The preferred rule of thumb, when deciding whether or not you enjoy a new series, is to give it at least three episodes before making a final decision. Pilots always have their issues, the second episode sets the tone, and by the third hour — even in a streaming show, even in an eight-chapter season like this — you’ve been given everything you need.
The premiere of “Legion” was a frenetic, confusing hour of TV, and it made us apprehensive moving forward. During the second and third chapters, the rules of the show — coming to grips with the fact that it may never be possible to discern what’s real and what’s imagined — became significantly easier to follow, even as more mysteries were introduced nonstop. And in Wednesday night (Mar. 1)’s “Chapter 4,” we’re taken on the most exciting, heart-pumping psychological ride imaginable, as all those elements come together.
There’s no longer any hesitation as to whether or not “Legion” is worth the watch. We’re still sometimes unsure as to what’s “really” happening, whether in the conscious realm or — increasingly, thanks to David’s role as the ultimate unreliable narrator — even on the various mental and astral levels the show likes to deal with. But that’s fine: The characters can’t tell either, and we’re lucky enough to have a top-down view. All that, and the action as this Marvel series, almost unrecognizable as a comic book show to start, is slowly revealing its superhero foundations.
In perhaps a meta-warning for us as viewers not to get too granular in our thinking, Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) and Syd (Rachel Keller) fall into a trap set by the shape-shifting Eye’s (Mackenzie Gray) when they go digging into the real-life people and places from David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) memories. When the trap finally springs, Kerry (Amber Midthunder) is felled by a boatload of Division 3 soldiers, while the Eye puts Ptonomy down… Before getting whammied by Syd, who switches bodies with him and takes over, ordering his army to fall back.
…Which is when David, livid from envisioning his girlfriend in danger, teleports onto the road, derailing the Eye/Syd’s van with the unconscious Ptonomy and Kerry inside. Subduing the seeming Eye just long enough for him to get away in Syd’s body, David doesn’t realize what he’s done until it’s too late: The Eye shoots at David, hits Kerry instead, and she goes down in pain. As does Cary (Bill Irwin), her other half back at Summerland.
Cary hasn’t been talking to himself this whole time — he’s been talking to the teammate who shares his body. With two fully developed, separate personalities, Cary and Kerry are somehow able to seamlessly switch off. And while they each choose to do different certain tasks, have different interests and hobbies, they share emotions and physical pain. We need Cary and Kerry to pull through, for there’s still much we don’t yet understand of their shared existence and abilities.
Revving combat scenes aside, what makes the series so captivating is director Noah Hawley’s continued focus on mental health, human psychology, human mythology both personal and transpersonal, and where they all intersect. Fight sequences and setpieces are a staple, but here they’re just as satisfying for the questions that they ask. Each character is learning how to control and direct their powers — at Clockworks, David wasn’t even aware he had special abilities — so this will be a slow burn: We’re only just dipping our toes into figuring out what these mutants can do. This is merely a taste of the action to come.
By presenting this story’s multiple levels as visceral fact, rather than building intricate sandcastles with perceptions, like “Inception” and other shows prefer to do, we’re put into the position of considering each “plane” of existence from a broader perspective.
Is “Captain Nemo and his giant ice cube,” as Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) calls Jemaine Clement’s long-lost Oliver Bird, real? “It’s real if you make it real” is what Bird says, but there are larger issues at play: What is for David and Oliver a certainty is for us a metaphor: How much of what we see in real life isn’t real? Your thoughts are always clouded with prior information, shrouded with emotional feeling. What does it all the snowball into? What’s the solid place to stand on? Memories are the measure of our personal truth — but as the show keeps reminding us, that’s the trickiest lie of all.
David he had a dog growing up, he reminisces about him all the time — but big sister Amy (Kate Asleton) reveals they never had a dog growing up. Was this dog only ever in David’s imagination? Did he want a pet so badly that he willed himself to see one? His brain may have actually been that powerful — and that’s as a child. As an adult, David’s powers have grown exponentially. His brain is putting up actual walls, forcing glitches and blocking out gaps of time, so no one can see his real memories.
It’s not always fun to ponder the existence of human life, or break down your theories of the subconscious — let alone going into it for yourself, finding your truths no matter how ugly, looking for what’s real — but “Legion” makes the task inspiring. What we choose to remember versus what we block out, and how our brains have the power to permanently shift the truth, are worthwhile subjects to ponder while watching a TV show… Especially one that’s this beautiful, and exciting to watch.
Sometimes we push down our bad experiences because they are too painful. Maybe there was something we so desperately wanted in life that we did the best we could to make it a reality. Maybe there’s something we’re so ashamed of down there that we find it impossible to locate and eradicate… No matter what, it’s always the feelings and emotions tied to these things that are most important — that have the most impact on our perspective, which then forces “reality” into new, subjective shapes:
It’s like those days when it seems like everyone on earth has turned into a horrible jerk — until you realize you haven’t eaten lunch yet. We control reality with our thoughts all the time, every day.
So does it really matter if the drug buddy David remembers wasn’t really a woman? Does his name actually being Benny, and being a man, change the fact that this person was David’s only friend and confidant during a rough period of life? Such a point renders gender, race, or any physical appearance null and void, if what we feel remains the same. And even that is a really helpful train of thought, especially in today’s climate.
But lying to ourselves, making up alternate histories, can also be quite sad. Syd and Ptonomy are shocked and hurt to discover David’s been forging his memories — lying to the people closest to him, even if it’s only out of fear. Even thought David wants to open up, wants to help them figure out how to help him, subconsciously he seems worried these people will stop loving him if they know his truth.
Whatever dark secret David is hiding, he’s keeping it vaulted. David may be a mutant with potential for greatness, but he’s still just a human with feelings. And perhaps, a few monsters in his closet. And as we all know — when you let those monsters out, usually they try to take the wheel. We’re honestly pretty scared of what we’ll see, if and when we ever do meet the David underneath… And given that we’re halfway through the season at this point, it seems like the right time to strap in.
“Legion” airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.