Legion recap: Exploring the lives of alternate Davids
This episode explores what could have been if David had made different, usually worse, choices.
Legion stands among the most consistently fascinating high-concept dramas on television, but it’s not without its flaws. “Chapter 14,” possibly the least enjoyable episode of the series, leans heavily into these flaws while forgetting to add much substance to offset them. A future episode might retcon this week’s “What If” Davids into some kind of relevance, but for now, the best course of action may be to take Farouk’s advice and collectively will the distracting old-age makeup and cultural insensitivities out of reality. The singing mouse can stay.
The conceit of “Chapter 14” is a multiverse exploration (infinite Davids, Morty!) that Legion, usually so proudly self-aware in its outlandishness, plays with misplaced earnestness. A series of vignettes unfold in which different decisions David and Amy make branch out into dramatically divergent realities. The David who is the protagonist of the series — David Prime let’s say — factors in only sporadically, as does Syd.
The first alternate David to be introduced is a barking caricature of a homeless man. Despite being at his lowest compared to the other Davids shown in the episode, this one isn’t especially sympathetic, since his characterization leans so heavily on homeless stereotyping, from the shopping cart to the wild beard and hair to the dangerous anger.
Two scenes that define the arc of this David are attacks. In the first, a group of droog-ish hooligans surround David where he’s sleeping under an overpass and begin to beat him. David, seemingly involuntarily, disintegrates them. The affectation of the goons, rather than evoking Kubrick’s classic, makes light of this type of bullying, and the abrupt resolution cuts off any sort of emotional resonance.
Later, the second attack arrives when David is tracked down by Division 3. David waves off the first D3 strike force only to be subdued by a sonic wave emitting drone and sliced in half lengthwise by a katana-wielding Kerry before his powers can take full effect. So ends homeless David.
Another of the Davids introduced in this episode starts as a coffee boy for a boardroom full of morally dubious businesspeople and ends as the richest man in the world. Beginning with a scene in which David reads the minds of his corporate overlords and convinces a potential client to avoid a hazardous business deal, this David learns to use his power to benefit himself. The noble intention of saving a client from a toxic merger leads to a lifelong campaign of self-aggrandizement.
The arrogance on display with this David in his later years parallels that of Farouk, a self-styled king who believes himself above those he lords over. Billionaire David keeps his former boss as his assistant, feeding off her resentment, and punishes a spoiled Amy with physical pain when she demands a new house. Yet he still imagines himself a godlike leader. (Recap continues on next page)
Between these two extremes are several other David iterations. The most considerately realized alternate David is one who is attempting to live a productive life while taking anti-psychotic medication. The segments focused on this David almost decided to have something interesting to say about the over-prescription of unnecessary drugs in the U.S., but they decided against it. Likewise, they could have made a statement about the need for more mental health training for police officers, but they didn’t quite make it there either. Legion’s greatest Achilles’ Heel has always been the representation of mental illness. David is not, strictly speaking, mentally ill, but in scenes where he’s meant to appear to be, the show can cross the line into some uncomfortable depictions and flirtation with the stigmatization of mental health treatment.
David is a ward of his sister in this overmedicated reality, and he is working a menial job in the shipping warehouse of a dairy company. His pills make him sluggish, but he agrees to take them to prevent himself from hurting Amy. One day, while he’s waiting for Amy to pick him up after work, he is stopped by some overeager police officers who hassle him for raising his voice at some passersby. When David has a negative reaction to a vision of the Devil with Yellow Eyes, the officers begin to handcuff him despite the fact that he is non-violent, unarmed, and by his own explanation, mentally ill.
When Amy arrives and tries to get David set free, things take a gruesome turn. Having knocked one of the cops into the air with his mind, an out of control David implodes another officer into a bloody mess before vaporizing every remnant of the police force on the scene. In the fray, David is shot, seemingly leading to either a semi-catatonic old age or a premature death, depending on which timelines interlock.
As in the scene with the overpass bullies, the immediate and disproportionate inversion of the aggressor-victim dichotomy here takes what could have been an affecting commentary on social injustice and replaces it with a sci-fi setpiece.
One more David in the episode starts out as a bored paper-pusher whose mental instability gives him a hallucination of a mouse putting on a rousing performance of Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love.” Despite fanciful distractions like this, the mundanity of his life eventually leads this David to start sniffing glue. The implication is that this David grows into another of the episode’s Davids, who is giving a drug-addled framing of the episode’s premise using cold french fries as offshoots of a splintering series of infinite realities. The only well-adjusted, non-tragic David of the episode is a suburban family man introduced as an example of the branching multiverse by the drug-addict David.
Throughout the episode, a few parallels flash on screen to demonstrate the spiritual connection between these alternate Davids and the trajectory of David Prime. When Homeless David finds his shopping cart, there’s a flash of the scene from season 1 in which David and Benny (formerly Lenny) pushed each other in their stolen cart. When Overmedicated David turns his powers on the police, there are flashes of the scene from the pilot in which a teenage David destroys a police car.
The purpose of this episode, probably, is to show the weight of David’s decisions on reality, but had it been just a little more considerate, it could have said so much more. “Chapter 14” expounds upon David’s dependence on Amy a bit, and it reinforces the importance of his connection with Syd, who only features prominently in the David Prime timeline. But real problems like homelessness, inappropriate police practices, over-prescription and addiction are glazed over to distinguish quick forays into alternate realities. Given more time, these themes could have been addressed in unprecedented and profound ways. As it stands, this episode feels like it’s always right on the verge of getting to something important, but it never really goes anywhere it needs to be.