At last, Legion is back. Our favorite X-Men show in which the X-Men don’t appear and are never referenced has returned for a new season with some amazing new design, an old threat in a new form, and a freaking dance battle. Last season’s rules don’t apply and now we have a world to rediscover. Let’s start the season with “Chapter Nine”.
We begin with Oliver and Lenny floating on an inflatable raft in a serene pool. They’ve lost track of time and even what day it is. An unseen being refills Oliver’s drink. Lenny laughs because they’re trapped. Which is interesting because Oliver is an actual human being with a physical body and Lenny never really existed. She was a manifestation of the Shadow King in David’s mind and then took over Oliver. So the fact that she’s trapped alongside Oliver means that this is the psychic realm and that maybe the Shadow King has locked up part of himself? Or since Lenny came from David’s mind, she’s also a threat? There’s a lot going on already. We zoom out and they’re in the eye of a man in sunglasses who I assume is the Shadow King. Pulling out further shows Oliver in a nightclub.
A narrator, who is actually Jon Hamm talks about a maze. I’m not going to recap the narration in too much detail because it’s impossible to tell what’s significant and what’s setting the stage. It’ll take some time to nail down exactly what matters this season. In fact, let’s not even do this as a standard recap. Let’s assume that you watched Legion and are just trying to put together what it means. We’re going to puzzle it out together.
So here’s the short, surface version of what happened. Clark and Ptonomy find David almost exactly a year after he disappeared. He only has scattered memories of that time. While he’s been gone, Melanie and the Summerland group joined Division Three (Clark’s employers) to find Farouk, the Shadow King. A dive into David’s memories points to a dance battle with Oliver and Lenny and at the end, we learn the secret David is keeping. He was abducted by a future version of Syd who, through pictographs, explained that there was great danger and to prevent it, he has to help Farouk find his body.
So that’s the basic plot. But Legion is rarely about the plot. To start with, like last season, every single element is just meticulously designed. Every set is beautiful, every shot perfectly framed. The sound design is perfect. The dance choreography is gorgeous. It’s like a Wes Anderson movie without the fussiness. It’s maybe the most beautiful show on TV.
This is going to be kind of scattered, which is maybe appropriate. First off, let’s start with Clark since he’s not in the episode very much. One of my pet theories last year was that the show was set in the seventies, but Clark seemed to come from the present. (Short version – the technology around him is modern. He and his husband have an adopted child, which would have been impossible any time before the last few years.) Sure enough, in this episode he casually mentions “Lunchables” as an artifact of his past, and those hit the market in 1989. It felt deliberate – he used it when “lunch money” would be the more reasonable word choice. It might actually be the first mention of a real life product on this show, come to think of it. Divison Three’s weird design sense is hard to place in time, but their bedrooms still have that Nixon Era look. And while some of their technology is cutting edge, some of it is pretty vintage. David’s isolation pod looks like something that just rolled off the Apple assembly line, but Cary’s operating it from a control panel that looks ancient. This isn’t something they necessarily need to address, but in my head that’s what’s going on here. Like how I one hundred percent believe that the Eleventh Doctor removed his own knowledge of his name so it couldn’t be used against him. It makes sense.
Checking in with the Summerland crew, Cary and Kerry seem to be back to their old selves again. Melanie, however, is a mess. After Oliver came back only to leave again and possibly become an instrument of the Shadow King, it seems like she broke. She seems brittle and scared, and the one thing we really see her doing is getting high with an elephant vaporizer. (I know almost nothing about drug paraphernalia, by the way. I assume what she was doing is a valid way to smoke drugs. I know so little that I say things like “smoke drugs”.) Syd has held up comparatively well. Yes, it’s weird that she casually uses her powers to switch minds with the cat, but the bit about holding her breath until the tea kettle whistled to prove that David was alive is really lovely. And I expect that the whistle is going to become a motif going forward. Farouk is controlling Oliver’s body and everywhere he goes, he leaves behind a trail of motionless people chattering their teeth. It is deeply unsettling.
As for the new folks at Division Three, well, the only one that we really meet is Admiral Fukuyama, who wears a basket over his head and communicates through three mustachioed, auto-tuned women. That’s hewing awfully close to weird for the sake of weird, but I’m willing to hear them out. The idea seems to be that he’s powerful enough that he has to split his mind up over multiple people for safety reasons. It’s not clear whether the women are artificial creations or not, but their robotic voices make me think they might be. (Also, one of them sounds exactly like GLADoS from Portal.) And the Admiral himself, well, that basket hat is not without historical precedent. It’s more absurd here, but it is a thing that samurai did, and you’ll sometimes see a full basket head cover in old movies. And I have to assume there’s a very good reason we’re not seeing the Admiral’s face at this point. Legion is good at giving purpose to what seems to be self-conscious weirdness, so I’m willing to wait that out.
What’s not clear at this point is just what the extent of David’s powers are. Excising Farouk rid him of Lenny, The Devil with the Yellow Eyes, The World’s Angriest Boy in the World, and the other terrors. With them, he was powerful enough to reshape reality (usually uncontrollably), and in this episode we’re just told that he can read minds. If David’s in full control of his faculties and his powers no longer endanger the world, the central conflict of Season One no longer exists. But there’s still that idea.
As Jon Hamm explains in his narration, there’s the possibility of bringing an idea into the world by sheer force of belief. That might explain Lenny – this would be a good way to give her identity beyond being a facet of the Shadow King. It could also keep David’s terrors in play, and there’s indication that’s what’s happening, with the sentient idea appearing in the White Room, which should be a safe space on the astral plane. If it’s in there, it can affect both David and Syd.
And that’s as good a place as any to talk colors. Last season, blue was safety, yellow was danger, and green was the balance between the two. Red was apocalyptic danger. Syd was Blue, David was Green, the various elements of the Shadow King were Yellow. (Yes, Syd always wears orange, but her essence in the astral plane was blue.) This episode is almost entirely absent of yellow lighting, and we only see a bit of green. Mostly, we see blue. The White Room turns blue, the isolation tank is blue, the dance battle was blue. BUT. The Bad Idea (that’s what we’ll call it for now) enters the White Room without a change in lighting. Last season, anything that wasn’t supposed to be there changed the colors. But the Bad Idea was still under the blue light, so maybe we can’t trust what the colors used to represent anymore. They’re pushing me back on my heels here, taking away everything I know.
As for the dance battle, I’m not entirely sure where that happened. It doesn’t seem like something Farouk would do with Oliver’s body. And there’s a whole crew of dancers, not motionless victims. Plus, Lenny is there and as far as we know, she only had a physical existence when David projected her. I think that was happening on the astral plane and not in the physical world. Maybe it was an attempt to save Oliver and Lenny from Farouk that went awry. Whatever it was, it was amazing.
And then we’ve got Future Syd. That effect where she would shift from her present to future version as the light moved was gorgeous, by the way. Let’s not question why she couldn’t speak to him because, you know, she was a vision from the future. I accept the rules they give me. But why help Farouk? Is he not the real threat? Does returning him to a physical form put physical limitations on him? Does he lay waste to the world looking for his body? There’s a lot to chew on and the rules of last season don’t seem to apply anymore. We have to get used to this new world and work out just who David is now and what he can do.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that this is going to get wilder as it goes. Legion is back and all we can do is hold on for dear life.