Legion recap: 'Chapter 5'
Legion does a lot of things well. That’s a “no s—” statement, but I think it’s worth talking about more specifically after an episode like “Chapter 5.” That is to say, after a startling, great episode of television like “Chapter 5.” How is it that every time we dip back into the show, it feels new and exciting, but with the undercurrent of the story that we’ve been following for the past five weeks? Let’s try to work through this together.
The show’s technical merits have been clear from the pilot, which could be stupidly reduced to weird for the sake of weird, but there’s too much artistry and emotion behind every choice. There’s nothing as visually or structurally inventive on TV. The colors are bright and used in interesting ways. I imagine the colorists for every Marvel Studios movie weeping as they tune in masochistically. (For the record, big fan of Marvel Studios.) The start of every episode feels like we’re taking a different door into the same funhouse. It’s all one building, but the weekly reintroduction to it and the path we take to the familiar parts of it are totally fresh.
That stuff’s been obvious for weeks, so I want to talk about creating moments. There are examples of Legion being really, really good at this, but since we’re talking about “Chapter 5,” let’s dive into Melanie Byrd and Co. rolling up on Division Three after David’s been through there. It’s gross and surprising and horrifying and cinematic and unexpected. There aren’t many creators on television who would have the restraint to keep a big, violent action scene off camera. But the bold move has a purpose. If we stick with David and the Devil riding shotgun in his head, there’s still going to be a part of us that thinks, “You know what? This rules! I know that David seems to be at least partially controlled by a disembodied entity of evil, but he just trapped that D3 guard in asphalt. That’s awesome!”
Instead, we get a simple visual, but one that’s built on a reaction. Since David’s return from the astral plane, Syd has been slow to see the transformation that’s clear to Melanie, but it’s hard to blame her. She’s previously talked about her concept of what her body means, that her identity is not intrinsic to her form, which is a helpful way of processing her powers. But that also has to be incredibly alienating. As we learn this week, she was driven as a teenager to steal her mother’s form in order to lose her virginity. That fact that she can experience intimacy inside her own skin is an enormous privilege for her, one provided entirely by her man, as she describes David to Melanie.
To have Syd find the aftermath of David’s violence, possessed or not, throws all of that intimacy into question. Forget what she knows about Dr. Poole — something she was able to do easily enough earlier in the episode. This is next level. Opening yourself up to someone completely can be the best part of life, but it comes with its risk. By that I mean, your man might vaporize some mercenaries with flashy flamenco moves, inadvertently exposing the literalized demon hiding inside of him.
There are smaller moments like this throughout the episode. Dan Stevens performing a devastating rendition of “The Rainbow Connection” is fun and strange, but it’s also heartbreaking. Stevens has brought so much to the role of David, and his conviction in moments like this allows the show to function. The song is, in part, about the power of illusions and the limits of human understanding, and here, we see the opposite end of the spectrum that Kermit explored the sunnier parts of in the opening of The Muppet Movie. David, when he was believed to be suffering from mental illness, was told that his visions weren’t real, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a real effect on him.
The source of these visions and a secret about David’s upbringing were revealed near the end of the episode, after he broke Amy out of Division Three. It turns out that he was adopted, possibly hinting at the show moving closer to the comic book character’s origin story, in which he is the son of X-Men founder Charles Xavier. And if we’re going to get really nerdy about it, in the books, David’s head is home to multiple personalities, one of whom is a bald, murderous yellowish goblin that resembles a deranged Professor X. So far, the show has steered clear of anything touching the larger X-Men mythos and film series, but this episode’s revelations make me wonder if we’re moving toward a more direct connection for the end of season 1.
Regardless of what the show ends up doing with the Devil with the Yellow Eyes in the future, he’s pretty damn terrifying in the present. Cary, recently reunited with Kerry and looking worse for wear, connects the dots and suggests that something is living inside David’s mind. The entity is King the beagle and post-death Lenny and the World’s Angriest Boy in the World and is strong enough to change the topography of David’s memory. More than that, whatever it’s done to David has allowed it to come into the physical world in the shape of Aubrey Plaza. When Walter bursts into the room disguised as Freddy and wielding a machine gun, David takes Syd back to the white room. It’s there that we see the Devil clearly for the first time, and it’s absolutely terrifying.
The episode closes out with everyone that was in David’s childhood home transported to a Clockworks therapy session led by Lenny, and I have a feeling we’re about to see a new side to David’s power.