Well the more things change, the more they stay the same, don't they?
So Legion is back, and the only thing familiar bout it (beyond characters, of course), is the fact that it's once again wholly unfamiliar. Turns out the only way to preserve the status quo of a show like this one is to completely change up its status quo. Makes sense, given the depths of Legion's concern with the fundamental malleability and impressionistic nature of experience. It also makes the second season premiere every bit as disorienting as the series pilot was: We're once again plopped smack into the middle of an utterly bizarre universe, only this time without the benefit of a narrator who's at least been present the entire time. At the opening of "Chapter 9," we're brand new to the surroundings just like David is. This time around, however, we're playing catch-up right along with him as he struggles to remember what went down in the year between when he was sucked into a little floating metal ball at the end of last season and now.
To David, his weird trip into the inside of a tiny orb was yesterday. To everyone else around him, it was a year ago, and in a real creepy Flight of the Navigator type situation, David is put in the uncomfortable position of trying to comprehend the emotional pain inflicted on all of his friends by the events of the intervening twelve months.
Syd is, of course, the first to truly reach out to him, and after a brief but stylistically awesome astral plane sex romp, the two reconnect as she tells him about her struggles to believe he was still alive in his absence. Syd's in a pretty tough position throughout the course of the episode, a cat walking along the fenceposts between her love for David and her peers' suspicion that he's either lying about his lost time, is still under Farouk's sway, or both. Melanie isn't really helping either: Some time after brokering a partnership between the Summerland clan and the government, she took herself completely out of the game and retreated into a drug-fueled depression spurred by her losing Oliver a second time. Her bitter conversation about how ready men are to sacrifice the emotional well-being of the women in their lives in the name of their "important work" definitely seems to make an impression on Syd, coloring the rest of her interactions with David as she struggles to get a bead on whether or not he's telling the truth.
David, on the other hand, just glad to be back, and also he would like some waffles. He becomes a bit of an audience surrogate this time around, and the show maintains is status quo of unknowability by having him in a position of needing to be caught up with the totally new situation in which he finds himself. Everyone from Summerland is now a part of the government's Division III, some of which seems bizarre solely for the sake of being bizarre. It's almost immediately clear that Hawley was given the go-ahead to really cut loose for season two (and handed the budget to do it), and perhaps the craziest thing about this is the revelation that he apparently hadn't even come close to cutting loose yet in season one.
Much of it works: The basket-headed Admiral Fukiyama and his mustachioed, auto-tune ladybots are functionally bizarre enough to be intriguing...but moments like a glimpse of several giant, floating green hands with outstretched index fingers hovering hovering over a city and David's breakfast being served to him on a tiny boat that slowly winds its way through an entire cafeteria by way of a little tabletop canal really strain the suspension of disbelief. Can't some things just be practical where they'd need to be practical? Legion's bizarre visuals are typically great (and the production design in this second season premiere is particularly inspired), but when they exist solely for the sake of "More bizarre visuals, please!" they start to be come a detraction from the story, rather than a supplement to it.
As with the first season, it's likely that Legion's level of quality in its second outing will depend entirely on where things go from here. Once again, Hawley and his writing staff have set up a season's worth of mysteries to unravel, and it's pretty unquestionable that we'll spend as much tim getting to know what happened to David over the course of the last year as we will racing to make sure the good guys get to Farouk's body first.
Oh, which is apparently the whole thing with this season, by the way. It's a race. Standing in a room, surrounded on all sides by massive pictures of different types of vortices, David is told that he and his Division III pals must stop Farouk from finding his original body, as he'll become unstoppably powerful should he reunite with it. It's a scene that really shouldn't work, but does perhaps in spite of itself. In a series where about 90% of the stuff that goes down is intentionally oblique, it makes perfect sense to swing the pendulum all the way in the other direction and serve up a straight on-the-nose moment where the material stakes of the next several episodes are laid out on the table in the plainest possible terms? In a series like Legion, a little bit of clarity definitely goes a long way.
Oh, and Also...
- That final shot in the room with Admiral Fukiyama was pretty amazing, but also made me realize that he had been put in that room for the purpose only to facilitate it. This is the kind of production design — in service of a neat moment, and little else — that maybe doesn't work as well.
- Having said that, Division III is astoundingly cool to look at, for the most part.
- Getting to see Bill Irwin cut loose and get his dance on is so rewarding, given his background in vaudeville/mime/clowning.