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.

Riding the White Bull; Catlin R. Kiernan (@auntbeast) has kicked my ass again

CRK is an artist I have grown to love over the past year or two. Her recent collection “Two Worlds and In Between” shows her remarkable strength writing in shorter format.

The collection includes “Riding the White Bull,” which I just finished this evening. I am simply amazed by how this intensely dense tale retains a poetic grace while still being jammed with details, plot points and descriptions. The rawness of Dietrich’s whole predicament as a Blade Runner-esque special agent who has been to the edge of the abyss, quite literally, and looked over, is truly powerful stuff.

I have no problem bringing my influences to picture this story as it unfolds in multiple times, spaces and dreams. Even if the author owes nothing to Blade Runner or Alien in conjuring such riveting fiction, these crutches helped and only reinforce the weight of emotion and loneliness.

One place where they author does acknowledge her influence is with a chilling quote from Charles Fort about the unlikely nature of contact with an alien race:

Of course, there’s nothing to that mystery if we don’t take so seriously the notion – that we must be interesting. It’s probably for moral reasons that they stay away – but even so, there must be some degraded ones among them.

Thanks to @Auntbeast and others, I’ve been a bad blogger lately

The written word is probably just as powerful as any music, if wielded with just the right force, just the right expertise, just the right passion.  And while the musical input and throughput remains as powerful as ever (for chrissakes, I’m listening to The Watch’s Timeless!!), it is the written word, whether on paper or glowing Kindle app that has snared so much of my free time lately.

Getting comfortable with the crowded insanity and brilliance of Lovecraft over the past several months has been a major catalyst.  His influence on John Carpenter, on Alien, on Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman – well, it’s not just some archaic referent with no independent value to me personally.  Actually, the opposite is true.  It starts with the time I spent in Providence from 1990 through 1994.  Also, once you get through the adverbs and the ‘eldritch’ and ‘cyclopean’ and all that other stuff, there is a thrilling and horrifying narrative.  It’s easy to see why the man’s work is so influential.  He’s like the Robert Johnson of modern horror.

I also wanted to get out in front on the Mountains of Madness movie that is getting under way with Guillermo del Toro at the helm.  Now that I’ve read the book, his sincere remonstrations and declarations of fealty to the source code have meaning.  Let’s hope he can carry through.

And, while I think I have found a significant resonance with Lovecraft and his progeny, it’s not been just the sons and daughters of that twisted Rhode Island intellect.  Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente is heavily promoted on Amazon and the set-up sounded prurient enough:  have sex with the right person, go to a magic city in your post-coital sleep.  Here’s the trailer:

It’s a good read, certainly steamy enough.  I was worried it may be a bit light on story, and that proved to be true, but the atmosphere, descriptions and emotions were so detailed and sumptuous, that it really didn’t matter.  I was somewhat reminded of my recent (and first) experience with Murakami – Sputnik Sweeheart embodied some of the same loss and longing.  But where that book was a dry martini, Palimpsest is paisley layer cake, detailed and deranged beyond belief.

Having dispensed with love and sex beyond the edge of reality, I somehow got directed, I think through my previous enjoyment of William Gibson (Pattern Recognition remains one of the most entertaining and moving novels I’ve read) to Rudy Rucker.  Fortunately, he’s a mad scientist.  ‘Postsingular‘ imagines a world where we are always connected to the orphidnet, like the internet, but interfaced with nanotechnology, instead of a computer or some other dumb machine.  As a result, everyone is a mind-reader, AI’s float before our eyes and help us in our daily routine, and travel between alternate realities and dimensions seems possible.  I say seems, because I’m only about a third of the way through.  As hard as the singularity is to imagine, that moment in time (AND the before and after) when EVERYTHING changes for EVERYONE – this book has done it.  It’s stylistic and chaotic and a terrible amount of fun.

And now we come to the AuntBeast herself.  This may be an addiction in the making.  Caitlin Kiernan appeared alongside John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro and even S.T. Joshi in the Lovecraft documentary Fear of the Unknown.  Her incisive commentary and inclusion among such giants caused me to want to find out more and I got ‘Silk’ for the Kindle app.  Again, I’m only about one third of the way into it, but all I can think is that I know I want to read everything she’s ever written.  The atmosphere is terrifying, the characters are drawn with skill and detail that makes them come alive.  And in this book, there are a few main characters to keep track of, all women and all young, so the distinctions and distinctiveness are essential as we go from person to person, place to place, skipping through time.  But it is the hurtling story, the breakneck swirl of events, even in the set-up, leading to and hinting at this vast (celestial?) evil that doesn’t care about your boyfriend or your girlfriend, or your band or your drugs – that grip of pure fear and madness is literally unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  And I love it.

And to top it all off, I finally took delivery today of two Alan Moore titles – Yuggoth Cultures (which, curiously, contains a lot of work NOT written by Moore.  Hrmmm…) and The Courtyard.  So the fear and madness just keep clicking along.

So I’ve been reading, scaring myself and not blogging.  But now, I think I’ll let the dark creepies and nasties out of their cage so that I can share them with you.

Jeff Somers’ post-apocolyptic thriller ‘The Electric Church’ delivers

Definitely hot stuff! All the ingredients are here and handled brilliantly. Avery is an extremely sympathetic anti-hero; a killer with a code. Somers does an outstanding job of giving us A LOT of targets in this veritable shoot-em-up, targets that can be terminated with extreme prejudice without the reader feeling too much sympathy for the departed. But, even among the bloodshed and the body count, there is still some measure of humanity, despite the savagery of Somers’ post-unification (read: post-apocalyptic) planet earth.

The finale takes our hero to a place of maddening isolation as he attempts to bring down one more score, one job that will seal his fate if he survives. Without giving too much away, Somers comes up with a vivid plot device that brings the reader right inside the madness that drives the story. It is a terrifically uncomfortable passage that I actually had to set down for a moment before continuing. If nothing else, the author’s ability to evoke such a strong emotional response in the midst of a somewhat formulaic pulp thriller is praise-worthy.

Somers characters and storytelling were good enough to get the book optioned, and I’m interested to see which actors will be selected for which roles. It’s also good enough for me to be excited about the next two Avery Cates books, both of which have now been added to my wish list

Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel of the living internet “Watch” is out tomorrow

Robert J. Sawyer wrote one of the best books of 2009 with www.wake, which envisions the way in which the internet (you know, THE internet) could become self-aware.  It’s great story-telling and air-tight tech.  The second book in the trilogy comes out tomorrow.  Check out a trailer for the book here.