There’s a bit of charm missing from this week’s Legion. Where exactly it got lost is hard to say, but the lighthearted quirkiness that has helped balance the show’s darker, more philosophical themes isn’t really featured—a bit surprising, as David (Dan Stevens) and company’s exploration of the astral plane should create more opportunities for surrealism, or just plain weirdness, than any plotline that takes place in real world.
That’s not to say the production team didn’t try to inject some levity. Tonight’s episode gets off to a clever start with, essentially, two opening monologues, both by Oliver Bird (Jemain Clement). That’s Melanie’s (Jean Smart) previously missing husband, for those keeping track. We won’t know it’s him when he first starts speaking, but that’s hardly the point. His first introduction is a messy affair, disjointedly detailing the foibles of human nature and ending with Bird advising his audience to “figure your shit out.”
Then, oddly enough, “Chapter 4” resets itself: Ice frozen in a glass, a high chiming noise, and Bird begins again. Changing tacks completely, he talks about the act of storytelling. Children are told two types of stories, he says; one promotes empathy, the other fear. And for the rest of a child’s life, these two stories compete. He then postulates a new story, tonight’s plot, in which the fuzzy rabbit from the empathy story gets too close to the ocean from the fear story.
Tonight’s Legion thus sets up a discussion of the duality of nature—human and not-so-human—without saying so directly. In fact, “Chapter 4” is two episodes in one, each with its own introduction. Syd (Rachel Keller)’s plotline matches up with Bird’s first monologue about human nature, while David’s journey down the metaphorical rabbit hole of his subconscious more closely aligns with the second. David Haller is Frizzy Top, the fuzzy little rabbit, and his journey and imprisonment in the astral plane form the ocean from which he must escape.
It’s an intensely intellectual exercise, leading to one big reveal, and the thematic hints about tonight’s double-natured episode don’t end there. Syd and Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) continue to explore David’s earlier life, only to find that more of his memories are part true, part imagined. This quest hits on some seemingly minor instances of tonight’s theme: Female Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) turns out to be a man named Benny (Kirby Marrow), The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) infiltrates the group by posing as Dr. Poole (Scott Lawrence), and Syd uses her body-swapping powers proactively to rescue our heroes by touching The Eye.
Still, nothing hits tonight’s theme harder than the origin story of Kerry (Amber Midthunder) and Cary (Bill Irwin) Loudermilk. There’s some relief in finally knowing what’s going on with these two, as their presence in earlier episodes has been a bit jarring. It always seems that Kerry appears out of nowhere, as if a shot of her entering the room was accidentally dropped from the final cut. Tonight’s explanation goes a long way to clearing up those moments: We learn that Cary and Kerry share the same body, with the former being present significantly more often. It’s as if Kerry lives inside Cary most of the time, emerging—and aging—only when Cary needs her assistance. Two people in one body: It’s literally the duality of consciousness, down to watching Cary live through Kerry’s fight scene and the consequences.
And this is what leads us to tonight’s big reveal, and perhaps the explanation for some of that missing charm. Oliver Bird can certainly take some of the blame. While Clement gives an entertaining performance as the possibly doomed explorer, the concepts he discusses—and the “quirky” elements of his personality—drag him down. (It’s not helped by his color palette, which vacillates between cold—the ice walls of his fortress—and a dingy-looking cream—his suit, diving gear, and much of his imagined possessions.)
Also to blame is Lenny. Even in her most irresponsibly off putting moments, Plaza is able to infuse our favorite enabler with a sense of levity. Nothing really seems to touch her. Tonight, that changes significantly, as Lenny lets it slip in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchange that she has plans of her own; she and David can’t stay trapped in the astral plane. It’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from Plaza, but it’s not comforting or lighthearted at all. Tonight’s Lenny is more grounded and forceful, more in control of David. She even goes so far as to bring forth the devil with yellow eyes to help the pair escape. And just when you think the episode may be trying to end on a sense of concern and loss instead of fear, the twist arrives. Of course, there have been hints all night: Lenny is actually Benny, Lenny seems different from before, all those hints about the subjective nature of truth and the duality of nature. But you’ll still be shocked when the yellow-eyed devil’s hand grips David’s shoulder. Even more so when the face behind him isn’t the devil at all, but Lenny herself. Which makes Syd’s earlier question all the more crucial.
If David’s best friend is Benny, who—or possibly what—is Lenny?
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based writer and director, and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website or follow her on Twitter.