A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I have a team and a headquarters…
“I know what I am.” –David
Through the first half of this first season, Legion has kept asking exactly who and what David Haller is. Doctors think he’s mentally ill. Melanie and the guys from D3 think he’s an incredibly powerful mutant whose abilities create the appearance of mental illness. Until now, we’ve been given hints that it’s both at once: that it’s hard to draw the line where David’s powers begin and schizophrenia or Disassociative Identity Disorder might end. David hears voices because he’s a potent telepath, but The Devil With The Yellow Eyes is there inside him, too.
Near the end of “Chapter 5,” though, Cary offers a third possibility: The Devil is neither a psychological symptom nor a side effect of David’s powers, but a parasite that’s been feeding off his very special brain for decades, and encouraging his worst impulses. By then, even Melanie knows things aren’t what she’s believed, since some of the surveillance footage at D3 headquarters shows not David killing many D3 soldiers, but (when viewed through a special infrared-type filter) The Devil. Moments later — in one of the show’s most visually striking moments yet (courtesy of director Tim Mielants), in which it becomes hard to tell when we’re seeing the room David and Amy are in, and when we’re seeing their reflections, until Lenny herself emerges from the mirror, wearing a man’s three-piece suit with a licorice bowtie — Lenny suggests that she is not only David himself, but the many figures around him: Benny, Lenny, The Devil, even King, the dog that Amy insists they never had. And by the end of the episode, whatever we thought we might know has been turned upside down for the 57th time as almost everyone — David, the Summerland gang, even the Eye — find themselves as patients back at Clockworks, in a group therapy session being conducted by…
(*) The early episodes mainly employed Aubrey Plaza as an amused, self-aware commenter on David’s drama. Here, she gets to run a wide gamut of emotions and acting styles, and is fantastic: scary, disgusting, then dryly funny in that closing mind-warp moment.
What is this? Are we headed down the road of suggesting this entire adventure has taken place inside David’s head? Or (given that it’s her POV in the final scene) possibly Syd’s? Is this Lenny (still wearing the distinct black and lavender dress socks she had on back at David and Amy’s childhood home, but now sporting brainy glasses) taking control of David’s powers to mess with everyone some more? David — who, in the seconds before the abrupt shift to Clockworks, seems to be trying very hard to break free of The Devil’s controls and rescue Syd — setting up a astral plane version of Clockworks as a defense mechanism? Or something else weird I haven’t even thought of yet?
In a way, Legion is a puzzle show that defies the kind of sleuthing and theorizing we usually apply to series like it. David’s abilities seem so vast, and the line between mutant and madness so blurry, that anything and everything can be true in a given moment, and then change utterly in the next. We could try to figure out whether there was ever a real version of Lenny at all, but that seems likely to lead in circles: Even if Syd knew Lenny at Clockworks, and killed her with David’s powers, who’s to say that whole stretch of the show wasn’t also occurring inside David’s mind? Better to just go along for the ride — especially when the ride is presented with the kind of control over the show’s own powers that David sorely lacks with his.
We saw this last week with “Chapter 4,” which was both a generationally weird episode of television, and one that ultimately made a ton of sense by the end. And we see it throughout “Chapter 5.” Up until that ending, it’s a much more straightforward piece of storytelling than its predecessor, but it uses the series’ impressive and varied bag of stylistic tricks to an unexpected and chilling new end. Most weeks, Legion is a head trip; tonight, it was a horror movie.
It doesn’t start out that way. The crew returns to Summerland from the fight in the woods, Kerry’s life hanging in the balance after being shot by the Eye, and while Cary goes to work on his psychic sister, David proves what a fast learner he’s been about all things astral plane, and takes Syd to a hotel room he’s constructed there for some good old-fashioned psychic nookie. Even there, though, amidst their gorgeously-lit sexual bliss, something isn’t quite right: When we cut to the bowl of sensual strawberries David has prepared, for instance, we see that it’s infested with bugs, and the image then dissolves into the blood-soaked bandage on Kerry’s chest that very much resembles the color and texture of a strawberry.
Once back in the physical world, David is smug to the point of insufferability — though what we learn by episode’s end is that we’re probably not watching David Haller at all in these scenes, but The Devil, or Lenny, or whatever we want to call it, with both hands on the wheel of this particular vessel. It seems in hindsight to be The Devil who seduces Syd, The Devil who takes such pleasure (even doing a flamenco dance at one point!) while casually killing so many soldiers in the process of rescuing Amy, and The Devil who brings her back to their childhood home. Heck, it’s probably The Devil sitting there in the psychic hotel room in a white nehru suit playing “Rainbow Connection” on the banjo — though maybe that’s really him trying to lean on a childhood memory while The Devil is hanging out in the bathroom wearing The World’s Angriest Boy In The World head.