“Legion” is not a throwaway show for background watching. It’s 50 minutes of intense TV that makes your brain hurt for all the right reasons.
While there have been more than a few times the feeling of confusion has threatened to outweigh its more enlightening scenes, Wednesday’s “Chapter 6” (Mar. 15) takes viewers so deep into David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) mind that things finally become clear. Written by Nathaniel Halpern, and directed by Hiro Murai, the FX drama succeeds in its mission for viewers to stop focusing on the “what is actually happening and why,” and tune into the perspective from which we see the things happen, and what that means.
Leaning into its philosophical layers, this episode is a beautiful depiction of the power of perspective. “Chapter 6” revisits “Chapter 1,” but the panorama is what David sees when his brain is taken over by the parasite. Everything is different. And because that pilot episode was so manic, the contrast of how the same situations appear when we spend them with Lenny/Benny (Aubrey Plaza)/The Devil with Yellow Eyes/The World’s Angriest Boy in the World/King the Dog, packs a powerful punch. What’s happening in David’s brain is nothing short of a constant nightmare.
At first, Lenny acting as the Summerland crew’s new therapist seems like it might be a serendipitous upgrade. She cuts right through the fat, presenting everyone’s most deep-seated issues out with Occam’s razor clarity — and tying their mutant abilities into her diagnosis for extra style points — while still letting us dwell in the multiple layers of ambiguity that make the show so effective.
Melanie Bird’s (Jean Smart) husband is trapped in an ice cube because her memory of him is frozen in time: In her mind, he has not aged or changed at all, and she can’t deal with the fact that she has to move on with life without him. “You see it, right?” Lenny asks. “That you’re the one that’s frozen?”
Lenny impressively calls out everyone else’s issues because that’s always how they’re easiest to see: From the outside. “The world isn’t isolating you,” Lenny tells the psychopathic Eye (Mackenzie Gray) and Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller): “You’re isolating the world.” She points out to Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) that he has replayed the moment his mother died over and over in his head so many times, he practically lives there — that Ptonomy spends so much time thinking about the past, it’s become his life’s work in this powered-down, mundane world.
To treat the perceived codependence of Cary and Kerry (Bill Irwin & Amber Midthunder), Lenny splits them apart: While Cary is able to go on as normal, Kerry is terrified to be alone — and then it dawns on us that Lenny’s advice, while devastatingly true, is only focusing on the negative. And like the episode itself, there’s always a different way to look at things. Kerry represents Cary’s inner child — his playful, agile side; Cary gives Kerry a cerebral maturity and solid support she desperately needs. The partnership of thought and feeling, old and young, yin and yang, is within everyone — and it can be a long, destructive path to realizing that one without the other will always make for a grim life at best.
Less grim: The bizarre and highly stylized, but not at all mystifying, “Feeling Good” sequence, in which Lenny cats around David’s mind in Fosse drag, tearing her way through almost every part of his mind and almost every set on the show, delighting in destruction and reveling in dance moves that range from graceful to grotesque (catch the subtle “skullf**king” move on Cary’s surgical chair?). It’s surreal, in the sense of “super-real” — she rewrites the rules of David’s mind, and reality, and since that’s what we’re watching, no cartoon graphic or physical impossibility or wink to camera is off-limits. It’s peak Hawley: A bunch of stuff that should not work, and yet somehow flawlessly does.
But where the supremely arrogant, dance-party-having parasite Lenny struggles is with Syd (Rachel Keller): Syd can see the doors that aren’t really there, reaching out for the solid truth about things, and perceptive enough to rely on her faith that there’s a better world than this one, which is really just the story of a parasite attacking David’s brain, shapeshifting his memories and altering his point of view. But just as Syd is too whole to fall for it, and too confident to knuckle under, it’s also true that she’s helping David just by being there: Lenny, in explaining to David how the only important thing in the universe, the meaning of life, is power, laments the one thing more powerful than God: Love.
It’s the romantic twist that connects the dots, and explains why Lenny wants Syd out of David’s life: It’s not just an important story point that could have fallen flat without Rachel Keller’s Syd taking up so much space of her own, it’s also a bit of wisdom that couldn’t be more applicable to real life.
Love is chemicals, as Lenny says: It’s a drug. It clouds memories, and acts faster and more powerfully than any of the drug cocktails the Clockworks staff and patients are always talking about. The problem is that going down that road only means realizing that everything is chemicals, nothing means anything — and we know in our bones that that isn’t true. Drawing this line is not going to work on David, because it doesn’t work on anybody. Not forever.
And so, once a creepy performance by David’s sister Amy (Katie Aselton) — a horny, cruel nurse in this reality — reminds us about his adoption, Lenny goes in on that: We learn that David’s biological father knew he’d be targeted by this entity, and tried his best to hide the baby before Lenny could find and devour him. It didn’t work out great, clearly — we see that in the “real world,” a bunch of bullets are heading toward Syd and David very slowly while all this goes down — but it does provide an inkling of hope.
After all, the Bowie cover that ends the episode — “Oh! You Pretty Things” — isn’t just a direct reference to Marvel’s mutants (“gottta make way for the homo superior“) it’s also a victory song for them: Bowie could be writing about this very scenario, and making it very clear: Our Division 3 is nothing more than the dying breath of a given generation’s fear of the next, or more specifically humanity’s petty fear of usurpation by people like David, and Melanie, and Syd.
While this alternative Clockworks realm is a prison for everyone, as the parasite tightens its hold, David thinks that he’s finally seeing things clearly. But from an outside perspective, for us as viewers, it’s clear that this is all a false reality. But it’s very real to everyone inside of it, and it’s a terribly scary place to be living.
Luckily, there’s Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) — who scoops up first Cary, then Melanie herself, and it would seem sends Cary back in his diving suit to pick up Syd in the episode’s final moments. Kerry and Ptonomy should follow — they can leave the Eye to die, frankly — and then it’ll just be back to David, to face his demon once and for all. And whether that means joining forces with her, barfing her into the next mind down the line, or eating her up completely, all we know is that one hour in Clockworks is enough for any lifetime, no matter what dimension it’s in.
“Legion” airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX. Two episodes remain of Season 1, and a second season was announced this week.