As the first season of Legion carries on and we slip further into David’s mind, our usual assumptions about TV — its form and constructs — become less and less reliable. This is essentially what happened at the big first season reveals of Mr. Robot. Once the unreliable narrator card is on the table, it can never come off. Sam Esmail doubled down on the principle in season 2. It was a totally fair play, even if it angered some fans, and that idea is especially worth remembering as we carry on with Legion.
Also — not that anyone should care beyond a handful of us — it makes the show very hard to recap week to week.
The trick with where we stand with Legion right now is multi-pronged. The fourth episode of the season explicitly deals with David’s manipulation of his own memories. First, there’s the bloody audio recorder from Dr. Poole’s office. Later, we see how Benny, a non-Aubrey Plaza-looking man, became Lenny, an Aubrey Plaza-looking woman. Did David consolidate the two in his grief for his friend? Is her appearance in the earlier memories an expression of how inescapable that guilt is? That, we still don’t know. But by working their investigation on the old-school, gumshoe level, Ktonomy and Syd have established some facts — first with the record’s “memory” and then with Philly. Yes, even those are based on highly subjective memories, but checked across several people, some basics become clearer. It’s kind of like Spotlight: X-Men Edition.
Then there’s the larger question of whether Syd and the rest of the Summerland gang have left David’s memory at all. Ktonomy is convinced that, yes, they are out, but David’s powers have surprised them before. Can we really just accept that Ktonomy can tell their reality is the real reality beyond a reasonable doubt? The implications of them still being trapped within David’s head seem to be too messy for the show, but the World’s Angriest Boy in the World is still appearing to Syd. Until we have an explanation for that, being trapped inside David’s head is still on the table. And there is actually some evidence to support that, beyond the Boy (who still kind of looks like Hitler to me every time he shows up). Philly’s earrings look just like the ladder that David climbed to get into Oliver’s ice lounge (more on that later). Is that detail of the scene just a fun red herring or is that a sign that the real estate office and David’s astral plane aren’t as far apart as we’re led to believe?
This episode already has me looking on YouTube for tinfoil hat-folding tutorials.
NEXT: The ice lounge cometh
Let’s back up. The extra long episode begins with a prologue that casts even more doubt on the reality of what we’re seeing. Jemaine Clement talks directly to camera as Oliver, Melanie’s long-lost, frozen, deep-sea diving suit husband. We learn later that he’s trapped in an ice lounge of his own making, but at the start of the episode, he’s giving us a brief lesson on violence — or human nature.
He begins with a quote. “In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself.” Anyone who did some deep reading on season 1 of True Detective knows that Friedrich Nietzsche is a favorite philosopher of male auteur showrunners in this post-Golden Age, but Oliver’s usage of the famous quote from Beyond Good and Evil is a shade less nihilistic than Rust Cohle. “We are the root of all of our problems, our confusion, our anger, our fear of things that we don’t understand,” Oliver says.
Here, Noah Hawley is showing his work a bit, just like he did with Year Two of Fargo and Camus. The warlike man is key to understanding the conflict of Legion. The writers have taken some familiar blueprints for television episodes and morphed them with such wild creativity that they barely resemble the templates we know. In the case of this episode, David is lost, and the rest of the cast is doing some detective work to find him. The search leads them directly into the hands of the enemy, and our hero returns just in time to save them. Now, that’s a serviceable summary for what happens in this episode, but there’s nothing here about body swapping, shapeshifting, or action montages set to Feist songs and corresponding air guitar sessions.
The reason Legion has been such a great watch from the get-go is the balance it strikes between understanding what makes weekly serialized TV addicting (character, the slow trickle of information) and being completely playful and irreverent with the form (the narration, nonlinear storytelling, and shifting aspect ratios). There’s nothing that insane about the story if you look at the arcs in a general sense. For instance, we learned about the true nature of the relationship between two supporting characters — Cary and Kerry — which added stakes and emotional heft to the end of the episode. Yes, we found out that one lives inside the other and only ages when she’s outside, but nevertheless, the same principle applies.
Looking ahead, it seems like we’re finally about to get some real info about the Devil with the Yellow Eyes. The end heavily implied that the Lenny we’ve seen since her death is actually that fat bastard, and he’s been feeding a lot of David’s uncertainty, fear, and guilt, possibly as a gambit to escape the confines of his mind. What we don’t know is whether David completely left behind the astral plane or whether we’re traveling back there. You have to think David will go back to Oliver for some kind of rescue mission, or at the very least for karaoke night.