Spoilers ahead for this week's episode of Legion, "Chapter Eight."
The short version: David faces enemies both within and outside his mind in a final showdown.
Leave it to Legion to spend all that time at the end of last week's episode building to a massive crescendo in the final moments, holding that crescendo until this week, then kicking off the final hour of Season 1 with a cut to a completely different time and place altogether. Instead of seeing what David will do next as Division 3 closes in and the Shadow King finds a crack in his mental prison, we get to see the recovery process of Clark (Hamish Linklater), the interrogator we met way back in Episode 1 who was left badly burned and nearly dead after David's rescue mission. We find out that he has a husband, and a son, and a life beyond simple ruthless government shadow work. He's a man, not a monster, but now he's willing to do something truly monstrous to finish his mission (that glazed-over eye is not just a coincidence) and bring David down, and he's got the scarred face and the cane to go with whatever that might be. For a minute there, he flat-out looks like a supervillain.
After quickly dispatching Division 3's foot soldiers (I would like a little tower of Division 3 soldiers, please), David invites Clark into Summerland as the team sets about accomplishing two distinct goals: Find out whatever they can from Clark and, more importantly, get the Shadow King out of David's head before he takes over and David is lost completely, a power-filled shell for a devious soul.
Even in the face of all of this, David is still uncertain. In fact he's still wondering about his old schizophrenia diagnosis, still hesitant to pace himself at the center of this world, even as he's supposed to be the great hope for mutantkind. "This only works if it’s not about me," he says, while Syd insists that it has to be about him, because in the end all she desires is his survival. All the hallmarks of an X-Men battle are taking shape in these moments, but our two leads are resisting many of the traditional superhero impulses. Neither of them want this, and we know that because when we met them they were both in a mental hospital trying to get better and just go home together, not out trying to prove that they were OK, or even better than OK thanks to their abilities. Syd and David want freedom, and the performances from both Dan Stevens and Rachel Keller (my pick for MVP of the season) here underline that perfectly.
The episode also underlined definitively something the show's been building to for weeks: Syd is a key to David's survival whether he likes it or not, and I don't just mean emotionally. Thanks to their contact in Episode 1, Syd has been in David's mind, and therefore been in contact with the Shadow King, so the three of them share a connection. The metaphorical cracks in the prison in David's mind have let Lenny reach out to Syd, in the white room, for one of the episode's most memorable and even terrifying sequences. Aubrey Plaza is absolutely wonderful in her descent from madness to pure monster, and Keller is playing the moment as something we've been waiting to see for weeks. Syd has always seen more than anyone else has, sometimes even more than David has. She's the first one who knew something was wrong in the mentally projected Clockworks, and she's the first one who sees the prison breaking here. It's through this that she begins to realize that Cary's machines won't save David. She has to. Keller deserves an Emmy nomination for her work this season, and his episode is a culmination of that.
The episode climaxes in a trio of scenes that kind of perfectly sum up the show's approach to its subject matter all season, in a gorgeous and thrilling mix of the psychedelic, the kinetic and the flat-out magical. First, David enters his own mind to try and push the Shadow King out, and the show lets its Pink Floyd influence out more nakedly than it ever has before, as "Breathe" from Dark Side of the Moon plays over David's science-driven trip. It's a fantastic moment, but we're just getting started. Next, Syd finally gives in to her protective impulses, upending Cary's procedure by pull Shadow King out through her own mouth, granting the release of the one she loves with a forbidden kiss. Free at last, the King goes for the most physically powerful member of the team, Kerry, and sets out for a final showdown with David. That brings us to my favorite moment from the episode.
David and the King can't just have a purely mental battle, because it would just be two people looking at each other. They could go astral and have a kind of metaphorical fight there, which would be great, but this is something different. In this moment, David is finally free of his parasite, and the King is finally free of the pesky other brain holding him back. This is a primal, thunderous moment for both of them, and the best way to show that is with a wave of raw power, two super-powered bodies smashing together in a single, definitive clash. The storytelling instincts here were perfect, and it also allows the show enough time left to comfortably set up the next phase of the series, with the now King-possessed Oliver driving off into the distance. It's a brilliantly executed final act.
I wasn't wild about the pacing immediately after Clark arrives at Summerland The tension is ready to snap, and then it's just kind of swept away for a little while for a couple of scenes where everyone sits down to talk. Granted, there are some great performances in those scenes, and I like the show's instinct to defer tension more often than not. It didn't quite land for me this time, though.
- A great hallmark of X-Men storytelling is the divide between the mutants who want peace and the mutants who want dominance, and Legion sets up its second season for the conflict perfectly in the final minutes. The Shadow King is setting out on a new quest for power, while David seems to have convinced Clark to forge an alliance with Division 3. As much as this show so often wants to go its own way, there are still those classic comic book tropes coming in around the edges, and I can't wait to see how the show plays this conflict out in Season 2.
- Last week Lenny kept shouting "What did he do with it?" and this week Oliver closes the show by asking "Where should we look first?" We know that the Shadow King once faced a battle with David's father, but what exactly is he looking for now?
- “The age of the dinosaur is over.” I love how we still can't be entirely sure that Melanie won't go all mutant-supremacist evil on us one day.
- “Remember how you told me not to be afraid?” “All right, that was a mistake.”
- Those of you who stuck around for the full credits sequence know that we now have more than the Shadow King to worry about. David's been zapped into a little flying ball, and Syd's gone to alert everyone. Is this his father come to claim him? Division 3 refusing peace? A Sentinel in miniature? We have to wait until next year to find out, but Legion is quite obviously set to go bigger next season, and I can't wait.
And that's it for this season! thanks for watching with us, and we'll be back next year for more fun with Legion Season 2.