After last week’s barnburner of an episode, it was probably necessary for Legion to tap the brakes with “Chapter 6.” But did FX’s X-Men series tap the brakes just a little too much? Let’s dive right in.
A Deep Breath and a Pause
After last week’s hour of pure, unrelenting nightmare fuel, Legion decided to pause to take a deep breath this week. The results were mixed. While not every episode of this series can be as intense and unsettling as “Chapter 5,” so much of “Chapter 6” feels like wheel-spinning, which is not something you want to see in a season that runs only eight episodes. This is the first time Legion has delivered a mediocre episode, as even the “slower” episodes from earlier in the season advanced the story and characters in significant ways, using the calm between storms to maneuver the plot into new positions.
In comparison, not much happens in “Chapter 6.” Our cast are prisoners in David’s mind when the episode begins and they’re still prisoners when the credits roll, with only a few of them having learned anything at all about their predicament. As is the case with every other episode of the series, every individual scene is perfectly entertaining or compelling or capable of offering up something of interest, but there’s a monotony here that we haven’t seen before. That may be part of the design, to lull us into the current worldview of these characters and show how they’ve been imprisoned in a single moment with no tangible momentum, but it doesn’t make for particularly gripping television. “Chapter 6” is a rare misfire from a show that has otherwise showcased so much confidence and so much unwillingness to pad out its story.
A Familiar TV Trope
Perhaps one of the reasons “Chapter 6” feels a little stale compared to the rest of the season is the fact that we’ve seen this template before. Maybe calling it a “trope” is unfair, but the “episode of the genre television show where the cast ends up in a real or imagined hospital and is told that their actual adventures are delusions” is something we’ve seen before. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it exceptionally well in its sixth season, delivering a chilling episode that demanded you question the reality of the show you’ve been watching for so long.
The problem with Legion‘s take on this concept is that we’re about ten steps ahead of the characters at all times. There’s no mystery here – we know from the outset that this Clockworks is a psychic prison built by Lenny (or rather, the devil with the yellow eyes) to hold our cast prisoner while time has slowed down back in the real world. The bulk of the hour, as well-acted as it is, involves us sitting around, waiting for the cast to catch up to us. Eventually, a few of them discover that something’s wrong, but it’s too little, too late for an episode that moves at a crawl. It certainly doesn’t help that those introspective conversations don’t actually reveal much about anyone. Even with their minds laid bare, “Chapter 6” offers little new information about David Haller, his enemies, and his allies.
Again With the Aspect Ratios
I’ve written before about how Legion manipulates cinematic languages to make its abstract points more literal, so one of the nicer touches in “Chapter 6” is that the group delusion feels like reality. Sure, the walls occasionally pulsate and bugs appear in pies and doors appear and disappear, but there’s a reason why David, Syd, and the rest of the crew don’t realize they’re living in a dreamscape cooked up by a mental parasite: the aspect ratio is at its widest. This is the rare psychic interior/dream/fantasy sequence in Legion to not narrow its aspect ratio and careful watchers of the show will note its intended effect. By not shifting accordingly, the people on screen are not aware they have stepped out of the real world and this illusion lives on.
Of course, when Syd flashes back to reality and starts to piece things together, the aspect ratio slowly narrows, representing her understanding that everything is not quite right…before snapping back into place again.