It’s a testament to the narrative perspective of Noah Hawley, who returns to write the season finale of Legion for director Michael Uppendahl, that “Chapter 8″ opens with a swift but lovely and nuanced vision of what happened to Hamish Linklater‘s interrogator in the weeks and months following his, er, run-in with David (Dan Stevens). Linklater is such a perceptive and subtle a performer that we even felt waves of personality and antic inner life from his one major sequence with David in the series opener but here, they add substantively to his character, as much in his flaws as in his resolve. He pushes his family away in the wake of his burn recovery, which has left him in a Two-Face state, but boldly throws himself into his work again, in the hopes of ensnaring the all-powerful son of Charles Xavier. As it turns out, this was not his best move.
On the other hand, this turn into the last act of the inaugural season was the best move for a series that has often been a little all over the road and hesitant to push forward narratively. For all the problematic stretches in the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters, “Chapter 8″ lands with such confidence and, yes, grace that it casts even the most annoyingly repetitive and misguided narrative decisions in a new, brighter light. I’m already impatient to go through these eight episodes again, and that alone should tell you how successful Hawley has been at rewriting the DNA of Marvel adaptations into something that elicits visual wonder and psychological warfare at the same time.
It’s going to be awhile before Hawley and his cast gets back to work on Season 2 but they’ve left us in a very comfortable place. The center of the story was the final battle between David and the Shadow King, who we’ve most commonly come to know as Lenny, played by a riveting and often frightening Aubrey Plaza. She, once again, proved to be this episode’s wild, unhinged pulse, clashing most memorably with Rachel Keller‘s Syd in the white room, where they struck a bargain of sorts. As much as Keller punctuated her lines with both confidence and open vulnerability, Plaza slinked around with expressive menace. Stevens, for his part, now seems in full command of a complicated comical role, and Hawley has seemingly made the actor’s struggle with the role the very drama of David becoming in command of himself once more.
There were a lot less visual fireworks in “Chapter 8″, which reinforced a feeling of the series finally finding its narrative footing. Instead, Hawley and Uppendahl realized a strident pacing through careful, rhythmic cuts and a lack of more overt effects. And yet, the episode never felt like it was hanging on the proverbial nail of the script. At this point, the actors have become so worn into the characters that much of what pilots the dramas is in a certain look, a tremble, or some seemingly flippant gesticulation. Still, the script did have the noticeable Hawley zing, both in its decisive, involving reintroduction of the interrogator and his militant governmental division and in the more memorable exchanges.
The more moving scenes of the episode were more notable for pauses and stares, soft one-word utterances and gasps. That was how Hawley continued to explore the romance between Dr. Melanie Bird (the invaluable Jean Smart) and her husband, Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement), and this quiet, tentative approach has proven to be part of the show ample, indispensable warmth. It’s also in the stares and quick assurances that Syd and David trade with increasing frequency, and the hurt that Bill Irwin’s Carey expresses when Kerry (Amber Midthunder) feels betrayed and abandoned by him. For all the trippy visuals and wondrous visions that Hawley & Co. have brought to fruition here, what’s made this show so addictive and popular has been the weirdly intimate relationships between characters we might never fully understand.
The climactic battle between David and a possessed Kerry gave us a look at the potential for David’s powers, if the Tower o’ Armed Division Agents didn’t give a good enough hint. It’s more important to remember that the show exemplified a perfect narrative and tonal balance here, juggling all the character storylines deftly and not shorting the emotional impact of any of their actions or sacrifices. There was talk of the Divison sending in something called the “Equinox,” and with the exception of an occasional Spider-Man foe, I don’t have any clue what that could be. Neither can we be sure what will happen with the Shadow King now attached to a rogue Oliver, who seems to be off building an army somewhere sunny. There’s plenty to chew on, but Legion doesn’t milk the unanswered questions at the end, most prominent of which is still just how much of this is imagined. Nevertheless, the finale felt satisfying, a feeling I was almost positive was out of reach for this astounding show just two or three episodes ago.