At one point or another, all TV shows stall for time. The desires of story progression are sometimes subject to the needs of organization, which, in turn, results in the narrative looping back in on itself before pushing forward. When the viewer becomes aware of it, the episode is typically labeled as filler, a piece of wadding that plugs the gap between two sections of a single story. Some shows do this better and in more subtle ways than others. Some go a far less subtle route, becoming worthy of some distinction on their own. That difference can go both ways; it just depends on how the concept of filler is treated and how successfully it bends the narrative’s linearity without causing it to break.
Legion takes this to an unconventional place, comprehending that, by filler, most understand the episode in question to be stalling for time. With ‘Chapter 6’, FX’s kaleidoscopic mutant series decides to have a little fun, acknowledging that it’s stalling for time by literally stalling time within the series itself, placing David, Syd, Ptonomy, Melanie, and the Loudermilks (Loudermilk?) in a state of suspended animation controlled by Lenny (or The Devil With the Yellow Eyes) that effectively sends the series back to the beginning. Much like Legion‘s literal interpretation of stalling for time, ‘Chapter 6’ makes for an interesting interpretation on the idea of going back to the beginning. Instead of going all the way back to David’s childhood – which seemed a logical and perhaps even necessary avenue to travel down, considering Amy’s revelation that he was adopted – the hour simply goes back to the beginning of the series, as though the true dawn of David Haller’s journey began at Clockworks.
It’s a curious, almost solipsistic way for the series to approach revisiting the start of its seemingly inscrutable narrative, one that allows Legion fold in on itself again and again until the notion of reality is a concept unknowable to even the most grounded of characters. Throw in some heavy gaslighting of the major players, a little cherry pie deprivation, and an unflaggingly self-aware dance routine to Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’, and you have an hour of television that stalls for time, but at least does what it can to look good while doing so.
Directed by Hiro Murai, who made a splash last year directing the majority of FX’s Atlanta, ‘Chapter 6’ essentially asks the question “Who’s in control?” and the answer comes in the sort of stylistic fashion Legion viewers have grown accustomed to over the past six weeks. Whereas ‘Chapter 2’ raised some questions about the show’s ability to remain aesthetically impressive and inventive, and still move the story forward in a propulsive manner, ‘Chapter 6’ raises the question of whether or not Legion can experiment with exposition and backstory without actually resorting to doing much of either.
The hour is tasked with explaining what it is The Devil With the Yellow Eyes wants with David and how far the he/she/it is willing to go in order to achieve that particular goal. Then there’s the question of David’s past, which is brought up and then skirted in such a way it seems a deliberate ploy to get the internet riled up about a name drop that may or may not happen. Both have their uses in terms of the overarching needs of the series, but neither one is put to particularly good use throughout the hour. This is compounded by how each character’s unique mutant abilities are translated into corresponding mental illness, phobias, and disorders as a way to keep them in line and keep them questioning their sanity while Lenny pokes and prods during group session, or when she’s not dancing around Clockworks for the sake of consistency. It’s in keeping with the show’s desire to question the reality of everything, but it feels unnecessary to revisit the question of doubt at this point in the season, especially when the narrative needs the audience to believe what’s happening is real in order for there to be any weight to what is about to unfold.
While ‘Chapter 6’ doesn’t work in terms of pacing or narrative progression – there’s a decent chance when season 1 is all said and done, this installment can be easily extracted with zero repercussions on the narrative as a whole – it at least makes a go of demonstrating just how powerful an adversary The Devil With the Yellow Eyes is, which will hopefully have greater significance once the series is in a position to let its characters move in a way that challenges the entity. Legion has spent the better part of the season splashing around in the gray waters of its main character’ sanity, suggesting whether mutant or mere human, David wasn’t fully in control of his mind. David’s power and lack of control over that power is pretty much confirmed at this point, as is the identity of the person/thing pulling his strings. The suggestion of control is transformed into the text of the hour, as Lenny’s presence permeates the entirety of Clockworks in a way that is repeatedly visually impressive and frequently charming in as much as the idea of an evil psychic entity contorting reality (and the narrative progression of the very show it is a part of) can be considered charming.
Aesthetic enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy about the hour – Syd’s cricket lullaby and Amy’s transformation into a Nurse Ratched-like manifestation of David’s adoption anxieties are two great examples – but ‘Chapter 6’ doesn’t quite manage to rise above the feeling that it’s just stalling for time. Lenny may be in control now, but she’d do well to use that power to do more than gaslight a few mutants.
Legion continues next Wednesday with ‘Chapter 7’ @10pm on FX.