‘Legion’ Season 2 Review: FX’s Surreal Marvel Series Returns to the Astral Plane

     April 2, 2018

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There’s a lot to catch up on from Legion‘s first season, and thus, the show’s first episode back is a bit of a tedious if arguably necessary affair. Its primary objective is to reorient the viewer and get them up to speed, to play for efficiency rather than curiosity or insights. Early on, David (Dan Stevens) is freed from a coma-like state, induced by a small robotic orb, that he had been in for a year, in need of waffles and a visit with his girlfriend, Syd (Rachel Keller). From there, we find out why the setting has moved from Summerland to Division 3, where Hamish Linklater‘s Clark buzzes around in perpetual suspicion, and the mysterious Admiral Fukuyama looms behind his army of gender-fluid androids, while a plague known as The Catalyst reduces people to little more than statues with chattering teeth. The plague, as it turns out, is following Oliver (Jemaine Clement) and Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) on the Shadow King’s tour of America. These are just the highlights, and it’s already way too much story for 50-odd minutes of screen time.

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Image via FX

However, thanks primarily to the season premiere’s director, Tim Mielants, who does excellent work on AMC’s The Terror, one comes out of the first episode with feet placed firmly on the show’s narrative ground. But then, the great hitch of the world of Legion is that memories, dreams, visions, and just plain images are themselves weapons, invented avenues to throw super-humans like David, Syd, and their cohorts off the trails of their nefarious others. Disorientation is a constant in Legion‘s second season as much as it was in the first one, and just after an opening episode that suggested Noah Hawley‘s Marvel show had grown too fond of its talk and narrative world-building, “Chapter 10″ arrives to remind you just how unpredictable this series gets, both in its imagery and its emotional toll.

“Chapter 10″ is directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who is responsible for two of the most remarkable films of this decade thus far: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Bad Batch. This is her first turn at narrative TV (she helmed an episode of NatGeo’s Breakthrough), and she lends everything — from the performances and language to the editing and ratio-shifts — an air of unforced ferocity and madness. A time-bending meeting between Syd and David; Clark’s off-the-cuff interrogation in the mess hall; the face-to-face with Farouk in the wheat field; and Oliver and Lenny’s visit to Division 3 are all marked by an invigorating looseness that cannot be found in “Chapter 9.” Already a master at building worlds in her two features, here she masters worlds within worlds, giant leaps between manifested galaxies of trap doors, secret rooms, and red herrings rendered with as much grace as visual brawn. It’s one of the best episodes of TV so far this year.

And smartly, the series continues on the path that Amirpour laid for her fellow directors, including Sarah Adina Smith of Buster’s Mal Heart and the brilliant former DP Ellen Kuras, as the season goes on. There’s a stride in the pacing and the ever-shifting visual tempos of each episode that kicks in after the opening sequence for “Chapter 11,” a patently Hawley-esque diatribe about physical tics delivered, in voiceover, by Jon Hamm. There’s still the brazenly confident yet audacious storytelling, but Hawley and his creative team are looking wider in scope, resulting in more of a slow-burn in terms of plotting than the first season. It’s a risk that doesn’t always pay off — Hawley’s tendency toward cleverness over wit is restrained but not vanquished — but the broader cinematic scope gives grander stages to increasingly oversized characters. When David and Farouk meet in “Chapter 10,”  the devilish Shadow King quotes John Lennon and says that David and him are bigger than Jesus. The directors often successfully make their conversations, encounters, and battles feel like those of the gods.

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Image via FX

This isn’t the first Marvel series to benefit from smart, expressive direction; see Daredevil, The Punisher, Jessica Jones, and the first half of Luke Cage‘s first season. What continues to make Legion the most ambitious and rewarding of the Marvel shows, though, is its intimate grasp on characters that can’t trust themselves at all. It’s a notion that has always been brought up but never rendered palpable in the X-Men movies: the feeling that you are at constant war with your impulses, thoughts, and emotions. As David comes closer to discovering his full potential, and becomes a real thorn in the side of other mutants with his level of power, it becomes harder for him to trust what he sees, thinks, or hears at any given moment. The core of his relationship with Syd, as well as Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) and the Loudermilks (Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder), is building trust with others who can’t always fully put their faith into what’s right in front of them. That secular faith is what builds a supportive community in even the most unstable places, and it’s also what keeps the series humming even as the imagery veers toward the ostentatious. And as with so many things that go on in Legion, the opposite is also true.

Rating: ★★★★

Legion Season 2 begins airing April 3rd at 10 p.m. EST on FX.

Television