While the premiere of FX’s Legion impressed with its technical craft by exploring perception, the second episode manages to nearly outdo it by examining memory.
Yeah, considering that’s the first sentence of my Legion recap, it’s safe to say that the show is miles from what we’ve come to expect from the genre, which previously found its heights in the form of hallway fights repeated and repackaged every few months on Netflix. Over the course of two hours, Legion has so casually broken the mold that the classification doesn’t really mean all that much anymore. What kind of show is this? It’s been a new discovery every week. In Chapter 2, the show dipped into time travel territory with grand results.
But this being Legion, we’re (thankfully) not talking about literal time travel. This is Memory Work, one of the exercises the mutants at Summerland do to work through their issues. (Talk Work comes next.) And David could use the help.
Since arriving at the woodsy encampment, David has had a hard time adjusting to life outside Clockworks. He doesn’t have his meds. The voices are louder than they’ve been in years, but that’s when Dr. Byrd steps in. Played by the divine Jean Smart, Byrd helps David move through the psychic clutter of his mind, telling him to imagine a volume dial within it and to turn it all the way down. This is the first honest discussion he’s had with someone about what’s happening to him. He’s not insane; he’s just a telepathic, possibly (but really definitely) telekinetic mutant.
If David is going to grow into a complete person, powers and all, he’s going to have to rewrite his own life story. What Dr. Byrd intends to do — with the help of the “memory artist” Ptonomy — is recontextualize some of the most significant moments of David’s life. He needs to see himself not as someone who grew up with mental illness, but someone with these immense powers.
The first stop is David’s childhood. He’s eight years old during the period he visits with Byrd and Ptonomy. His family lived in the country, away from the light pollution of the city, so that his father, an astronomer, could study the stars. There are a few recurring elements within this time frame that appear to be significant for David, because while he may not have any legitimate mental illness, he is far from trauma-free.
The first is Amy, whose appearance here might have to do with where she ends up by the end of the episode. Showing up for a routine visit, Amy is met with some surprising news. Clockworks has no record of David or his doctor. This is similar to what we heard when David asked The Interrogator about Syd in the premiere. Unfortunately for Amy, hers is timed with the arrival of The Eye, the silent, wooden dog-carving muscle from David’s time with Division Three. The Eye had been leading a search for David, but now they’ve got something that will bring him to them. That is, Amy’s capture would have brought David out of hiding if Syd hadn’t stopped him when she correctly identifies his sister as bait.
NEXT: The illustrated boy
Another element of David’s troubled past that’s dug up is his father and a disturbing storybook called The World’s Angriest Boy in the World. We first see the subjectiveness of David’s memory when the trio of time travelers visit his room during bedtime. His father’s face is missing from the scene, even after adult David takes his childhood self’s place on the bed. It would appear that the face is being repressed, which may or may not have something to do with the terrifying book David’s dad is reading to him. The blank face certainly has potential for a surprising reveal, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be Legion‘s style.
I say that because while the show has been engrossing and suspenseful, the drama is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. What Hawley has done with the prompt of “Make a show out of this established piece of intellectual property” is nothing short of astonishing. David’s powers are such that his view of the world and the interior spaces of his mind are suitable canvasses for the kind of high-stakes sequences that other superhero stories would set in midtown Manhattan. Legion has all of the insane visuals and splashes of color that we’ve come to expect from the genre, but in each and every case, it’s in full service of character. Hawley has hacked the superhero story to tell something that’s as emotionally compelling and visually well-conceived as some of the best dramas currently on TV.
And at the very heart of that is Syd, who is dealing with problems of her own through Talk Work. She has seen the benefit of Summerland and wants to share that with David, even though she questions her decision to bring him there. Now outside the confines of Clockworks, their relationship has taken on new dimension. They aren’t just two trapped patients looking for an outlet. There is an emotional connection here that’s real and genuinely caring.
For David and Syd, the body-switching episode was a literalization of a romantic relationship and the empathy that comes with a healthy one. Each knows what it’s like to see the world through the other’s eyes, and, in Syd’s case, has seen the other’s devils. The one with the yellow eyes reared its ugly head several times this week. Though David was able to hide the creature’s existence from Ptonomy and Dr. Byrd, Syd is onto him. There’s a reason David is afraid for others to know about the devil. Whether it’s simply him trying to hide more of his troubles from others or something darker remains to be seen.