I imagine many people saw news of a new superhero show on FX and reacted lukewarmly. Upon hearing Legion was yet another entry in the already saturated X-Men franchise some might even have scoffed. If you’ve decided you’re not interested in yet another superhero show or X-Men show or have an overly-stuffed television schedule that can’t possibly fit another show, I’m here to tell you to make room. Legion’s premiere was a winner that everyone should give a shot.
It’s stylish, it’s different, and it’s a thrill ride of brain-twisting weirdness unlike any superhero show you have ever seen.
As a warning, this review contains spoilers for “Chapter 1,” as well as a content warning for attempted suicide.
The episode begins with a montage of main character David Haller growing up from baby to healthy boy to the full manifestation of his powers, which sent his life in a downwards spiral. We quickly get a sense of how badly this change affected him. David becomes violent, begins drinking, starts taking prescription pills, and eventually the montage ends with him hanging himself. It’s quick and effective.
So, not exactly your typical superhero here.
The scene transitions to David’s sister Amy lighting a candle in a cupcake. She is visiting him on his birthday in Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, and judging by their conversation he has been there long enough to grow used to it, but obviously not long enough for his sister to know he can’t take the cupcake from her.
It is also established that David hears voices and sees hallucinations. He sees them here as well, even as his sister insists he seems better.
Next we see David’s normal routine, which mainly consists of taking his prescribed medication and hanging out with his best friend Lenny. He also experiences more hallucinations. Quick note: Aubrey Plaza is delightful as Lenny. This character was written as a middle-aged man, but when Plaza was cast she insisted they not change anything. As a result she constantly references old TV shows and makes crass, but innocent remarks about women. Combined with her mannerisms, she really comes across as unisexual. She is so much fun to watch.
Also take note of the man in the greenery. They revisit him multiple times.
David and Lenny are watching a man drooling on himself when another main character comes walking down the stairs, one Sydney Barrett. All the while Plaza makes crass remarks. David is immediately drawn to her and tries to talk to her, but when he bumps into her, she does not like it and hurries away.
Legion then gives us another montage (they happen quite a bit) while David sleeps. There are a variety of shots: him as a child and teenager, him hanging himself, a variety of appliances flying around a kitchen, and his brief meeting with Sydney. A voice asks him about a devil with yellow eyes. After a shot of some very strange bald humanoid with a gigantic fat neck (gee, it has yellow eyes!), David’s bed crashes to the ground and breaks. A bunch of hospital staff rush into the room to subdue him despite David’s pleas that it’s not necessary.
I’ll take this moment to say the montages are a little bit exposition-y. Legion tried to pack a lot into its extra-sized premiere and the montages were a necessary evil to do so. As one of those weirdos who likes to see the drawn out details of character interaction, I do look at some of these as a missed opportunity. They did the job, but I can’t help but want more.
From here we see a group therapy session with his therapist, Dr. Kissinger. There’s reference to an incident with another doctor when David stopped taking medication. Sydney joins them and immediately contradicts the doctor’s insistence that David’s issues are mental, and whatever power he feels is not real. Immediately you wonder who Sydney is and what she’s doing there. Her words here are way too specific.
We also learn that Sydney does not like to be touched. She also prefers isolation. When she says that a person’s problems are “what makes you you,” David asks if she will be his girlfriend. She agrees, so long as he never touches her.
Guess what? Time for another montage! This one focuses on David and Sydney hanging out around the hospital. Perfect example of my earlier point despite the montage generally working. It makes their time seem like it took place over a long time, but considering they never wear anything different it’s more likely this all took place in the same day. There is a shot of them walking down the hallway holding a piece of cloth to substitute holding hands that is really adorable.
At the end of the day they stare out a window at the city, and Sydney shows him how she imagines herself outside the hospital. David uses their reflections to “kiss.” What a romantic.
Normally a sequence like this would do little to nothing for me. This one worked, though. Maybe it’s because I suspected something more to Sydney’s interest, or because I was happy to see David so eagerly respect her boundaries. We do still live in a world where such respect immediate from the man towards the woman is uncommon on TV. Whatever the reason, I really loved this. I felt like they actually cared for each other despite their short time together.
Unfortunately, it all comes crashing down when the episode transitions to David being questioned in a room about “the woman who disappeared.” This takes place after he left Clockworks. Another incident has taken place and the man questioning David claims to be looking for Sydney, all the while questioning whether she actually existed.
We quick cut back to Clockworks while Dr. Kissinger talks to David about hanging himself, before just as quickly cutting back to the interrogation (even here it was obvious this was an interrogation). The interrogator initially decides not to talk about David’s past, before sharing a moment with a colleague and changing his mind.
David talks about the decision to hang himself. He had recently been expelled from college, the voices bothered him terribly, and he decided to end his life despite the voices trying to stop him. Yet apparently no noose was found when the police found him, just David with burns on his neck. He’s asked, after another brief flashback of him telling Kissinger about his mental powers, whether he still believes he has those powers. David says he doesn’t believe that anymore, but asks if that’s why he’s being questioned, if his interrogators think whatever incident occurred is because of some power David has. Also revealed is that this vague “incident” has left some woman dead.
Back in his time at the hospital, Sydney comes to David’s room while he sleeps to tell him she has been approved for release. There’s also more respect of Sydney’s opposition to touching here which I really love. Obviously this news bothers David and he briefly tries to kiss her. I know, this goes against the respect I just said he showed but he does not react badly to being denied. It’s more of a “oops I forgot” moment.
The interrogator asks about her aversion to touching. David talks about not questioning it, since many people in the hospital have something that bothers them. He loses his cool and asks for a break. The interrogator leaves the room and travels through what turns out to gym. Various armed special forces types inhabit the place. He reaches a surveillance area where he talks with an older man, confirming that they know David has powers, and he may be the most powerful mutant they’ve ever encountered.
They believe David is innately aware of his powers but does not understand or control them. The older man wants to kill him but the interrogator asks to be allowed to keep going.
Back with David, he asks for the man sitting across from him to leave. Notice the carving of the dog. I suppose it is somehow related to the dog shown at the end of the previous scene. He slips into a memory of a scene we saw earlier where the kitchen appliances flew around the room. Notice again the yellow-eyed demon.
He returns to normal as the interrogator comes into the room with a bunch of men rolling monitoring equipment into the room. He notices they are all scared of him when he doesn’t immediately comply with them. The interrogator insists they are worried for him, because he is ill, but obviously we know he’s lying. David, however, lets them put the equipment on him.
Finally, we get a look at the incident which landed him in this room, which happened at Clockworks. Sydney readies to leave with Dr. Kissinger. She asks Lenny were David is, and Lenny stalls her by asking Sydney to bring her a candy bar she saw on TV. David comes rushing into the room and kisses her. As they kiss, the camera zooms onto and through David’s mind, showing images of his life.
When the episode returns, we see that the kiss sent both of them sprawling away from each other. David starts panicking while the other patients and staff try to restrain him. The lights go out. David starts walking among the other patients in the dark room, and the yellow-eyed demon shows up again. At this point I think it’s clear that thing means bad news. I was willing to give its evil appearance a pass at first, but something messed up is clearly about to go down specifically signaled by its presence.
The hospital shakes while Kissinger tends to Sydney. It becomes clear it is not actually Sydney. The episode cuts back to the interrogation room where David tells the man questioning him the kiss must have switched their minds. He thinks that was the reason she never let anyone touch her. He again panics, and Chekov’s pen on the table begins to shake.
Yes, I just spoiled you. Reading this means you either know what happens or were reading spoilers anyway.
The interrogator calms David down and asks him to continue the story. We see Dr. Kissinger walk back to the spot where the kiss happened. Sydney/David follows him. They follow the sounds of screaming and pounding fists to the hallway where the patient rooms are. Only the doors are gone and solid wall stands in their place. Eventually they find Lenny dead, half of her body sticking out of the wall.
No! Come on, Aubrey Plaza was so great! She can’t be done already!
Based on the story, David and the interrogator believe that after Sydney transferred into his body, she lost control of his powers and caused the incident which brought David to the room.
Sydney/David is rushed from the hospital despite his pleas that he was not Sydney. A black car pulls up and two people exit it. David insists that his interrogator was a third person in the car. The interrogator insists he’s wrong and that he wants to know who the people in the car were. David finally loses his cool and uses his power to send the pen flying into the interrogator’s cheek. He destroys the room with basically a flick of the wrist before gas is pumped into the room to knock him out.
While he’s out we get some recollections of David and his sister as children interspersed with Sydney sitting at a café somewhere. However, when a waitress walks away it is David sitting there, throwing into question whether the mind switch happened at all. Honestly, this is where the brain-twisty stuff might have been a bit much. It’s never made clear at all what the hell happened here. Was the switch fake? Was this David after their minds eventually switched to normal?
I honestly have no idea. David probably doesn’t either.
The memory continues with David showing up at his sister’s house on Halloween (notice the kids at the door wearing prison pinstripes). Amy and her husband are understandably cautious to see him. After serving him some waffles (David apparently loves waffles), she sets David up in a room.
And hey, Aubrey Plaza is back! Though Lenny is still dead. David hallucinates her, and she blames him for killing her. She doesn’t let him use the excuse that Sydney did it. However, she is not upset about her death. Then she warns him that “they” are coming to find and kill him. David breaks a lamp while panicking, and his sister comes down to check on him. And takes every sharp object in the basement before she leaves. I can’t say I blame her.
After David goes to sleep, we get the weirdest part of the episode, which says a lot considering how much weird stuff happens. While Sydney calls his name, he dreams of Sydney, Lenny, himself, and the other patients dancing in the hospital. Why is this here? What does it mean? I have no idea. I’ll leave the theorizing to those who know interpretive art symbolism better than I do.
When David comes to, he has been seated in a chair inside the pool in the gym. Powered cables sit inside the water to electrocute him if he makes a wrong move. David, however, laughs, thinking it’s all another illusion. The interrogator drops all pretense of helping him. He says he knows about David’s power, he knows about Sydney, he knows that people came for her the day of the incident, and wants to find her.
David says he went looking for Sydney, and we see the memory of him doing so. He calls the hospital only to be told they have no record of her. He hangs up when he spots the two people from the car earlier and hurries away. Eventually he gives them the slip, but Sydney’s head appears on the back of a man’s head. Then Sydney herself shows up. She tells him this isn’t real, it’s his memory, and she’s been projected into his memory.
Okay, Legion, seriously. This is perfectly timed confusion, and because of the X-Men universe, completely makes sense. Bravo.
The memory rewinds as they walk along, the two chasers back on David’s tail. Sydney tells him he is in a government facility and those people are not cops. She tells him to slide out of his chair and when he sees the lights, stay underwater until he sees her. Then the interrogator’s guys nab him.
David comes to back in his chair in the pool. He realizes the third person in the car he mistook as the interrogator was a woman. The swimming area heats up visibly, making everyone uncomfortable. The interrogator asks again where the girl is. Lights start appearing, and when the interrogator tries to electrocute David the button doesn’t work. David slips into the water and all hell breaks loose.
When he surfaces, Sydney is waiting with the two people from the black car. She introduces the man as Ptonomy and the woman as Kerry, before telling him “Melanie” is waiting for them. The episode ends with a badass breakout scene. They all blast through the special forces with ease, mostly due to a guy we don’t learn the name of who tosses the ground and boulders and shit around to smash people.
I’m just going to call him “The Boulder” until we learn his name. And maybe keep calling him that afterwards.
David eventually stops Sydney to get a reassurance that everything happening is real. Thank you, David! Because seriously, at this point everyone watching probably wonders the same thing. If Legion has taught us anything at this point, we should question everything happening. Sydney assures him this is real, that she came back for him and it’s real and she loves him. Then she reminds him to say it back and he does happily. Seriously, how do I love this relationship so much already? There’s not that much special to it.
Melanie Bird (played by the amazing Jean Smart) waits for them, and we cut to black when David takes her hand.
Phew, that was a long, fun, confusing ride.
Legion’s premiere was something else. And to be clear, something really, really good.
I suppose some people will be turned away by the confusing nature of this episode. It jumps timelines from scene to scene, and keeping track becomes tough sometimes. David’s hallucinations make the validity of what you see hard to determine. Not everyone likes shows where you can’t be sure what’s real from moment to moment.
Neither does it help when Legion never clarifies certain things. Maybe I’m just slow to understand the whole mind switch, for example, but they never really explained what happened. Legion will require an investment from viewers; you’ll need to stick out the entire ride and journey into full awareness right along David.
Which is the point of the confusion, of course. We learn the story right alongside him. Our confusion mirrors his own. As the season progresses and David obtains a better grasp of his powers, his grasp on reality should tighten as well. So will ours along with him.
I think Legion actually did a good job establishing David and the world he lived in despite the jumpy nature of the scenes. Within the first ten minutes you had a good idea of what happened to David, how it affected him, what his life was like in the hospital, and how he interacted with those in his life. You also had a decent idea what he was capable of.
I suppose not everyone will like it. Some simply don’t take to this style of show. At the very least you need a main character who makes it worth the shifting timelines and plot points. Mr. Robot, for example, would not be half so good if Elliot was an awful character. Many shows fail at narratives like this specifically because of weak main characters, whether because of poor writing or playing second-fiddle to plot.
Which makes me highly appreciate how good a main character David proved to be. After all, character is king. He was charming, he was vulnerable, and he was relatable. He shared the audience’s confusion in ways that make the general confusion of the episode much easier to swallow. Most important of all, David was interesting.
Really, this episode succeeded in making every character they wanted to stick out do so. Lenny was highly entertaining. David sold every scene no matter how confusing. Sydney was a great mix of her own mental illness and a greater knowledge kept secret from David and viewers. The interrogator was terrifying.
Legion hit the mark with everyone. I can’t wait to see what happens with the entire cast moving forward.
And while everyone may not like the confusing stuff, I think the episode did a good job keeping you engaged while you try to figure it out. A big part of that is owed to the style. I’m a sucker for style. My failures to understand symbolism in dance aside, I love a show that flat out looks beautiful. Those familiar with Noah Hawley’s work on Fargo won’t be surprised by Legion’s visual excellence. That show has some of the best looking scenes of any recent television.
He keeps up the quality here. Legion’s premiere may actually have been better than Fargo here; the colors pop, the clothing feeds into the ambiguity of the timeline, and the cinematography is excellent. It avoids the default drabness superhero shows use to come across realistically. The general design is unique and perfect for Legion’s content. Honestly, even if you’re not sure what the hell is happening (probably by design), you will have fun looking at it all.
The one area the production might fail is the first full-scale fight scene to end the episode. I may have loved The Boulder, but the rest of the fighting came across kind of clunky. People just kind of stand there while the heroes run up and disarm them. I’m also one to hate the Stormtrooper effect. You know, where the highly trained killers can’t hit a target right in front of them with a precise automatic rifle for some reason. No theories about purposely letting the rebels go exist here, unfortunately.
There are also those who worry the breakout here means Legion might now default to your typical superhero show. The team is assembled, the big bad government is after them, now David will develop his powers and take them down. I’m not worried about that. Noah Hawley is an excellent showrunner who I trust completely. Legion’s premiere gave me no reason to trust him less.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Melanie Bird is less than ideal from a moral standpoint herself, along with those who side from her. Sydney is too perfect, and her proclamation of love too easy considering she worked from the beginning to get David out of the hospital. I love their relationship in the premiere, but I’m not blind. Sydney almost definitely manipulated him.
One thing I can’t comment on is the handling of mental health and psychiatric institutions. It’s quite possible that the portrayal of both was handled improperly or insensitively and I’m unaware. I feel like they treated the issue of mental health with respect; perhaps Lenny is a little too comic relief without any focus on the reason she is admitted to Clockworks. Again, I trust Hawley here, and the nature of Legion guarantees we will see more of Lenny, both in memories and as a representation of David’s conscience.
To repeat my bottom line from earlier; give Legion a shot. Maybe the plot is too jumpy for you. Maybe you don’t think they can take the confusion of the premiere and make something coherent from it. I suppose such fears may prove to be right. I doubt it, though. This is one of the best showrunners currently working and a property full of potential for him to work with.
Legion is weird. Legion is confusing. Most of all, Legion is worth watching.
Images courtesy of FX
Barbara Kean Proves She’s a Queen
Last time we were in Gotham, Barbara and her merry band of assassins were making themselves at home at Ra’s Al Ghul’s while Tabitha got kicked out because she tries to talk Barbara out of her new calling. Also, Barbara might be Ra’s reincarnated… wife? Oswald and Butch got their old duo back together and Lee and the Riddler’s relationship got more complicated.
The episode kicks off with Barbara getting attacked by her own assassins. It’s cool though, they were just testing to see if she unlocked the full potential of the Demon’s Head power, which includes seeing the past and future. She hasn’t, but she’s sure that she’ll be able to, given time.
Bruce, meanwhile, is taking his birthday gift out for a drive with Selina. He even shows off with it a little.
They’re meeting Tabitha who asked Bruce to come into the city. Things go sideways fast when Bruce and Selina realize it was a trap to get to him. Specifically to get his blood to bring Ra’s Al Ghul back from the dead.
Ra’s rises as a mummy/zombie hybrid and he isn’t happy about it. The being alive part that is. His feelings about being a zombie are up in the air. His death went exactly as he planned so he isn’t pleased with his men to find himself awake again. But they aren’t pleased with Barbara as their leader. They don’t think she can live up to the potential of being the Demon’s Head. Ra’s doesn’t automatically become the Demon’s Head again, he needs Barbara to give it back to him. Or he has to take it from her by force.
He goes himself to see if she’s made use of the powers and he isn’t impressed with her plan to rule Gotham. She refuses to give the power back, claiming it as her destiny. She points to the painting of her and Ra’s as proof. Ra’s write’s the woman in the painting off as just someone he used for entertainment until he killed her. He writes of Barbara as well, as nothing but a club owner with no real accomplishments to her name.
He tries to take the power from her, but Barbara’s assassin crew get in the way. They don’t fare very well against him, but Barbara does manage to escape when Bruce, Tabitha and Selina show up.
At Wayne Manor Barbara and Tabitha are hashing it out. Selina stops the argument to get their priorities straight. It doesn’t matter who hurt who when there’s a zombie assassin coming after all of them.
Bruce plans to kill Ra’s again, but Barbara wants to deal the killing blow, thinking it will unlock her full powers. Before they can decide who kills him, they’re going to need to get the knife that can kill first. Bruce donated the knife to the Nanda Parbat embassy, so they need to pull off a daylight robbery.
Alfred goes into the embassy with Tabitha, pretending they want the knife back. The ambassador grows suspicious so Alfred fakes a heart attack. In the chaos, Selina repels down to grab the knife, like any good cat burglar would.
With the knife in Selina’s hands, it becomes her decision on who to give the knife too. She hesitates but hands it to Barbara inevitability. The ladies leave Bruce and Alfred stranded, their need for them done. At the Sirens’ Club, Barbara’s plan is to wait for Ra’s before she goes all ‘stabby-stabby’. Selina isn’t excited that’s the extent of her strategy. She sided with them because she thought Barbara at least had a proper plan. Selina’s words cut a little close to home for Barbara and she makes Selina leave.
She airs her doubts with Tabitha. Tabitha doesn’t want to hear any of Barbara’s self-deprecation. The Barbara she knows is a lot of things, but someone who isn’t confident isn’t one of them.
After Barbara kicked her out, Selina, naturally, went back to Wayne Manor. Bruce was hurt she choose Barbara over him. But, as it turns out, she gave Barbara the dagger because she didn’t want Bruce to become a drunken brat again like he had when he killed Ra’s the first time. Now, Barbara and Tabitha need help and Selina’s tired of everyone trying to pick sides. As long as Ra’s is around they all have a common enemy.
Speaking of Ra’s, he and his men arrive at the Sirens’ Club. Barbara gets him talking to get close to him. She stabs him right in the heart, and he responds with a simple ‘ouch’. Things aren’t looking good for her, but Bruce shows up just in time to disrupt the fight.
And then Barbara gets stabbed in the back! Right through to her chest! But wait! She’s unlocked the Demon’s Head powers and is seeing into the future! She didn’t die!
But Ra’s grabs Tabitha, giving Barbara the choice between the powers and her. For a gut-wrenching second, it seems like Barbara chooses the power. But she’s seeing the future again and seeing Tabitha die because of her is something she doesn’t want. She gives up the Demon’s Head.
With the power returned to him, Ra’s is unzombie-fied. Bruce steps forward, thinking he’ll want to be killed by him again. But Ra’s doesn’t want to die this time. He breaks the knife, the only thing Bruce can kill him with.
After the fighting is done and all the assassins are gone Barbara’s cleaning up. Tabitha comes to her but doesn’t say anything. Her expression screams what she’s thinking though. Barbara only says, ‘you would have done the same for me.’ The scene would have been amazing if it had ended there. But then it gets even better when the ladies of the league return, pledging themselves to Barbara, Demon’s Head or not. She’s the leader they want.
In other parts of the city, Jim and Harvey have to deal with five bank robberies in one night. That kind flare has the Riddler written all over it. Jim goes to pay Lee a visit, but he isn’t the only one who’s in the Narrows for an audience with its queen. Oswald and Butch turn up playing the friends card with a side of threats to get a cut of their earnings. Lee is having none of it. She tells them in no uncertain terms to get lost, with the Riddler backing her up.
Oswald isn’t happy to see the Riddler is as in love with Lee as Ed was. He’s disappointed and maybe a little jealous. Maybe. Oswald pokes at just right spots to get under the Riddler’s skin, stirring up the doubts he already has about Lee’s intentions with him. So much so, the Riddler starts to talk to Ed in his reflection, only Ed’s the one taunting from the other side this time. Scared Ed could take over the Riddler goes to Oswald and Butch, telling them their plan for an even bigger score.
Jim makes the trip to Narrows, but Lee isn’t giving up the Riddler. Jim starts to suspect Lee’s in on it too. Back the GCPD he and Harvey talk to the bank owner, putting it together that the bank has a history of shady dealings. The owner lets it slip that majority of their branches’ assets were moved to one secure location because of everything that’s happened since the Arkham break out. That’s all Jim and Harvey need to hear to know that’s the Riddler’s real target.
Sure enough, Lee and the Riddler are knocking out all the guards at the bank. But the Riddler pulls a gun on Lee as Oswald and Butch make their appearance. Yet the twists for the evening for the evening aren’t over. Riddler wasn’t double-crossing Lee, he was double-crossing Oswald. With most of the money loaded up, he sets off the alarm, locking Oswald and Butch in the vault.
The gesture makes an impression on Lee. So much so, she takes the fall for the robbery to let the Riddler get away with the money.
After the chaos of another day in Gotham comes to a close, Bruce is of course already worrying about the chaos that will come with the new day. He’s already trying to find a way to repair the dagger. Selina’s there and she reminds him that he doesn’t owe Gotham is every waking moment.
Ra’s Al Ghul agrees with her. (Selina was right about Bruce’s security sucking.) But Ra’s isn’t there to fight. He offers an explanation why he didn’t want to die again. His rebirth brought with it a vision of Gotham burning and the event shaping Bruce into a ‘dark knight’.
Gotham never fails when its characters take the lead.
Another character heavy episode gave another great episode of Gotham. This episode was just filled to the brim with great character moments. Where do I even begin? I suppose I’ll start where the episode did, with Barbara. Barbara Kean, how far she’s come from Jim Gordon’s timid girlfriend. But at her core, she’s still a woman capable of loving deeply. That’s the part of her that shined here. She gave up the demon’s head for Tabitha! (Side note, even if their deaths weren’t real, still wasn’t fun watching Barbara getting stabbed through the back and Tabitha’s neck sliced open. Sara Lance almost dying three times a season more than fills my quota of wlw near-death experiences. I won’t be able to get the images of the two of them mortally wounded out of my head for at least a week)
This episode gives us Barbara’s entire character arc in a microcosm. At the start of Gotham, she has so little agency of her own. She’s clawed and fought to be where she is now, but even with everything she accomplished her insecurities still lie just below the surface. Power is her metric of success. The Demon’s Head was her ultimate victory. Proof that she deserved to stand among the very best in a city filled with extortionary people.
And she gave it up. For a person she loves. Even after she unlocks the Demon’s Head’s full potential. That’s the Barbara Kean I adore. Barbara keeps getting better and better. As does her relationship with Tabitha. They are so compelling to watch, regardless of their relationship status.
While we’re on the topic of relationship status lets talk about Lee and the Riddler. They are an… interesting pair. I don’t know what my feelings are on their romantic relationship are yet. But I’ll admit, the dynamic is compelling. I’m like the Riddler when it comes to Lee. I don’t know where she stands but I want to figure it out. Is she just stringing him along? Does she really care for the Ed Nygma hidden away under Riddler’s bowler cap?
Also, seeing Ed be the one taunting from inside the mirror brings another layer to the Riddler. It’s intriguing to explore how much he truly is in control and how much Ed is slipping out. This romance should be a bad idea, but Lee and the Riddler bring out a strange and interesting dynamic in each other so I’m willing to see where it goes.
Gotham is on a break next week, but its return will mark the beginning of the end of this season with only three episodes remaining. The promo doesn’t give much away beyond the promise of pure Gotham chaos™.
Images courtesy of Fox
Everything Goes Wrong on The Americans
We all have those times where literally nothing goes right. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your fault, either. Things entirely out of your control just refuse to go how they need to. One crucial thing doesn’t pan out. A woman vomits in the middle of the party, right before someone spills potentially valuable information. You know, your typical bad luck. There was a lot of bad luck this week for just about everyone on The Americans.
The Bullet’s Loaded in the Chamber…
If anyone had doubts about the bad places Philip and Elizabeth are in right now, “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” drove it home. We’ve seen things go bad for Elizabeth all season. Just check her murder count (which increased by 3 this week). She’s overburdened, alone, and losing her edge. Both her missions this week fail. Despite the body count, she once again fails to get her hands on the radiation sensor. A pretty perfect opportunity arrives in the form of the World Series party, but she loses it when the sick woman she cares for empties her stomach in the middle of the party. Nothing went right for her. Really nothing has gone right yet for Elizabeth.
Philip isn’t much better off. His financial troubles hit fully this week, to the point he informed Henry about his inability to pay tuition to his school. He’s in much the same place as Elizabeth; alone, overburdened, and with nothing going right. This episode had a few moments where a character talks about themselves or a persona of Philip or Elizabeth that clearly described one of those two. When Kimmy describes “Jim” as stuck in place, it’s clear it applies to Philip’s life since retirement.
(While we’re on the subject, Kimmy remains the one spy-related assignment Philip is responsible for and even that goes bad this week.)
I think The Americans wants to make a clear point about the Jennings here. Philip and Elizabeth spent decades becoming probably the best Soviet spy assets in America because they were together. When one fell to a moment of weakness, the other was there. They shared burdens. They covered the other’s mistakes. Problems in their personal life were handled together.
Without each other, they stand alone to fail, both as people and in their missions.
While it was clear how distant the two were before now, this episode really drove it home. Philip and Elizabeth have separated their lives to the point they split parenting duty. The way Elizabeth says “Henry is your department” was just shockingly cold. You could already sense the truth of it in the previous three episodes. To have them flat out confirm it, like parenting has become a solo mission, disturbed the hell out of me.
They’ve never been as far apart as they are right now. Not even in those early years when their marriage was a sham. Back then, at least, they were taking on missions together and in tune professionally. Now they are professionally separate, personally separated, and suffering for it. Absolutely nothing is going right for them. They are both absolutely miserable. Even their one moment of attempted intimacy feels entirely forced and ends in rejection. Not one part of their life is happy or successful anymore.
They have absolutely no one who they can truly relate to anymore. Elizabeth has no one who really knows what she goes through. She goes on missions with Paige, but hides the full truth of them. She can speak some of her concerns to Claudia, but not all of them since full disclosure could have her labeled a concern to deal with. Without the spy work, Philip has become your typical American suburban dad, the kind Elizabeth despises and actively fights against. Obviously Philip can’t confide fully in her anymore. Paige has been turned, and Henry is still unaware of his parents’ espionage. So he can only confide in bits and pieces to a few select people like Elizabeth and Stan.
I talked about the divide established between Philip and Elizabeth back in my review for the premiere, and now that divide has crystalized. It’s more than an ideological conflict. Philip actively informed on Elizabeth to Oleg. They’re officially on opposing sides of a conflict. A conflict that could turn physically violent. When will they find out? How will they react?
Right now this might be the central question of the final season. What happens when Philip and Elizabeth find out just how far apart they are? What happens when their lives are at risk and they have to choose their futures? Do they reflect on their depression and find common ground? Do they turn on each other permanently? What about their kids? I can’t imagine they last much longer as is. It’s just too dark.
…But When Will The Americans Fire It?
“Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” certainly pushed us closer to that moment. It pushed a lot of things closer to the edge. I continue to be impressed by how closely tied the storylines remain this season. Everything plot point is feeding into the others in some way.
The thing is, when are they going to explode?
Conflict seems inevitable right now. Elizabeth has been tuned in to Gennady and Sofia and basically received orders to execute them if necessary. Stan remains the only confidante those two will trust or listen to. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Stan ends up tailing Oleg on his own, which could lead him to discovering Philip. And of course there’s the issue of Philip spying on Elizabeth and what happens when she finds out.
With the final season hitting the halfway point next week, I just hope The Americans stops loading rounds into the gun and fires the damn thing.
I’m not suggesting nothing happened this week. Certainly not. Paige sleeping with a potential source was an event big enough for an entire segment of this review; not just because of the effect on her psyche or Elizabeth’s rather explicit orders not to do it, but for what this moment represents for her character.
Think of how badly she reacted to her meager attempts to use her relationship with Matthew Beeman as a source of information. Sure, 3 years and a lot of training has happened since then, but this is also a much bigger step than dating the neighbor boy with mostly innocent intentions. Like she was told before, sex leads to emotions, and emotions lead to vulnerability. Vulnerability is dangerous in this line of work, which probably ranks as a key reason Elizabeth wants to groom Paige for something besides frontline spy work.
If Paige is going to take this step on her own, how will she handle it? Can she handle it? Whatever brainwashing Claudia has managed, Paige is still the same person she was last season. Can she handle the guilt of stringing someone innocent along in this manner? What does it say about her, her mother, and this whole training process if she can? Paige may be losing a vital part of her soul. Potentially even worse, that part of her soul may be yet another brick falling from the wall that tears life apart for her family.
That this was not immediately the biggest moment in the episode does speak to how much really happened. Between Elizabeth and Philip, Stan/Gennady/Sofi, the summit, spying on the diplomats involved, Paige, Henry, Kimmy, the murders, Oleg, the impending Soviet downfall…there’s so much going on. What’s more, any single one of the plotlines involving any of these characters can lead to the others falling apart. That’s how closely tied and precarious all these storylines are.
I just want to see all these juggling balls drop already. While I loved season 5, there is an element of expectation in my acceptance of it, that it was going to lead to more this season. And it has, to an extent. But we need THE moment. We need the gun to fire that breaks everything down. The moment where Hank realizes Walt was Heisenberg. We need that episode where Stan finds out about his neighbors. The time has to arrive where the cover is blown and the Jennings family finds itself on the run.
There’s also the issue of just how much further into this dark, depressing calm The Americans can go before it is unsustainable. Damn near everyone is steeped in hard times or will be soon. Philip and Elizabeth are the catalyst causing everything to fall apart, the cancer breaking down everything around them. Or rather, the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States is the cancer, and with its end we’re seeing the death throes of people who only know this way of life and fight to maintain it.
Thing is, they can’t. And The Americans as a show cannot keep stringing them along like this, no more than the circumstances around them can. I think this was the episode making it clear to the characters and the audience that these people cannot continue as they always have. Change is coming. Now it’s time to see how everyone will react to it.
It’s time for The Americans to fire the gun.
- It just hit me during the “previously on” that the “you haven’t talked to anyone back home in 20 years, neither have you” exchange was after both had done so and formed their current beliefs on said conversations.
- I understand why the warehouse break-in was so dark, but I had no idea what was happening. The scene reminded me of Game of Thrones at its worst. You have to be able to see what’s happening in scenes like those. I didn’t know if Elizabeth succeeded or not in finding the sensor.
- If all these murders don’t come back to haunt Elizabeth, I will be disappointed. This is a lot of bodies. Important bodies, too. You can’t have dead generals and dead military guards so close to one another without a considerable investigation.
- I’m curious whether this final season will move far enough ahead in time for Henry to move back home. Assuming Philip doesn’t find a way to pay his tuition, that is.
- Interesting how Philip is the one who always thinks back on his life back home. Is this because Elizabeth typically doesn’t (because she’s not quite so conflicted about it) or because The Americans only wants to show these reflective moments for Philip?
Images courtesy of FX
Black Lightning Season Finale Lights Up
The first season finale of Black Lightning culminates in death and chaos and it’s pretty epic. I hate the ASA, and Tobias is too much! But he makes for a great adversary.
But first, the Psalm that this episode’s title refers to:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…
(Thanks to GeeksOut’s Black Lightning reviewer for pointing this out to me as I hadn’t researched the title quite yet.)
As I mentioned in my “the show so far” piece, every title has had a religious reference to it, and next week I’ll talk about all of them combined. It’s appropriate then that the “final” showdown between the Lightnings and the ASA specifically references this Psalm, as the valley portion goes back to Jesus’ eternal life.
Black Jesus isn’t going anywhere.
Black Lightning Season Finale
After last week’s fight, the Pierces and Gambi went to his safe house so Gambi and Lynn could treat Jefferson. Jennifer is understandably freaked about the entire situation especially when Gambi realizes special ops are here to kill everyone.
Elsewhere, Khalil, I mean Painkiller, apologizes for killing Black Lightning, and Tobias tells him not to do that. He doesn’t care if they go against Martin since after all, he wants to take Martin down. Martin is trash and actually says MAGA after talking about how if the American flag is getting redder, it better be from the blood of his enemies. Totally a line I’m sure has been said but I’m over him too. Cannot wait until he’s dead.
Poor LaLa probably never signed up for this life, yet here he is getting beat by Tobias who spent a million dollars to “reanimate” LaLa. Bruh. All of LaLa’s murders will come back to haunt him and tattoo his body until no skin is left. I’m over it. Martin gets a hold of him but LaLa goes boom because of a bomb inside him. Or so we think.
Then, Jefferson finally wakes up! Without powers! Oh no! There’s no time to figure it out, though, because ASA found our favorite family! And Tobias sent Syonide and Painkiller to do the same.
Gambi has a plan though! It involves another safe area and Jefferson pretending to have powers so Anissa can take the ops out. Except! Jennifer lights up, hugs her dad, and bam, his powers are back. “It’s what we do.” Yay! Next season is going to be hard on her, but at least she’s not completely over the whole situation.
Everybody and their mom is going to North Freeland! ASA is already there, except Martin who is hanging out at command. Henderson and the police are going. Tobias, Syonide, and Painkiller are going. It is too much!
Lynn has a gun! She and Gambi protect themselves and Jennifer while one of the ops dudes attacks Anissa and almost packages her! Black Lightning saves her, and Jennifer saves mom and Gambi from another attacker, too!
We switch to Tobias, Syonide, and Painkiller taking out the ASA agents while Martin runs away like the coward he is. Too bad he couldn’t transfer the pods like he wanted. When he shows up at the pods, none of his people are there. Gambi and the Peirce family is there, though. But…turns out Martin’s entire operation is rogue, so they’re not going up against the ASA, just this asshole.
I LOVE GAMBI. He shot him twice and “will take care of the trash” while the others handle the pods. Gambi saying he’s a monster was so much. I need him and Jefferson to have another talk asap.
Another news segment articulates all of what the season is about. Illegal human experiments under the purview of the government and we know it’s happened before, happens now, and will sadly happen again. Then we get Jennifer’s voiceover while dad and daughters run and meet Lynn on the steps of their house!
The episode ends with Syonide bringing Tobias a bag with Martin’s thumbs so he can open his files and do whatever he wants with them. “Long live the King” of Freeland.
- How old is Jefferson? We saw Gambi and Grandpa Pierce talking thirty years ago and we also saw his funeral so in his 40s? We also find out that riots after a police shot a black teen is what causes Jefferson’s powers to manifest.
- Tobias Whale has the strength of three men from the serum he’s been taking!
- Syonide was in an orphange at eight and Tobias trained her. She’s got carbon fiber under her skin now. Damn.
- I loved all the Gambi telling the girls about their dad stories and explaining to the audience everything.
- Jefferson spends most of the episode asleep dreaming about his dad and we learn that all of his sayings and quotes are ones that dad said all the time. His final dream involves grown Jefferson talking to dad about whether all of this is worth it. “Only you can know if it’s worth it.”
I really liked the season finale! I think the first half was paced interestingly because there was a lot of explanations and reveals before the actual fighting, but like most Black Lightning episodes, the real meat of the episode happened right at the end. The finale answered a ton of questions I and others have asked throughout this first season, but left some things unanswered. Is LaLa dead? Who does Lynn know and plan on getting help from for the Stage 2 Pod Kids? Tobias definitely has plans to kill Black Lightning and Thunder.
Painkiller is…..a missed opportunity, but I’m hoping that by end of S2, Khalil can get out from under Tobias’ thumb. Gambi said that Khalil had a choice, so the young man we and Jennifer knew is very much not the same person we have now based on his circumstances. And right now, who knows if they end up planning redemption. The ASA too wasn’t actually super involved with the current iterations of Martin’s plans, so will we see them again? Is Fowdy taking on a bigger role because her boss is dead?
There’s a lot to think about, and the hiatus is long, but I’m excited to see what S2 brings us. Especially as Jennifer comes into her own and the family is more careful. Also, if that green glowing thing is what makes Greenlight happen….we’re all screwed.
Thoughts on the season finale?