This week we found out what everyone else was doing while David marooned himself (and Syd) on a desert road to nowhere.
It turns out Melanie has been up to more than sprawling on the periphery of the action to chase Vapor highs. I’ve been waiting for an episode like this all season, because you don’t hire Jean Smart to have her spend an entire season doing next to nothing. However you may feel about where Legion took her character, it was immensely gratifying to finally see Jean Smart get to take Melanie somewhere.
The episode opened when it left D3 last week, with Melanie knocking Clark out and dragging him offscreen. A title card announces that David returned to D3 a scant thirteen days ago, and Legion revisits the moment in Episode 1 in which Melanie drops some raw truths on Syd about heroism, selfishness, and relationships. In the season premiere, Syd confessed to David the game she’d played with herself during his lost year: if she could hold her breath until the kettle sang, he was alive. When Melanie’s kettle sings, she doesn’t stir. She is not waiting for anything, or anyone.
Next, we see the night Farouk!Oliver broke into D3 to steal the device that would destroy Amy. When the episode aired, Oliver seemed to pause only briefly in Melanie’s doorway, but that moment hid a longer – and more complex – exchange. It began (to Melanie’s eternal credit) with her drawing a gun on Oliver, but psychic boyfriends are nothing if not consummate manipulators. Oliver disarms Melanie with memories: first, a spoken recollection, and then – heartbreakingly – a vision of her younger self, the self she was afraid Oliver would be looking for if he ever came back. Apparently Oliver’s failure to recognize Melanie when he returned last season confirmed the fear that dogged her for the years of his absence, that she had aged beyond recognition. Somehow this vision persuades her to join him at the astral mansion and answers Farouk’s questions about the monk’s whereabouts.
Then it’s just Oliver and Melanie again, meeting in a memory of his early years in the improvised cryochamber at Summerland. While Past!Melanie hunches over an inert Past!Oliver in his diving suit, their present selves confront the people they’ve become. In an aside that is so casual it’s almost cruel, Oliver betrays the asymmetry of their marriage: He goes, and Melanie follows. It is only after these words leave his mouth that it seems to occur to him that Melanie’s interest in “tagging along” might have waned. In the clueless understatement of the season, Oliver asks, “Things have changed, haven’t they?”
Oliver may have been oblivious to how utterly alone he left his wife, but the Summerland crew periodically swing by to check in on her. When Kerry asks if Melanie will return to work, Melanie responds with a line of epistemic questioning. Kerry cuts this line characteristically short: She knows she’s real “because when I hit people they fall down.” But Melanie continues to muse, “‘Reality is a choice’; who said that?” While Oliver was crowding out the memory of his wife’s name with Ginsberg poems, Melanie was reading Heidegger: “How one encounters reality is a choice.” And after being disappointed so many times, she has decided to encounter reality with the same indifference as Oliver and David, who can only behave as they do if nothing outside themselves is real. Perhaps she herself is a figment of her imagination; at the very least her astral Vapor encounters with Oliver are preferable to the grim cement solitude of her life at D3. Fine, then: Nothing is real, and there is no world to save. Kerry shrugs off the conversation as hopeless and goes back to Cary’s lab.
Their evening is interrupted when David’s implanted plan resurfaces: Simultaneously, Cary and Kerry see that David needs them to steal a weapon, put it in a car, and leave that car in a parking lot under a neon octopus. They complete their portion of the mission, but Kerry – who has some reasonable objections to leaving the weapon’s fate unknown – hauls Cary into a nearby restaurant for a cup of tea. While they stake out the parking lot, Cary tries to prepare Kerry for the likely event that he will predecease her. In a world full of carelessly disappearing partners, the delicacy and truth of his warning are startling and poignant. Time will do to them what neither would ever choose to do to the other.
A flicker of movement in the parking lot interrupts their conversation: Someone who looks suspiciously like Lenny is walking to the car, apparently compelled by the same force that got them to leave it there. And “compelled” is the right word: Lenny would much rather be living it up in her new body right now than running some mysterious (and potentially lethal) errand for David in the desert. But after some old comrades receive her as a conquering hero (Our Lady of the Frosted Cereal), Lenny finds herself haunted by memories, visions, and Amy.
The device that transformed Amy’s body did not destroy her mind, and she haunts Lenny as Lenny once haunted her brother. In quasi-death, Amy seems to have embraced the hardness and cruelty of her Pocket Clockworks Nurse Ratched persona to channel them at the interloper who has stolen her body. When David’s implanted mission fails to stir her, it is Amy who successfully prods Lenny to complete her part of the mission.
Cary and Kerry run to the car, but they catch only a glimpse of Lenny before the car teleports away in a very bright, very green, and very loud flash of light. The car reappears in the desert. Lenny climbs out of the now burning vehicle to see a circle of people with boxes on their heads. The scene is so impressive that she nearly forgets to retrieve the weapon in the trunk (which is carrying one of Cary’s trackers) before the flames engulf the car completely.
The episode closes with Melanie roaming D3 while soldiers swarm the halls. Everyone ignores the Vapor junkie in her pajamas, so no one hears her telling Oliver that David is coming for Farouk – alone. In return, Oliver promises to take Melanie with him at last. After she knocks Clark out, we flash back to the forked lightning Syd and David took refuge from last week, and then back to Melanie. Now alone, she follows the curve of an underground chamber to a figure who looks like Oliver, closing her eyes rapturously as a hand cups her face.
Clark – and possibly D3 – is out of play. Cary and Kerry may not reach Lenny in time. David and Syd, incommunicado in the desert, have no way of knowing David’s plan is already failing. The minotaur continues to creak forward, and nobody seems to hear.
- “Destiny calls! What kind of bitches would we be to stand in their way?”
- “Sugarplum, I must confess bewilderment.”
- “I could have danced through a cosmic field of multidimensions with no outer limits to speak of.”
- “There was a time when you would have followed me anywhere.”
“Yes, there was. And where did that get me?”
- “I’m real.”
“How do you know?”
“Because when I hit people they fall down.”
- “Are you the new Barbara?”
“No, I’m the new Janeen.”
“She was the new Barbara.”
“What happened to her, by the way?”
“She turned into a ladybug and flew away.”
- “We put the case in the trunk and then we go.”
“This plan sucks!”
- “While an implausible and rather gruesome image, it was a comforting one nonetheless.”
- “Just one more thing: Violence. Why does it always end in violence?”
ODDS & ENDS
- I would like to take this opportunity to point out that messing with people’s heads without their warning or consent is some supervillain-level shit. If anything, surviving a psychic parasite should have sharpened David’s appreciation for the sanctity of other people’s minds. Not cool, dude.
- The props department deserves an award just for that row of creepy vaporizers.
- Cameo appearance by The World’s Angriest Boy in the World! Was that a present from David or Amy?
- When Cary tries to explain Melanie’s aloneness to Kerry, he effectively confirms the White Room Narrator’s lesson that perception is reality.
- No White Room sequence this episode; for all the metaphors in her visions, Melanie has clearer vision than her sober compatriots.
- However bitter her tone when she warns Syd about David, I believe Melanie’s intentions are kind. There’s a sliver of a possibility that David will not leave Syd the way Oliver left her, and she’s trying to provide Syd the wherewithal to make that possibility a reality.
- Pretentious reference time! When he said “Life is understood backwards but lived forwards,” dopey hat dude was quoting Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard wrote about theology, ethics, and the ways humans do – or don’t – manifest their thoughts as reality. In keeping with one of the major themes of his work, Melanie and Syd have taken leaps of faith in characters whose godlike powers obscure their fundamental untrustworthiness. These leaps seem ill-advised; only time will tell whether they wind up being ill-fated as well.
- Heidegger also wrote about reality and being; specifically, how we create reality in the way we think about the world and how we relate to the passage of time. Both Syd and Melanie love men who exist out of time even as they themselves continue to be bound by linear time. Consequently they inhabit fundamentally different realities, something Future!Syd and present Melanie seem to understand better than David or present Syd.
- And because no Pretentious Reference Time would be complete without Beckett: Lenny’s new concubine starred in a production of Waiting for Godot.
FAN THEORIES, OR WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON
- Melanie seems to be playing both sides – she told Farouk about the monk, but she also warned Fukuyama about Farouk. I think she sees the real danger David poses and/or she’s helping Oliver because she expects him to develop a way to under cut Farouk (and possibly stop David from reaching supervillain apotheosis).
- I want to tie the minotaur to Farouk or Oliver or Melanie’s demons, but it may just be a representation of the passage of time.
- So, is the D3 cavalry still coming, or…? Clark arranging to airdrop Syd in the desert right after David mysteriously vanished had to have tipped off Admiral Fukuyama to everybody’s whereabouts, right?