After last week’s disappointing episode, Legion is back on track in a big way. “Chapter 7” finds FX’s X-Men series topping itself once again – this is one of the most clever, frightening, bizarre, and funny hours of television we can hope to see all year.
One Homage After Another
Legion has always played with filmmaking techniques in various inventive ways, but “Chapter 7” saw the show get even more specific with what it chose to appropriate. Instead of utilizing elements of cinematic language, the series broke out a few direct homages, leaning on imagery that will be recognizable to many viewers.
For starters, there’s the way those monstrous eyes appear on screen, observing the actions of our heroes as they fight for their lives. That image, along with the surreal and increasingly color-coded hallways of the psychically recreated halls of Clockworks, directly recall Dario Argento’s Suspiria, one of the greatest horror movies of all time. If you want to create a sense of being watched, of being trapped in a nightmare that does not make sense because the typical rules of reality no longer apply, there are far worse films from which to lift. In fact, it makes sense that a horror-driven show that always has one foot in the dreamworld would draw from a film that feels like a bad dream.
In a more obvious homage, Oliver Bird cooks up an invention to assist our heroes in their escape: pairs of glasses that block the psychic manifestations cooked by David’s monster and allow the wearer to see reality (or at least, a less manipulated version of David’s mind). This very concept, along with how the glasses transform the world into black and white, is a clever lift from John Carpenter’s They Live, where special sunglasses reveal the darkest truths about the world.
And since those glasses make the world black and white and strip away all sound, Legion goes a step further and becomes a full-blown silent movie once its cast is decked out in Oliver’s gear. Dialogue is revealed in title cards and the arrival of Lenny, looking like she stepped straight of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, is accompanied with “The monster arrives!” In a show that so often blends the quirky and the grim, it’s a bizarre and hilarious touch. Legion wears a straight face most of the time, but it’s never above actually having fun. It helps that Plaza, so very good in this part, moves like an animal in human skin, appearing less and less like a person with every moment. This is one of the great television performances of 2017.
This all makes sense – of course our mind will be full of pop culture references. We soak that stuff in every single day and it informs how we live our lives and see the world. In Legion‘s hands, movie homages manifest themselves as literally as possible. That’s always been this show’s modus operandi – to take the abstract and make it tangible.
The Amazing Oliver Bird
After sitting the past few episodes out, Jemaine Clement‘s Oliver Bird came back and it’s really nice to have him around. He was a scene-stealer earlier in the season and now that he’s actively involved in the battle against the parasite plaguing David’s mind, he’s only grown more fun. It’s still not clear if he’s actually a mutant, but he does reveal a talent for manipulating the astral plane, crafting useful gadgets like those glasses and “Jules Verne,” his diving suit that seemingly protects the wearer from the influences of the monster. Of course, his best moment involves him “conducting” reality, building a psychic shield out of words that literally manifest out of thin air. That may be a little on-the-nose for a guy who fancies himself a beat poet and a music lover, but it’s a wonderful image. In the malleable world of the astral plane, Oliver’s passions become an actual superpower.
Most importantly, Oliver has finally left the astral plane and once again living in the real world. Whether this means he’s joining the actual cast or will just hang around for the season finale is unknown, but Legion is just a little bit better whenever he’s around.
The Villain Reveals Itself
After weeks of referring to the thing lurking in David’s mind as Lenny, King the Beagle, the World’s Angriest Boy in the World, and the devil with yellow eyes, we finally have a name for this monstrosity. Courtesy of Oliver Bird, who seemingly has firsthand experience of this particular villain, we can know call it Farouk, who also goes by the unsettling moniker of “the Shadow King.”
The Shadow King, AKA Amahl Farouk, is an X-Men comic book villain, a being composed of psychic energy that can take on many forms and feeds on human minds. The character has a history with David and David’s father (more on him in a moment) in the comics, having clashed with mutantkind several times since its debut in 1979. The specific details remain obscured, but the writing’s (literally) on the wall: Farouk clashed with David’s father, a powerful mutant, years ago, and was defeated and its physical body destroyed. However, Farouk lived on as a psychic parasite, seeking out David for both vengeance and the desire to use his powers to achieve god-like status.
It’s refreshing to finally have a name and motivation for the monster, especially since its backstory ties perfectly into Legion‘s themes. If David’s powers are a metaphor for mental illness, what better way to illustrate that than to have his most troubling problem be something passed down by his father? He didn’t want this and he didn’t need this, but we all carry our parents’ baggage.. David doesn’t know his real father, but a piece of him has lodged itself in his mind…a piece that is doing nobody any good and can’t be helped.