more attention and we discover that Lenny is being haunted by Amy’s lingering consciousness, but that continues to drag out the hunt for Farouk’s body, which has already become extremely monotonous.

Like “Chapter 14,” this week’s episode ends at a place we’ve already been, but it fails to make the Melanie/Oliver dynamic anywhere near as compelling as the tragic bond between David and Amy. I don’t know if it would have been better if this entire episode was focused on Melanie and Oliver, but there’s plenty of plot to be mined from their history, both in terms of their romance and the creation of Summerland. The events of this chapter would resonate much more if writers Noah Hawley and Nathaniel Halpern defined Melanie and Oliver’s relationship with more specificity, but it’s also very late in the game to take an entire episode to explore that connection. I still would have preferred that to this week’s story, because this show is at its best when the writers hone in on a specific theme or subject rather than juggling multiple story lines at once.

You know what this show doesn’t need? More characters questioning the nature of reality. While talking to Kerry, Melanie begins to wonder if anything is real, but Legion has already explored so many variations of this idea that it makes this scene repetitive and boring. The writers want viewers to be frustrated with Melanie because the other characters are feeling the same way and want her to break out of her funk and get back to work, but I’m more frustrated with the writers than anyone else. I do like the scene that essentially has Melanie repeating the speech she gave to Syd earlier in the season about women being expected to support their men, but this version of the speech is much angrier. It’s suggested that Syd isn’t actually in the room at the end of the conversation, giving the impression that Melanie has been repeating the same thing over and over again with slight variations in the delivery as different emotions are summoned.

This is the first episode of the season directed by Noah Hawley, and the stylistic flourishes are especially self-indulgent. The most egregious example of this is a kaleidoscopic montage of Lenny returning to her old life of debauchery, and Hawley takes full advantage of FX’s relaxed content restrictions to give viewers a rush of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that they won’t find in other superhero media. This episode breaks new ground for queer sexuality in a live-action superhero property, but it’s also telling that this sex scene has a distinctly sinister quality. It’s presented in a montage defined by vice, and afterward, Lenny is bombarded by the same question over and over again from the ghost of Amy: “Are you a good person?”

The prospect of exploring Kerry’s relationship with the outside world is exciting, but it’s another missed opportunity in this episode. Kerry is one of the flimsier characters in Legion, defined by her badass attitude more than anything else, and that trait is an odd fit with the rest of her infantile personality. There’s one specific moment that really bugs me in this episode, and when Cary says that Melanie has too much time on her hands, Kerry looks at her hands as she ponders the literal interpretation of this turn of phrase. Kerry is an adult woman, but in behavior she’s basically a child, just now learning about figurative language and food and using the bathroom.

I have a lot of questions about Kerry’s intellect, and her vocabulary suggests that she does have a basic level of knowledge. Where does that come from? Does she absorb information from Cary when she’s inside him? It’s one thing not to understand how to interact with other people, but it doesn’t seem like Kerry understands much of anything beyond fighting. But how did she learn that? Rules are valuable when it comes to superpowers, and in the case of Cary and Kerry, I don’t have a strong handle on how their ability works and the extent of their mental and physical connection.

Melanie tries to explore the metaphor of Cary and Kerry’s relationship in the midst of a Vapor-induced rambling session, suggesting that Kerry is a delusion created by Cary’s yearning to be a young sensual woman. Or maybe Cary is the delusion, born from Kerry’s desire for authority. In her drug haze, Melanie has turned into a person who feels the need to analyze every aspect of a superhero character and figure out the underlying metaphors of their fantastic circumstances, and I sympathize immensely with Kerry’s sour attitude during this conversation.

This current phase of Melanie’s character is exhausting, and after this episode I understand why she’s been in the background this season. That’s a major fumble on the part of the writers, who failed to give Melanie an engaging arc and stripped away the strength and resilience that made her a key part of the cast in the first season. Focusing on her weakness isn’t the problem here, and a downward spiral can be fascinating if the writers do the work to show how the character ends up in that decline. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and “Chapter 17” draws attention to Legion’s difficulty bringing dimension to its supporting ensemble.

Legion Recap: Vapor Haze