Mommy, Daddy, We Are Legion

SPOILER ALERT! Major plot points of seasons 2 and 3 of Legion are discussed below.

When this final season of FX Network’s Legion began, the previewers told us this was a story about time travel. That’s certainly a big part of it, but now that the last episode has aired, the more important thematic take away for me was about ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ and all that is conjured by those two simple and complicated concepts.

First, telling a story well, whatever the story, involves communication aimed at all the senses. That’s not so easy with a TV show where only our ears and eyes are open for business (smell-O-vision, anyone?). But I think show-runner Noah Hawley had the right idea about the very unique comic-book adaption Legion, which just wrapped up on the FX network a couple nights ago. This show, unlike, say, ‘Better Call Saul’ draws so much attention to its production that it risks distracting from the story. Maybe that’s by design, as the story of Legion‘s final season involves a lot of time travel, plus a land between time, plus the Astral Plane, plus three new characters who are REALLY important. Lots of stuff going on.

Do the audio and visual elements help explain the story? Or does the story provide a playground for the outrageous production? Or does it even matter?

Well, yes and no. If the viewer has absolutely no idea about the plot and where their sympathies should lie, then there will be zero investment. It will be like looking at a pretty rock.

The good news is that Legion season three does a decent job of telling the story of how David Haller, an omega-level mutant with unimaginable power, realized, to some extent, that he had become a force for evil, and sought to go back in time to change his behavior and save the world. There really isn’t too much more you need to know.

That basic framework is the sandbox in which this show successfully plays with ideas of love and family. The time-bending plot and the over-the-top production cause a different kind of confrontation with those issues, fusing the universal with the inexplicable.

Song and Dance

One of Legion’s calling cards is the fabulous musical set pieces. In the very first episode of Legion ever (S01e01) we got a sensational Bollywood dance tribute. Earlier in this season we had a somber and beautiful sing-a-long with “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” And for our big send off, we get David and his young mum Gabrielle performing a duet of Pink Floyd’s “Mother.”

Hush now baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your
Nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you

It’s a brutal note, but fortunately not the one the series wrapped up with. Still, the mommy pain is important as it comes, in part, from David’s being adopted. He has felt abandoned and unloved his whole life. Mix that with probable mental illness he inherited from Gabrielle, and his near god-like abilities, and the fact that he was basically inhabited by a malevolent demon for most of his life, David is deeply damaged goods.

Bad David

Much of the third season is about the cult that David forms, planting the seed of love (and desire) in all of his attractive adherents. They call him “Daddy.” It’s creepy as fuck, especially considering this is an expanded version of the power he used to rape Sydney (ex-girlfriend) in the second season. That particular horror was so effective because the viewer had no idea how bad David’s action were while they were being depicted. Wait a minute, is this… ?Is he…? Did he just…?

Syd is much more than just the ex-girlfriend, of course. She is, in effect, the true protagonist through most of Season Three. Her backstory deeply concerns being raised by her wealthy single mother, and she has her own formidable mutant power to manage. As David tries, and fails, to get from Syd the love he was denied from his biological mother, Syd refuses to conform herself to the reality David needs. It is the one place where he is powerless.

My Three Dads

And of course we have dad, or should I say dads. There is Charles Xavier, himself a super mutant and David’s biological father. There is Amhal Farouk, the demon mutant secretly living inside of David for over thirty years, and then there is young Amhal, before he lost a telepath battle with Charles and subsequently infected the son for revenge. Current day Amhal explicitly takes credit for raising David and says he loves him. These four clash beautifully at the end, each with their unique point of view on the matter at hand (saving/controlling the world), but it is a clash of wits and words, using, as the show always has, cheap practical effects to effectively suggest other times and dimensions.

Demonic fake daddy

We see Charles and David working together as a mutant super-force, maybe for good. We see Charles and current-day Amhal trying to bury the hatchet in the astral plane. We see David trying to murder young Amhal before he has a chance to infect. It all ends in a dramatic and satisfying truce where maybe, just maybe, all the adversaries understand each other a little better.

Love Doesn’t Always Win

And then we are left with Syd and David and baby David. An appropriately fucked-up version of the nuclear family based on what Legion has provided so far. As they await their trip to oblivion that a new timeline will bring, they look down at the baby and he is their baby. In the characters’ final exchange, there is dulled pain, acceptance, and sadness, but not despair. David is his narcissistic self: “I have to say, I didn’t think you’d help me [change the timeline, save the world, whatever]. Syd responds, looking down at baby David: “I didn’t. I helped him.” She then tells adult David to “Be a good boy,” and we see the baby, smiling just as he did in the first episode of the series, Syd and David disappear (as parents do), cue the ‘Happy Jack’ and we’re out.

Baby David, on sheets the color of a devil’s yellow eyes

It’s a bit frustrating because, as the same Pink Floyd song asks:

Ooooh aah, is it just a waste of time?

So, there’s ample reason to think maybe this will all repeat. I’m not too worried about that, though. We had three seasons of emotional, fun and risk-taking TV. So, whatever conspiracy theories may arise from the actual ending of Legion, I’m not too broken up if this is really it.

As a parent, I greatly appreciated the reconciliation between time traveler Switch (who sort of made this whole mess possible) and her father. This was an emotional catharsis that I needed to not be so overwhelmed by the uncertainty and sadness of the main story lines. Switch was a new character appearing only the last season and still, with limited screen time, was able to make a tremendous impact. The same can be said for David’s parents Charles and Gabrielle. They are new, yet pivotal. Somehow, without the prior seasons for development, and competing for screen time in the current season, they are still able to make sincere contact with the viewers’ emotions. It’s a great testament to the writers and performers.

The Impenetrable Beauty of Love

Two characters who both embody and transcend the parent/child relationship are Carey and Carey. They get an elegiac ending that is supremely fitting for their one-of-a-kind connection. She calls him “old man” and he says that doesn’t work any more because she has now caught up to, and surpassed, him in age. Then she says: “Then how about ‘brother’?” and Carey responds: “That works, my lover. That works.”

There are aspects of love that make no sense and can never be put into words. That’s why sumptuous productions and big musical montages are so important. You can’t just do it with words. But we need words, even when they will never be adequate. Ultimately we have to go with what works.

And maybe that’s a better place to stop with Legion. It’s colorful and crazy and pretentious and over, but that works.

From the “Starred Items” in my Google Reader

It doesn’t matter who the author really is, just as long as you like the books.

Eloquent recommendations for your media consumption.

The issue of privacy has been much on my mind, especially after finishing Ken Auletta‘s fine new book about the monster from Mountain View.  Matthew Ingram gets you up to date on the Google convection in Italy and the fact that Google IS a media company.  And Danah Boyd reports from Harvard about evolving privacy norms in the context of teens using Facebook.  Let me put it this way: fifteen years ago, if you knew someone was opening, reading, and analyzing all your mail, would that have been OK with you?  But now you don’t mind?  The world is changing and so are you.

(SPOILER ALERT for links only)  Finally, Tamara from Caprica looks like a total bad-ass with her sub-machine gun because she IS a total bad-ass.  Annalee Newitz knows how good the show is.  Are you watching the best show on television?

I am ready for Caprica

Analee Newitz at is going absolutely gaga for Caprica, which apparently begins for real this Friday night (last Friday’s “pilot” was the broadcast of material that became available last spring on DVD and through other means).  “[W]e think this series could become a classic.”  If Ron Moore and Jane Espenson can pull that off, it would put the back to back Battlestar franchises in the rarest of air.  I would also note, for good measure, that a show need not be a smash hit to become a classic.

Felicia Day – probably a good person for me to keep up with, especially if it were still 2005

Just got finished reading Dorothy’s article about Felicia Day.  Rather than repeat all ther pertinent details to those who are as clueless as I, I’ll just let Dorothy do the talking.  Suffice to say, the girl’s got a web series over which she appears to retain total control.  She has made herself into an internet star.  Is this the model for the new media?  She also blogs and tweets regularly.  So, why not add all of that to my (already extensive) reading list?  It makes sense, because she’s been right about so much in her approach to marketing and entertainment.

If the hope is to see where we are going, other will undoubtedly look to her for a clue.  Shouldn’t I be one of those people?  I don’t know.  I think I’ll just keep lumbering along like a woolly mammoth for a little while.  It may just be that snarky interweb TV episodes aren’t my thing.

As i look to the future, I’m much more interested in these guys and what they do.

The Prisoner reboot on A&E – could be awsome?

There will never be another Patrick McGoohan.  He was the coolest, the hardest, the baddest.  To try and take his creation and his character and remake the monster that was ‘The Prisoner’ is sacrilegious, at best.  It’s not like Battlestar Galactica where, despite an amazing premise, the show was poorly executed.  On the contrary, ‘The Prisoner‘ is easily the greatest TV show I have ever seen.

But with all of that said, I am intrigued by the massive task that A&E has set for itself with the mini-series/remake that is airing this November.  And now, finally, we get a good look at what it’s going to be all about.  Caviezel’s No. 6 appears to be similarly defiant, but without that extraordinarily suave sheen.  The show deals with memories that have been erased, which was not part of the original, and, as Dorothy suggested, the show may venture into ‘Lost’ territory with the questioning of whether any of this is real, blah, blah.

Looking at this lengthy trailer, however, git the hair on the back of my neck standing.  Yes, there are things missing, as stated above.  And there are scenes blatantly copied, like buying the map or riding the taxi.  But look at Rover!!  No longer a beachball with a string attached, he is now a menacing baddy, ready to wreak real havoc to the delight of fans new and old.  And, more importantly, I get a strong sense of the chemistry between Caviezel (trying so hard to look like Christian Bale) and Sir Ian McKellan’s No. 2.  If it works between the two of them, then the whole thing will work.

Pretty impressive show to get someone THAT riled up


Over at io9, there is a link to a massive analysis of why the Battlestar finale is the worst ending in sci-fi history.  That’s a mighty assertion, but Brad Templeton seems to have the analysis to back it up.  Unless I have a mssive flare-up of colitis and have to spend the next few hours in the men’s room, I’m not sure whe I’ll have time to read this, but one thing is for sure:  any TV show that can get someone to do this kind of work is pretty powerful stuff.

And I’ll take this opportunity to keep banging the drum about what these people (Ron Moore, et al.) do for a living – they write series.  A series does not have a beginning, middle and end.  If you told a sponsor that you had solid gold viewership, millions of fans week in and week out, but that the show was only going to be on the air for a few months, would you get that sponsor’s support?  Maybe, but networks, sponsors, show-runners, all crave stability and consistency.  If it’s here today and gon tomorrow, that’s not really helpful, from a business sense.

So, who really cares if they flunked the ending?  Who cares if the mysteries aren’t fully resolved and the questions aren’t once-and-for-all answered?  Was it a good show?  Did you enjoy watching it?  Yes?  Then STFU.  I think the abuse of Bob Dylan in Battlestar is basically a crime against nature, but that’s not going to make me a hater.  Battlestar Galactica still one of the best things to ever come out of that idiot box.

Virtuality – amazing, extraordinary, completely irrelevant


I have, for some time, wanted to set forth my thoughts on the most exciting TV show I’ve seen since the early days of Battlestar.  That’s no coincidence, because, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, Virtuality and Battlestar are authored by the same creative team.  The difference that on show will go down in history as a work of art that changed how we experience a sci-fi series, while the other will just fade away into nothingness, lucky to even become a footnote.

That is certainly unfair, because of the overall quality of the writing, production and performances.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out while you still can.  Just in case you didn’t just get back from watching the ‘pilot’ episode on hulu or somewhere else, let me say the following:

SPOILER ALERT!!  Proceed at your own risk!!

In the end, all I care about is whether or not it’s good TV.  Is it compelling?  Does it move me?  Is it exciting?  Do I care about the characters and story?  With sci-fi, I’m not so worried about how ‘realistic’ something is.  A show can be completely fanciful and even absurd in it’s premise and still be a completely kick-ass piece of drama.

From the very beginning, the viewer has constant reminders of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I think that’s an extremely dangerous trick.  It’s one thing to be Quentin Tarentino drawing references to obscure movies from the 70’s, but Virtuality presents not one, but many references to 2001, an iconic movie that everyone has seen.  If you want people to think about that film and your film in the same moment, then you’d better have one-hell of a product.  Otherwise, you’re just going to look like a stupid jerk.

There is an all-powerful computer (Jean (gene?) instead of HAL) that may or may not be responsible for numerous problems on the ship.  The problems start with the virtual reality rig that gives crew members a chance to blow off steam and get out of the loneliness and isolation of a ten-year space mission.  That sense of isolation is played pitch-perfect in 2001 and that’s the reference standard.  Does Virtuality measure up?  All I can say is, after watching it twice, it’s pretty good.  There is a strong sense, especially by the end of the ‘pilot’, that this crew is completely cut-off from anything or anyone they used to know, love or care about.  That’s a pretty cool trick.

I think the Battlestar guys overplayed their hand, and that’s why we’re not getting any more of this show from Fox, or SciFi (or SyFy) or anyone else.  They’re taking a major shot at the absurdity of reality TV while asking the viewer to question if what’s going on in the crew’s virtual reality modules is actually real and the disaster of their mission is not real.  Got it?

Then you’ve got a multitude of stories involving: (1) a character who is confined to a wheelchair, (2) a young gay couple, (3) a young het couple where the woman is pregnant and hasn’t told her partner, (4) a husband and wife where the wife is having an affair, but only in the virtual reality modules, with another crew member, (5) a doctor who has Alzheimer’s, (6) a reality TV program which is being filmed while the mission is going on and being produced in real-time by a crew member who also serves as the ship’s shrink, (7) a psychotic killer who only lives in the virtual reality program, (8) an engineer who is writing letters to his deceased young son, (9) and a computer that’s supposed to run the ship, but has no answers about why everything sucks so bad for these folks.  And, oh, by the way, the mission will take ten years and the fate of every human on earth depends on their success, unless that’s not real either.

Ron Moore said he had a plan at the beginning of Battlestar.  I don’t believe that he did.  As good as Battlestar was, it meandered from time to time.  I think that’s the nature of even the best series television.  There are so many variables and so little time between  episode to make evrything hang together.  And the job, as I’ve said before, is not to write a beginning, middle and end.  The job in TV is to keep the thing going: keep the ratings up, keep the sponsors happy, keep the viewers coming back, keep feeding the fire.

With the number of variables that are set in motion in Virtuality, it’s impossible to imagine that anything more than the roughest outline really exists at the outset.  Do they fail or succeed?  What’s real and what’s virtual?  Viewers want these questions answered if the series is to have any vitality.  The show runner wants to give us just enough to keep us coming back, but never  close the deal until the show is done.  Battlestar presented a world of great variety and infinite possibility.  Virtuality is just twelve people and their enormous problems.  I see TV exec’s thinking that, at best this is a copy of Lost and, at worst, it’s extremely tedious and melodramatic.

So, in light of all that, it may be for the best that the series is a dead letter.  I am sad that it, like the crew of the doomed starship, will slip over the ‘edge of never’, but what we are left with is a precious and ephemeral container of possibilities, unrealized, but REAL all the same.  Watch Ritchie Coster‘s turn as nuclear physicist Jimmy Johnson, and tell me that performance isn’t REALly powerful.  Listen to the soundtrack by Wendy & Lisa.  Watch the filmmakers make reference to the finest sci-fi in the galaxy and still produce something exciting, frightening, compelling and powerful.

Maybe somehow, some way, the show will find life.  That could be wonderful or it could be a mess.  But the two hours with which we are left, at least for the moment, holds up as some of the best TV I have seen.  Please watch.

Michael Jack$on RIP – Really Improved Profits!


In Philadelphia, we’ve seen a tremendous cottage (cheeze) industry of KoP memorial-abilia; lots of buttons and lots of t-shirts.  Philebrity documented the local, entrepreneurial spirit over a week ago, and, with yesterday’s media circus heartfelt goodbye the demand is as strong as ever.

But whatever might be happening in my hometown at the street level is nothing compared to the big numbers that MJ’s untimely end is raking up.  Dorothy nails it down over at  now all we need is for Staples to start selling the one sequined glove.